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!