Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Famous Rejection Letters: three reasons to keep on writing

I'm gearing up to submit my fantasy novel The Stone Dragon to agents and editors again, after having spent considerable time developing an online platform and publishing an earlier novel, Love Ya Like a Sister. 

 I need some inspiration--and thought I'd share that inspiration with you.

Writer Michelle Kerns at has written three articles about famous writers who have been rejected, and I'm finding inspiration in the tenacity of those authors who pushed on and finally found success.

Here, according to my experience, are three big "reasons" that writers become discouraged while seeking publication:

You're Unknown
  • John le CarrĂ©: His famous first novel, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, was passed on from one publisher to another with these words: "You’re welcome to le CarrĂ© – he hasn’t got any future."
  • Judy Blume: A highly successful and influential young adult novelist, Judy Blume's novels grew up with her kids, from Freckle Juice and Superfudge to Wifey and Smart Women. Here are her words about seeking publication: "I would go to sleep at night feeling that I'd never be published. But I'd wake up in the morning convinced I would be. Each time I sent a story or book off to a publisher, I would sit down and begin something new. I was learning more with each effort. I was determined. Determination and hard work are as important as talent."
Your Vision Is Not the Current Fad
  • Tony Hillerman: Publishing over 30 books, including his famous series about the Navajo Tribal Police, he received many awards for his writing, including the Mystery Writers of Americas's Grand Master Award. He was told by publishers early on "to get rid of all that Indian stuff.
  • George Orwell: Animal Farm was rejected with the following words: "It is impossible to sell animal stories in the USA."
Editorial Preferences Are Different
  • Joseph Heller: Considered a modern classic of anti-war black humor, Catch-22 was cast aside by one publisher with these words: "I haven’t the foggiest idea about what the man is trying to say… Apparently the author intends it to be funny – possibly even satire – but it is really not funny on any intellectual level."
  • Anne Frank: Making one wonder whether the editor actually read The Diary of Anne Frank, one rejection comment was as follows: "The girl doesn't, it seems to me, have a special perception or feeling which would lift that book above the 'curiosity' level."
I intend to persevere with editors and agents, but if the clamoring of my students (and my heart) demands that The Stone Dragon be published now, then I will self-publish. Thank God for my techie friends, InDesign, and Lightning Source. And thank God for these examples of famous writers who also had to keep pluggin' away and who finally found a readership.

E.E. Cummings' The Enormous Room was rejected by fifteen publishers. He eventually self-published the book, dedicating it to the publishers who had rejected the autobiographical novel. E.E. Cummings is considered to be one of the masters of modern poetry.

There are many possible paths to reaching readers with your words. May we all find one that fits our needs.

If you are interested in reading more example of famous and rude rejection letters, go to Michelle Kerns' original articles. The first is "30 famous authors whose works were rejected (repeatedly, and sometimes rudely) by publishers."

The second and third articles link consecutively.

Copyright 2011 by Thomas L. Kepler, all rights reserved

1 comment:

  1. I enjoyed this. Didn't know about Orwell, that's a shocker.