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May 11, 2009 / schulerbooks

Recent Article: 30 famous authors whose works were rejected (repeatedly, and sometimes rudely) by publishers

A Great Article by Michelle Kerns that should give hope to struggling authors everywhere:

The revered sage Frank Sinatra once said, “The best revenge is massive success.”

He never spoke a truer word, particularly when it comes to aspiring authors who, after suffering severe smackdowns from publishers, went on to become renowned writers.

Think this has happened to only a select few? Guess again. Cast your eye upon this list of Cinderella authors (and the nasty little notes publishers sent them) and savor the taste of their sweet, sweet revenge.

1. Stephen King

Mr. King received dozens of rejections for his first novel, Carrie; he kept them tidily nailed to a spike under a timber in his bedroom.

One of the publishers sent Mr. King’s rejection with these words:

We are not interested in science fiction which deals with negative utopias. They do not sell.

2. William Golding

Mr. Golding’s Lord of the Flies was rejected by 20 publishers.  One denounced the future classic with these words (which should be inscribed on the hapless publisher’s tomb):

an absurd and uninteresting fantasy which was rubbish and dull.

3. John le Carré

After Mr. le Carré submitted his first novel, The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, one of the publishers sent it along to a colleague, with this message:

You’re welcome to le Carré – he hasn’t got any future.

4. Anne Frank

According to one publisher, The Diary of Anne Frank was scarcely worth reading:

The girl doesn’t, it seems to me, have a special perception or feeling which would lift that book above the ‘curiosity’ level.

15 publishers (other than this dope) also rejected The Diary of Anne Frank.

5. Joseph Heller

In an act of almost unparalled stupidity, one publisher wrote of Mr. Heller’s Catch-22:

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.

6. J.K. Rowling

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s (later Sorceror’s) Stone was rejected by a dozen publishers, including biggies like Penguin and HarperCollins. Bloomsbury, a small London publisher, only took it on at the behest of the CEO’s eight-year old daughter, who begged her father to print the book. God bless you, sweetheart.

7. Ursula K. Le Guin

One publisher sent this helpful little missive to Ms. Le Guin regarding her novel, The Left Hand of Darkness:

The book is so endlessly complicated by details of reference and information, the interim legends become so much of a nuisance despite their relevance, that the very action of the story seems to be to become hopelessly bogged down and the book, eventually, unreadable. The whole is so dry and airless, so lacking in pace, that whatever drama and excitement the novel might have had is entirely dissipated by what does seem, a great deal of the time, to be extraneous material. My thanks nonetheless for having thought of us. The manuscript of The Left Hand of Darkness is returned herewith.

The Left Hand of Darkness went on to win both the Hugo and the Nebula awards.

8. George Orwell

One publisher rejected Mr. Orwell’s submission, Animal Farm, with these words:

It is impossible to sell animal stories in the USA.

9. Tony Hillerman

Mr. Hillerman, now famous for his Navajo Tribal Police mystery novels, was initially told by publishers to

Get rid of all that Indian stuff.

10. William Faulkner

One publisher exclaimed in the rejection letter for Mr. Faulkner’s book, Sanctuary:

Good God, I can’t publish this!

11. John Grisham

Mr. Grisham’s first novel, A Time to Kill, was rejected by a dozen publishers and 16 agents before breaking into print and launching Mr. Grisham’s best-selling career.

12. Vladimir Nabokov

Mr. Nabokov’s Lolita was greeted by one publisher with these words:

…overwhelmingly nauseating, even to an enlightened Freudian…the whole thing is an unsure cross between hideous reality and improbable fantasy. It often becomes a wild neurotic daydream…I recommend that it be buried under a stone for a thousand years.

13. Sylvia Plath

According to one publisher, Ms. Plath’s ability as a poet was nothing special:

There certainly isn’t enough genuine talent for us to take notice.

14. ee cummings

Mr. Cummings’ first work, The Enormous Room, was rejected by 15 publishers. He eventually self-published the book and it went on to become considered a masterpiece of modern poetry. The kicker? He dedicated the book to the 15 publishers who rejected him. Ouch.

15. Irving Stone

Mr. Stone’s Lust for Life was rejected 16 times, once with this helpful synopsis:

A long, dull novel about an artist.

The book went on to sell over 25 million copies.

16. Rudyard Kipling

I’m sorry Mr. Kipling, but you just don’t know how to use the English language.

These were the words used by one of the editors of the San Francisco Examiner newspaper when rejecting one of Mr. Kipling’s short stories. Mr. Kipling is now a revered author and the San Francisco Examiner is….

17. Frank Herbert

Dune was rejected 20 times before successfully reaching print – and becoming one of the most beloved science fiction novels of all time (#3 on my list of favorite books ever).

18. Richard Adams

Mr. Adams’ Watership Down was rejected since

Older children wouldn’t like it because its language was too difficult.

19. Madeleine L’Engle

Ms. L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time was rejected by 26 publishers before finally breaking into print. It went on to win the 1963 Newbery Medal.

20. Jack Kerouac

This was one publisher’s take on Mr. Kerouac’s On the Road:

His frenetic and scrambled prose perfectly express the feverish travels of the Beat Generation.  But is that enough?  I don’t think so.

21. Margaret Mitchell

Ms. Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind was rejected 38 times before finally finding a publisher.

22. Judy Blume

Ms. Blume received “nothing but rejections” for two years.

According to Ms. Blume:

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.

Determination and hard work certainly did the trick for Ms. Blume, who is now considered to be one of the most influential children’s literature writers of her generation.

23. Kenneth Grahame

Mr. Grahame’s Wind in the Willows was refused by a publisher because it was an

Irresponsible holiday story

24. Isaac Bashevis Singer

One jaded publisher rejected a submission of Mr. Singer’s with the words:

It’s Poland and the rich Jews again.

25. Marcel Proust

Mr. Proust’s behemoth Remembrance of Things Past received this delightfully plain-spoken critique from one publisher:

My dear fellow, I may be dead from the neck up, but rack my brains as I may I can’t see why a chap should need thirty pages to describe how he turns over in bed before going to sleep.

26. Jasper Fforde

Mr. Fforde received 76 rejection letters before finally seeing his first novel, The Eyre Affair, in print. The Eyre Affair is now considered a classic of the modern fantasy genre.

27. Meg Cabot

The Princess Diaries slipped through the hands of 17 publishers before finally being accepted for publication.

28. Thor Heyderdahl

Mr. Heyerdahl’s classic adventure narrative, The Kon Tiki Expedition, was rejected 20 times before finding a publisher.

29. Jorge Luis Borges

One publisher rejected Mr. Borges’ work because it was:

utterly untranslatable.

30. D.H. Lawrence

After reading Mr. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover, one publisher warned:

for your own sake do not publish this book.

Check out the original posting here:


Leave a Comment
  1. Dale Titler / Oct 30 2009 11:53 am

    An excellent, informative piece of information about stupid publishers who hire fresh-out-of-college liberal art majors as acquisition editors with no knowledge of world history, the major wars, and why people act as they do. It is a struggle; Every one of my six now-published non-fiction books went through many publishers’ rejections before acceptance. Book publiishers are the sorriest businessmen in existence!

  2. andrewtoynbee / Apr 10 2010 4:51 am

    Every time I am reminded that JK Rowling was rejected 14 time before she found Bloomsbury, it gives me hope that one day…one day…

  3. satyapal chandra / Aug 11 2010 4:34 pm

    What the silly thing is that? An author devotes his best effort with utilizing some specific unique and having hope that he would be a market boom or his work would be consider seriously bt i couln’t understand the mentality of bloody editiors. it suks but a few good n genrous editors also existed just bcz of them i could get success to publish my first fiction novel.

  4. Andrew Toynbee / Mar 26 2013 6:19 am

    Reblogged this on Andrew Toynbee's very own Blog and commented:
    This is a classic article, but it bears repeating because so many people have struggled – and are still struggling to make their work heard. Read this, and remember that many have fought their way past rejection in the past – and successfully published.

  5. Amanda Wood / Mar 28 2013 4:32 pm

    This is wonderful! Great reminder to persevere in anything we do.

  6. The Story Reading Ape / Aug 21 2014 12:35 pm

    Reblogged this on Chris The Story Reading Ape's Blog….. An Author Promotions Enterprise! and commented:
    This article may have been posted 5 years ago, but it’s STILL relevant now 😀

  7. Jack Eason / Aug 21 2014 1:15 pm

    Reblogged this on Have We Had Help? and commented:
    Writers – take note…

  8. Jean Reinhardt / Aug 21 2014 4:02 pm

    Reblogged this on The Writers' Workshop Blog and commented:
    Take heart fellow authors, if your work has ever been rejected then you are in good company.
    Nice post by Michelle Kerns, thanks to theowllady for sharing.

  9. Cynthia Reyes / Aug 21 2014 9:40 pm

    A fabulous article and good reminders to NEVAH SURRENDAH!

  10. insaneowl / Aug 22 2014 1:40 pm

    Reblogged this on insaneowl and commented:
    Which of these famous authors have you read, or are on your bookshelf?

  11. Jack Eason / Aug 22 2014 2:58 pm

    All of the above examples are but a miniscule selection. Most writers are constantly subjected to idiotic outbursts such as the ones shown here, particularly these days where idiots hiding behind pseudonyms add theirs as so-called reviews, once a writer has finally got his or her book published.

  12. davidprosser / Aug 22 2014 3:45 pm

    Having read a certain ‘best seller’ of a school inspector with jokes as old as the hills I have no faith in Penguin Books at all. Without word from me my wife couldn’t finish the first book of a set I bought her and an American friend found the book boring from start to finish. A publisher deals with hype and gets sales through publicity. I may not have sold as many books but at least I know some of my readers laughed. We try so hard to get traditionally published but the list above shows they’re not infallible.

  13. Ali Isaac / Aug 24 2014 6:55 am

    Fantastic article! There’s hope for us all!

  14. Sherri / Aug 26 2014 4:19 am

    Came over here from Chris’s reblog. Thank you so much, I can’t tell you how much this has encouraged me to keep going and not give up – Sherri 🙂


  1. Online Writing Blog: Creating Fiction & The Story Process.
  2. 50 Iconic Writers Who Were Repeatedly Rejected | Writers Write
  3. Positive Rejection | S.A. Barton: Seriously Eclectic

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