The journey of every author comes with the challenge of rejection. It can be heartbreaking. You pour your heart, soul and time into your work only to have it criticized and passed over. No matter how much of a literary masterpiece you produce there will always be a reviewer who dislikes your work. Know this – you are not alone. Throughout history, talented authors have been rejected and overlooked. Even literary geniuses such as J. R. R. Tolkien and John Steinbeck have suffered the sting of rejection. Here’s six (now famous) authors that once faced rejection.
1. J. K. Rowling
Best-selling author J. K. Rowling has sold over 450 million books and is worth more than $1 billion. Her life is a classic rags to riches tale, going from unemployed single mother ‘as poor as it is possible to be in modern Britain without being homeless’ to one of the wealthiest women in Britain. Rowling describes herself prior to Harry Potter as being ‘the biggest failure I knew’. Yet within her failure she found liberation.
‘I was set free because my greatest fear had been realized, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter, and a big idea. And so rock bottom became a solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.’
She sent her finished manuscript to 12 different publishers only to be rejected by them all. A Bloomsbury editor finally picked up the book for an advance of just £1,500. Her editor suggested she get a teaching job as it was unlikely that she would earn a living from writing children’s books. The book went on to become one of the best-selling series in history with over 450 million copies purchased world-wide.
Says Rowling, ‘It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all - in which case, you fail by default.’
2. Stephen King
Stephen King was the first to reject his own story ‘Carrie’. After writing a frustrating first draft and feeling that he was wasting his time creating a book that wouldn’t sell, he threw it out. The next day he found that his wife had pulled the papers out of the trash and wanted him to finish it. He went on to finish and submit it to a publisher who passed it over with the comment ‘We are not interested in science fiction which deals with negative utopias’. The manuscript was rejected 30 times before being picked up by Doubleday. It went on to sell over a million copies and become a successful film. Since then King has published over 54 novels, 200 short stories and won numerous awards for his contributions to literature.
3. Dr. Seuss
Rejected by 27 publishers, Dr Seuss was on his way home to burn his manuscript when he ran into an old school acquaintance. When asked what he was carrying Seuss replied ‘a book no one will publish. I’m lugging it home to burn’. The acquaintance, an editor of children’s books, insisted on seeing it. The book was published to rave reviews. Dr Seuss went on to write over 60 children’s books. His most famous, Green Eggs and Ham, has sold over 8 million copies worldwide. Seuss would say later of the fortuitous meeting, 'If I'd been going down the other side of Madison Avenue, I'd be in the dry-cleaning business today.’
4. Agatha Christie
Agatha Christie completed her first manuscript at the age of 22. She submitted to many publishers only to receive a stream of rejections. She sought the advice of a family friend writer Eden Philpots who introduced her to his own literary agent who rejected the manuscript but suggested she write a second novel. Agatha Christie’s first novel was never published. Her second novel was also repeatedly rejected before being finally published on the agreement that she change the ending. Agatha Christie went on to have a prolific career writing 72 novels and 15 short-story collections.
5. John Le Carré
John Le Carré’s first novel ‘The Spy Who Came in From the Cold’ was rejected by a publisher with a despondent remark to his agent, ‘You’re welcome to le Carré – he hasn’t got any future.’ He was very wrong. The novel went on to become an international bestseller and win several literary awards. The book was adapted into a movie in 1963 and did well at the box-office receiving positive reviews and accolades.
6. Louisa May Alcott
‘Stick to your teaching, Miss Alcott. You can’t write.’ Those were the words of one publisher who passed over the manuscript for Little Women. Alcott ignored his advice and the book went on to be well received with one reviewer stating it was ‘the very best of books to reach the hearts of the young of any age from six to sixty’. It is still a classic 150 years later.