I want to be one of those people who can look back and smile at rejection letters.

Rob Sabo commented on my last post: “Perspective: The first Harry Potter book was rejected 12 times. I think I read somewhere that Jo Rowling is the first billionaire author.”

This got me to thinking. I love stories of failure before success. Especially ones where hindsight makes that success seem inevitable. I like to fantasize about the day when I will speak proudly of my rejections as an audience gasps and titters in shock that anyone could have overlooked my obvious brilliance. I will be the example writers give to each other for reassurance when they are feeling down about their own rejections. One writer will say, “I might as well just quit. Another rejection. That’s nine! I should just take the hint and quit.”

And the supportive writer friend will smile wryly and say, “Oh no. Did you know that Cindie Geddes was rejected 500 times before she sold her first novel? And even then, you know The Bad Parts (at which point the friend will roll her eyes and snort, because everyone knows that book) was rejected nineteen times and she just gave up! It only got published because her friend Wolf made her send it out again on a bet.”

The dejected writer will shake her head and laugh, and she will feel better. And she will send out her story – again and again and again, determined to not give up until she at least sends out as many times as Cindie Geddes did.

Yeah, these are the kinds of fantasies have. I am a very exciting woman.

But since it’s going to be at least a few months until I reach the kind of success that will make this fantasy a reality, I figured I could list a few real-world examples* we can offer one another during those inevitable dark times.

  • James Joyce’s Dubliners: rejected 22 times. The publisher only printed 1250 copies. 379 sold the first year. Joyce had bought 120 of them. And, yeah, he did OK.
  • To Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street by Theodor Geisel writing as Dr. Seuss: rejected by 29 publishers.
  • Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig: rejected 121 times.
  • Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach: 140 times
  • William Saroyan built a pile of rejections 30 inches high (equaling around 7000 rejections) before he sold his first story.
  • M*A*S*H by Richard Hooker collected 21 rejections.
  • Meg Cabot’s The Princess Diaries: rejected 17 times.
  • Carrie (by Stephen King) was rejected 30 times.
  • Watership Down by Richard Adams: 26 rejections.
  • Auntie Mame by Patrick Dennis: 15 no-thank-yous.
  • Chicken Soup for the Soul by Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen: 140 NOs.
  • Frank Herbert’s Dune: nearly 20 rejections.
  • A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle: 26 maybe-next-times.
  • Alex Haley once told me (yes, in person, and I didn’t even faint, though I did stutter when I asked him about rejection) he had been rejected 800 times before selling anything. 800. Even I haven’t hit that many. But C.S. Lewis has. He was also a member of the 800 club.
  • James Patterson saw 26 rejections for his first novel.
  • William Golding’s Lord of the Flies: 20 not-right-for-us(es).
  • Kathryn Stockett stopped counting rejections after she received 45 on her best seller The Help.
  • Gone with the Wind brought Margaret Mitchell the sting of 38 rejections.
  • Ray Bradbury has been rejected more than 1000 times and STILL gets rejected.
  • Judy Blume submitted for 2 years straight with nothing but rejections.
  • Stephenie Meyer gathered 7 or 8 rejections for Twilight, including one that came in after she’d gotten a three-book deal from Little, Brown.
  • The Dairy of Anne Frank was passed over by 16 publishers.

And if you’re like me and feel better knowing that current rejection does not negate future success, check out this site of quotes from actual rejections of some of the best writing ever. http://schulerbooks.wordpress.com/2009/05/11/recent-article-30-famous-authors-whose-works-were-rejected-repeatedly-and-sometimes-rudely-by-publishers/

*Disclaimer: I didn’t fact check any of these. Some I saw in magazines, some I read on the Web, some I heard … somewhere.

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7 Responses
  1. Jocelyn says:

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  2. I think I understand what your saying but I’d add that the very idea that we go to school in pursuit of the “be seen/read” life, sets us up into a system of check points (unknown to the hobbyist).

    killing the creative joy….I call it stepping on the sprout

    Back to the balance… which maybe something that comes to us with age. Accepting limitations and not sharing your concepts (but with the most trusted of friends).

  3. Des says:

    I second it all, but especially your first line!

  4. Ivan C Karp told long time friend Mr D whose photo-realist work he represented to “get rid of the dragons” he had started painting “cause jews won’t buy um”

    Karp was Assistant Director of the Leo Castelli Gallery from 1959-1969 and in 1969 opened the OK Harris Gallery.

    Notice the use of anonymity I’ve afforded Mr D? Representation is representation. Also if anyone thinks for a minute artist’s are free to do as they please…think again

    • Cindie says:

      And there’s the rub for me. I AM free to do as I please, but there’s no guarantee of anyone else liking it. There’s a difference in there between a professional writer (unpublished or published) and a hobbyist (unpublished or published), but I’m not exactly sure where the line is. The balance is difficult. On one side you’ve got the artist chasing markets, listening to everyone’s advice, trying to please every one and killing the creative joy even if he or she does sell (which is no guarantee0. On the other end is the artist who will not listen to any criticism or external insight and who does not want to learn or improve and thereby pleases only him or herself. I want to have the confidence to be true to my story but the wisdom to know how to make it better, from wherever insight might come.

  5. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Lilyboys, Roseanne Scungio. Roseanne Scungio said: Sometimes I Lie » Blog Archive » Everyone Gets Rejections: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pir… http://bit.ly/6G1OHV […]

    • Angel says:

      (((more hugs)))And I second the ‘200 is betetr than 0 golden rule of writing. Seriously don’t be so hard on yourself. Fighting or bemoaning the sluggishness only reinforces it. I hereby give you permission to look yourself in the eye and say alrighty then today is a slow day i wish it were otherwise but tomorrow is a new day ‘(pause)ROFLOk so enough of that psychobabble. I feel your pain, man.On both counts (writing and work) methinks there is a bit of linkage there!

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