Feeling rejected? 15 famous authors who were turned down by publishers

rejection-authorsYawatta Hosby is a young writer whose dream is to be a published author. In a recent blog post, she shares about receiving her first rejection.

What’s admirable about her is the attitude that shines throughout the post, which reflects her always-present closing tagline: Keep smiling.

Have you been fortunate enough to receive a rejection for your work so early in your writing journey? I have. If you haven’t, I hope you will soon. Why do I say that?

Because

  • it shows that you are writing and have work to submit. That’s better than many writers who only talk about writing. You’re actually doing it.
  • it shows you’re gaining confidence in your writing ability. It’s okay to feel good about your work, even though we new writers have much more to learn about the craft. The pros will let us know that. But how will we know unless we seek their opinions and guidance?
  • it gives you experience with what is inevitable in the writing life. Not everyone is going to like your work. Get used to it now and learn how to handle it with grace.

Who knows? You may become a member of that crowded club: Authors whose well-known works were rejected repeatedly by publishers. Here’s a list of 15 famous authors who persevered through rejection after rejection after rejection …

  1. Harper Lee – To Kill a Mockingbird
  2. Margaret Mitchell – Gone With the Wind
  3. Herman Melville – Moby Dick
  4. Madeleine L’Engle – A Wrinkle in Time
  5. J. K. Rowling – Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
  6. Beatrix Potter – The Tale of Peter Rabbit
  7. H. G. Wells – The War of the Worlds
  8. Ayn Rand – Atlas Shrugged
  9. Judy Blume – The One in the Middle is the Green Kangaroo
  10. Kathryn Stockett – The Help
  11. Rudyard Kipling – The Jungle Book
  12. Shel Silverstein – The Giving Tree
  13. Lucy Maud Montgomery – Anne of Green Gables
  14. John Grisham – A Time to Kill
  15. Agatha Christie – The Mysterious Affair at Styles

When I made this list, I was pretty sure that they had all been rejected, but I took the time to research and confirm. That’s how I came upon a website devoted to rejected titles. You can find the list at One Hundred Famous Rejections (though there are only 78 listed).

These lists should not only make you feel better about your rejection, but it should also help you see that publishers aren’t always right when it comes to what the public wants to read.

Just For Fun: In its bimonthly magazine, Writer’s Digest has a column called “Reject a Hit.” Readers submit humorous rejection letters from a fictional editor to the author of a famous book. They are hilarious. For example, the current issue spoofs Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations. Here’s how the rejection letter begins:

Dear Mr. Dickens:

I’m sorry to inform you that your recent submission “Great Expectations” fell far below ours. I understand your desire to be detailed, but your descriptions left me bored beyond comprehension and in some instances, if I may speak plainly, inspired hostility.

So, write your stories, submit them when you think they’re ready for professional eyes, and know that you’re not alone if your work is rejected. Use the experience to grow as a writer. Then, look forward to that grand day when the letter from the editor says “Accepted”!

And remember this:

Failures are fingerposts on the road to achievement. ~ C. S. Lewis

How have you used rejection to spur yourself on as a writer?


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15 thoughts on “Feeling rejected? 15 famous authors who were turned down by publishers

  1. Your blog is an interesting read and though I am not a writer, I would like to champion William Holley who is, and his ‘Wychetts Web’ site gives all the information about his books and illustrations (yes, William illustrates too!). I have read all the Wychetts books William has released so far through Amazon and, though the books are for children between 9-12 years, I thoroughly enjoyed them. They were bought as ebooks so my grandchildren could also read them on my Kindle. I wonder how many rejections these books will notch up before receiving a letter from an editor saying “Accepted”!

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      1. Indeed I do feel successful whenever someone says “I read your book”, even if they say they didn’t enjoy it!
        The internet has made it so much easier to get stuff “out there” without the need of a publisher. I don’t think success nowadays is down to whether someone behind a desk in a large publishing house thinks they can make cash out of my work, it’s more about getting the books out there so that more people can read them. One person like Andrea is worth a million rejection letters!

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      2. Glad you dropped by, William. We have choices — agents and self-publishing. That’s a good thing, no matter which route you choose. I am interested in self-publishing, but I also have no problem with someone doing work for me and getting paid for doing it. Like you said, it’s about getting the books out there. I have friends who are in both camps and I’m just happy their works are being published!

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  2. My local library and Dad’s cousin who was the librarian.

    Started me on a reading road with Agatha Cristie.

    High school, my choice of music was replaced by ‘Speed Reading Course’.

    Put those two together and I get through books quicker than you can say ‘Atchoo!’

    I’m assuming at the present that out of the nearly 100 visitors to my website (above) are the rejections since no one contacted me to say nothing – ah but of course apparently people don’t do that – so I’ve heard…

    One did and said she couldn’t wait for me to finish the whole book series to read it – well Darla that’s my motivation LOL!

    Later y’all
    CeDany
    BB

    P.S. Click on that Contact button and let me know you’ve been or else – ta ta ta ta ta – LOL! I’ll ignore you and carry on.

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    1. Hi, CeDany: I did visit your website — thanks for the interesting invitation. 🙂 The blog I use to share my personal and fiction writing is hosted by WordPress.com. I get a lot of encouragement from the blogging community that is built into WordPress. Does Weebly provide that for you? If not, and if your desire is to connect quickly with readers and other writers, get/give comments, and build a following, then you should consider WordPress.com. Thanks for stopping by!

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  3. LOL I loved “Great Expectations” and “Tale of Two Cities.” In high school, I bonded with the librarian. She’s the one who got me interested in the classics. Instead of spending time in the gym during lunch, I’d be in the good ole library.

    I agree with all your reasons on why it’s good to get a rejection. Like you said, it means you’re actually writing and you’re confident in your work. All it takes is someone to say “yes” until then keep learning the craft 🙂

    Keep smiling,
    Yawatta

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  4. Wonderful reminder, and as always, an inspiring post!
    “Reject a Hit” is the first (albeit last page) I read each month. It is so much fun and puts things in perspective. And since my mother’s Easter poem was rejected by a judge whose curt reply implied her poem wasn’t about Easter, this is another affirmation that judges have bad days (and bad attitudes) some days, too. And so do editors and publishers, as your list of famous writers proves!
    Well done, Darla!

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    1. Ah, your mother — my hero. Her Easter poem is a gem. I’m sure there’s a long list of reasons for rejections, and it’s all part of the process. We just have to be prepared to receive them.

      I enjoy reading Writer’s Digest with its great advice, tools, and instruction. It’s my only print magazine subscription.

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