Posted in Book Stuff

*30 Great Rejection Stories

Here are some of my favourites:

Stephen King’s first novel, Carrie, was rejected dozens of times. He nailed the slips to his bedroom wall.
One of the rejections stated: “We are not interested in science fiction which deals with negative utopias. They do not sell.”

An editor forwarding to a colleague the ms of The Spy Who Came in From the Cold attached a note: “You’re welcome to le Carré – he hasn’t got any future.”

The Diary of Anne Frank was rejected by 16 publishers. J.K. Rowling’s first HP book was rejected by only half a dozen–but that was in an environment of post-mergers, leaving a smaller number of big publishers. It was a smaller press that took her on at first.

Tony Hillerman, famous for his series of mysteries featuring a Navajo detective, was advised by publishers “to get rid of all the Indian stuff.” Oh how that one resonates!

e.e. cummings self-published his first book and dedicated it to the 15 publishers who’d rejected it.

One of my favourite children’s books, A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engel, was rejected by 26 publishers.

Read them all for yourself here, and I suspect you’ll be smiling as broadly as I am.

h/t to Sandra Gulland for a timely reminder. Thanks Sandra!



Lilian is the author of Web of Angels, a novel about a mom with DID (multiple personalities). She's also the author of the historical novels, The River Midnight and The Singing Fire, about secrets, friendship and motherhood in 19th century Poland and London.

13 thoughts on “*30 Great Rejection Stories

  1. That list makes for an extremely edifying read, Lilian – thanks!!! I really never, ever tire of hearing such rejection stories – they’re so great for perspective and reassurance. On we go…

  2. I love stories like these, too. They are encouraging and also help prop up the backbone if and when (certainly when!) feedback from people in the business goes against the grain. I remember one agent liking the ms of The River Midnight but wanted me to cut the magical realism, change the structure, and focus the story only around the 4 friends. A different book entirely.

  3. Love it ! All artists need to be reminded of this.

    As a portrait artist who loves color I now laugh over a comment from someone commissioning me for some artwork. His directions were to ‘just paint it the color it really is.’ Now I let those words ring in my head to remind myself that no one has the same artist vision I do and my art should be about how I see it…. otherwise you can just take a photograph. I am sure this applies to writers as well. No one has your unique perspective on a story. Treasure that perspective.

  4. Hee-hee! I have a long way to go to get rejection letters like these. Mine always say something like “your novel does not suit our interests at this time,” or something like that.

    Roxy Katt

  5. Lilian, I think in cases like yours with that agent, we have no choice but to listen closely to that gut instinct that says, “No.” It can be difficult, because there’s another voice that says, “Maybe if I do what they say, everything will be perfect…” – but I think deep down we all know that second voice is nothing but trouble!!

  6. Sue, I love your description of the artist’s vision. I agree that every writer has a unique vision, too, a particularly coloured perception. Btw, at least he didn’t ask you to match his living room palette!

    Roxy, maybe we all should aspire to more interesting rejections. Perhaps there could be a blog award for those!

  7. I enjoyed these, thanks for sharing! I also love Hemingway’s story. In 1918 he wrote a letter to a college friend about the novel he was working on, This Side of Paradise. On a dummy title page he scribbled “Chas. Scribner’s Sons (Maybe!), MCMXVIII.” Scribners rejected him twice and only took it on the third try after an extensive rewrite. But they took it.

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