In this list, we’d like you to spare a thought for publishers and literary agents… they get sent thousands and thousands of submissions each year, and sometimes they let some great stuff slip though! Here we’re looking at some of the most famous rejections; where bestselling and award winning authors had their works turned down. Good inspiration for aspiring authors to keep going, and pity the poor people who had to explain to their bosses that they turned down Harry Potter!
Did you know Beatrix Potter had so many rejections for The Tale of Peter Rabbit, that she finally decided to publish it herself? The initial printing was for 250 copies… the timeless tale of this mischievous rabbit and his companions are still bestsellers, with over 45 million copies sold worldwide.
Tragic poet Slyvia Plath suffered rejection a number of times, including for The Bell Jar – when it was submitted under a false name and even when they knew who the author really was. She took this feedback admirably, saying, “I love my rejection slips. They show me I try.”
The San Francisco Examiner told Rudyard Kipling “I’m sorry Mr. Kipling, but you just don’t know how to use the English language.” The Just So Stories were published in 1902, telling the story of how the Leopard got his spots and how the Rhinoceros got his skin (among other stories) and continue to delight readers today.
Sometimes it’s OK to discount some advice… one publisher advised F.Scott Fitzgerald in a rejection letter, “You’d have a decent book if you’d get rid of that Gatsby character.” He disagreed, and The Great Gatsby has become one of the great works of American fiction.
In Stephen King’s book On Writing, he says he pinned every rejection letter he received to his wall with a nail. “By the time I was fourteen,” he continues, “the nail in my wall would no longer support the weight of the rejection slips impaled upon it. I replaced the nail with a spike and went on writing.”
The E.E. Cummings best-seller The Enormous Room, a fictionalised account of the author’s time in a French concentration camp, has a dedication page ‘With No Thanks To’ all 15 publishers who turned it down. That’s definitely one way to make a statement…
Robert M. Pirsig‘s Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, one of the more oddly titled books is a narrative of a father on a summer motorcycle trip across America’s Northwest with his young son; a examination of how we live and a meditation on how to live better. It’s also in the Guinness Book Of Records for 121 rejections, more than any other bestseller.
And lastly, one of the most famous rejections, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. The story goes that J.K.Rowling was rejected by twelve publishers before Bloomsbury finally picked up the book – and that was because the eight year old daughter of an editor read it, and demanded to know how it ended. She was also told to get a day job, because she wouldn’t be able to make a living out of writing children’s books. Over 450 million sales worldwide and counting…