29 October 2013 - FAMOUS REJECTIONS


G'day folks,

I have raised this subject before, but I thought this article by Preetam Kaushick was worth posting. Thank you, Preetam.
"Although some writers might beg to differ, we need to realize that publishers are humans too. With that in mind, let us look at a few examples of how publishers really got it wrong as they rejected the work of people who turned out to be some of the most famous authors of our times.

1) F. Scott Fitzgerald – Fitzgerald is considered one of the geniuses of modern American literature and his masterpiece, “The Great Gatsby”, is currently ranked number two in the Top 100 novels of the last century, according to Modern Library. But, in 1925, L.P. Hartley of The Saturday Review clearly disagreed. In his rejection, he wrote, Mr. Scott Fitzgerald deserves a good shaking. Here is an unmistakable talent unashamed of making itself a motley to the view. The Great Gatsby is an absurd story, whether considered as romance, melodrama, or plain record of New York high life.”

2) Gertrude Stein – Before Gertrude Stein became one of the most influential authors of the first quarter of the last century; before she wrote the classic “The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas”, she had to face a grossly mocking rejection letter from publisher Arthur Fifield wherein he wrote “… I cannot read your M.S. three or four times. Not even one time. Only one look, only one look is enough. Hardly one copy would sell here. Hardly one. Hardly one.”

3) Yann Martel – Before its movie adaptation won all those awards, “Life of Pi” won the Booker Prize. It was published by Knopf Canada. However, five big names in publishing rejected it before Derek Johns from Knopf picked it up. One of those five publishers was Simon Prosser from Penguin. After the book won the award, he later said “Taste is very subjective.”

4) Chuck Palahniuk – When an author’s first published novel is the hugely acclaimed “Fight Club”, you tend to wonder what his rejected work would be like. “Invisible Monsters” pre-dates Palahniuk’s first novel, but his publisher, WW Norton, initially rejected it, calling it “disturbing content”, before releasing it in 1999. Luckily for us, he did not pay any heed to such feedback.

5) George Orwell – Orwell’s is an unusual case of rejection. More than the quality of his work, it was the times around which it was written that brought him most of the flak. Ironically, it was another writer, the famous T.S. Eliot, who rejected Orwell’s classic, “Animal Farm”, because he didn’t agree with the view point, saying, “…which I take to be generally Trotskyite.”

6) Jack Kerouac – Some authors were rejected simply because what they wrote challenged almost everything society believed at that point of time. A classic example is that of Kerouac’s offbeat masterpiece, “On The Road”. Knopf was the culprit this time. One of the reviewers over at Knopf remarked, “I don’t dig this at all.” The book is now considered a bible for people who challenge the mainstream.

 7) Rudyard Kipling – Young adults all over the world have studied Kipling in their English class. This makes the following comment by The San Francisco Examiner extremely hilarious – “I’m sorry Mr. Kipling, but you just don’t know how to use the English language.“ 

8) Edgar Allan Poe – Poe is without any doubt the grandfather of the horror fiction genre. Without him, there wouldn’t be a Stephen King, or for that matter, a Tim Burton. Sadly, he was so broke from having publishers reject his short stories, that he was forced to join the army. J & J Harpers famously rejected his collection before realizing their folly and finally publishing it. We know it today as the acclaimed “The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket”.

9) Mary Shelley – A big challenge for authors is to get a book published that is later considered a pioneer in the genre. No publisher would want to take such a risk. This explains why publishers like Percy Bysshe, Charles Ollier and John Murray rejected the gothic horror epic “Frankenstein”.

10) J.K. Rowling – Forget getting rejected by publishers – try getting rejected by your own agent. That is what Rowling went through while she was getting rejected left and right by publishers. Christopher Little, who later became her agent and pitched her work to Bloomsbury, her eventual publisher, rejected “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” because he believed there was no money in children’s fantasy. Today, the Harry Potter franchise has earned more than $25 billion.

 With a list that includes these names, it is obvious that for writers, often the key lies in not changing their work, but just the people who claim to be experts. It worked out for 2003 Man Booker Prize winner D.B.C. Pierre when he met Clare Conville after half the publishers he approached had rejected “Vernon God Little”, while the other half were yet to get back to him. Conville thought otherwise. The rest is history. Writers, never give up."

And, not only but also, check out this list of notables who were also treated roughly:


Remembrance of things Past, by Marcel Proust

Ulysses, by James Joyce

The Adventures of Peter Rabbit, by Beatrix Potter

The Wealthy Barber, by David Chilton

The Bridges of Madison County

What Color is Your Parachute

In Search of Excellence by Tom Peters

The Celestine Prophecy by James Redfield

The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr. (and his student E. B. White)

The Joy of Cooking

When I Am an Old Woman I Shall Wear Purple

Life’s Little Instruction Book

Robert’s Rules of Order


Deepak Chopra
Gertrude Stein
Zane Grey
Upton Sinclair
Carl Sandburg
Ezra Pound
Mark Twain
Edgar Rice Burroughs
Stephen Crane
Bernard Shaw
Anais Nin
Thomas Paine
Virginia Wolff
e.e. Cummings
Edgar Allen Poe
Rudyard Kipling
Henry David Thoreau
Benjamin Franklin
Walt Whitman
Alexandre Dumas
William E.B. DuBois
Beatrix Potter


Kathryn Sockett – The Help – 60 times

Pearl S. Buck – The Good Earth – 14 times

Norman Mailer – The Naked and the Dead – 12 times

Patrick Dennis- Auntie Mame – 15 times

George Orwell – Animal Farm

Richard Bach – Jonathan Livingston Seagull – 20 times

Joseph Heller -  Catch-22 – 22  times (!)

Mary Higgins Clark – first short story – 40 times

Alex Haley – before Roots – 200 rejections

Robert Persig – Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance – 121 times

John Grisham – A Time to Kill – 15 publishers and 30 agents (he ended up publishing it himself)

Chicken Soup for the Soul – 33 times

Dr. Seuss – 24 times

Louis L’Amour – 200 rejections

Jack London – 600 before his first story

John Creasy – 774 rejections before selling his first story.  He went on to write 564 books, using fourteen names.

Jerzy Kosinski – 13 agents and 14 publishers rejected his best-selling novel when he submitted it under a different name, including Random House, which had originally published it.

Diary of Anne Frank

During his entire lifetime, Herman Melville’s timeless classic, Moby Dick, sold only 3,715 copies.

Clancy's comment: And ... you can add my name to the list. I have had hundreds of rejections ... But I am still writing. Does that say something about me?

Think about this!

No comments:

Post a Comment