Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Infamous Rejections

I came across a folder of rejection letters from 2005, the year I went in search of an agent. I’d almost forgotten about this painful compilation of letters, but I pulled it out and began to sift through the form letters, the brief comments, and the manuscript requests. I signed with Jessica Faust of Book Ends that year and I am just as grateful to her for taking a chance on me today, as I was the day she offered representation.

Thousands of folks have spent months and months crafting a novel, short story collection, or poem in hopes of being published. Most of the aspiring writers I’ve spoken to aren’t focused on what they can earn from said publication. They simply want their work to “make it.” To be chosen.

I thought I’d pass on some inspiration. Here are a few famous writers who were rejected many times before finally being accepted by an agent and/or publisher:

1. Beatrix Potter had to self-publish because no one would accept her Tale of Peter Rabbit.

2. Dr. Seuss’ writing was called “too different” so he was rejected by many publishers.

3. Mr. Rudyard Kipling was told that he didn’t have a good grasp of the English language.

4. One of my favorite books, Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time was passed over 29 times.

5. In the 1960’s, Mary Higgins Clark was told that the heroine of one of her books was “boring.”

6. An editor told H.G. Wells that his book read like “an endless nightmare.”

7. Not one of Emily Dickinson’s poems was published while she lived.

8. Jack London’s work was labeled as depressing.

9. What about Orwell’s Animal Farm? He was told that animal stories don’t sell in the States.

10. And poor William Faulkner received the rejection, “My God! I can’t publish this!”

There, you see! If these writers had been influenced by their rejection letters they might have faded into obscurity. Hang in there! Keep writing and keep submitting.

Anyone have a juicy rejection letter line or phrase you’d care to share?


Lisa Bork said...

Once I got an agent, I threw all my rejection letters away and now I wish I hadn't. I do remember one snippy letter regarding a standalone book I had written where the "killer" had killed in self-defense and no one was willing to turn him in. This agent said something to the effect of, "We don't represent books like this. The killer must always pay for his crime; otherwise, how will they learn the rules of society?"

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

My favorite rejection came from my former big-ass NY agent, who for three years was never able to sell any of my work. Then I wrote Too Big To Miss. After reading it, she said to me over the phone: "No one wants to read this crap." She went on to say she'd be embarrassed to represent it. I fired her. She sent me a follow-up letter saying I'd soon discover she was right (which I've kept). Too Big To Miss launched my successful Odelia Grey series, has won awards, and has been optioned for TV/film - twice. Can anyone say neener, neener, neener?

Jess Lourey said...

May Day, the first in my series, received over 400 rejection letters before I landed an agent. It's all a matter of perspective. Or denial.

G.M. Malliet said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you, JB, for this wonderful reminder. The conventional wisdom about what is publishable is so often just that - conventional.

I often drag the Harry Potter books into this type of discussion, but so many people failed to see the potential there. Since this is not the type of book I would normally read, I can, to be fair, see how others missed the boat with Rowling. So much of this business is pure luck, isn't it?

I always got the "not for us" kind of standard rejection slip (often photocopied onto cheap paper, which was especially irksome, somehow), and I got a ton of those. I still have them and I think now I'll keep them.

jbstanley said...


Re: your rejection letter: What drivel! That agent is off the mark. Some of the best mysteries have messy endings. Good thing you made a better match!

jbstanley said...

Sue Ann,

You should totally mail that woman a signed copy! (With a very choice inscription. How about just, "Nah, Nah" ?)

jbstanley said...

Jess and GIn,

At least we can gloat (just a little) over those letters we've saved.

Julia Buckley said...

I once got an e-mail rejection letter addressed to someone else. I had to write back and ask if it was really meant for me, or the person whose name was on it.

Then the shamefaced editor had to say, "Oh, that one was sent in error, but the next one was for you."

And by the way, even though lots of great writers eventually got their acclaim, it wasn't always IN THEIR LIFETIME, and that's a bummer. F. Scott Fitzgerald died seeing himself as a has-been and a failure.

Sue Ann, it is shocking to me that any agent would tell someone, much less his or her OWN CLIENT, that something was crap. Serves them right.