Sunday, April 25, 2010

WHO was rejected?

Writers endure a lot of punishment. The beatings take many forms, with rejection probably heading the list for the highest degree of pain inflicted. I know writers who are so discouraged and depressed after receiving the first few rejections that they want to give up.

But here's the thing: most successful authors out there have had to endure not only repeated rejection, but also scathing, humiliating, confidence-annihilating dismissals of their worth and their work - the same work which went on to become great successes and sell by the ton-load. We know the names of these authors because they did not curl up into a ball and die in the face of such rejection. We also have the tragic stories, like the one of John Kennedy Toole who received so many rejection letters for A Confederacy Of Dunces that he finally killed himself. His bereaved mother persisted, though, and the novel was eventually published and went on to win the Pulitzer Prize in 1980.

I find it sobering yet also strangely inspiring that every well-known writer, it seems, has publishing horror stories that make ours pale by comparison.

—Richard Bach's Jonathan Livingston Seagull got rejected 140 times before it was eventually published. That's a lot of "sorry, not for us" letters.

—One of Stephen King's rejections for his (later) bestselling novel, Carrie, read: “We are not interested in science fiction which deals with negative utopias. They do not sell.”

—Ursula K. Le Guin's manuscript of The Left Hand of Darkness was described as "endlessly complicated", "hopelessly bogged down", "dry and airless", "lacking in pace", "unreadable", and "a nuisance" - all in one rejection letter. The novel went on to win both the Hugo and Nebula awards.

—Jeffrey Carver collected rejection slips for 6 years before he finally sold his first short story.

—Madeline L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time was rejected by 26 publishers before finally breaking into print. It went on to win the 1963 Newbury Medal and is in its 69th printing.

—William Golding's Lord of the Flies was rejected by 20 publishers, one of whom denounced the future classic as "an absurd and uninteresting fantasy which was rubbish and dull."

—Tony Hillerman, now famous for his Navajo Tribal Police mystery novels, was initially told by publishers to "get rid of all that Indian stuff."

—Irving 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.

—Ray Bradbury has had about a thousand rejections over his 30 year career.

—George Orwell got this gem back with his submission of Animal Farm: "It is impossible to sell animal stories in the USA."

John Grisham. Steven King. Jane Austin. Vladimir Nabokov. JK Rowling. They all fought the rejection dragon, and they won. We can do a lot worse than to learn from them. Talent won't cut it; genius won't either, though these don't hurt. It's all about determination and persistence.


Debs said...

Thanks so much for this brilliant post, it's exactly what I needed to read today. Persistance is the key, I think.

Talli Roland said...

Getting published isn't easy, but it's so good to know that even though people struggle, they can make it!


Liane Spicer said...

You're welcome, Debs. Every now and then I have to remind myself that this business is tough for everyone. No one (celebrities excluded) gets a free pass.

Liane Spicer said...

Talli, welcome to the blog!

No, it's not easy, but a lot of us think it's worth the struggle. Well, most of the time anyway. Or at least some of the time. For those other moments, it helps to read about the struggles others went through yet managed to triumph over.

Jewel Amethyst said...

I once read on an agent's website how much she regretted rejecting Tom Clancy's "Hunt for Red October". Not only was it a bestseller when it got published, it was also made into a blockbuster movie.

Thanks for the little inspiration, Liane.

Liane Spicer said...

You're welcome, Jewel.

Seems every writer who's 'made it' has a similar story to tell. There must be lots of agents and publishers out there performing intricate gymnastic feats like kicking themselves in the pants.

Aoife.Troxel said...

Robert Pirsig who wrote 'Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance' had 121 rejections before getting a publisher. Never give up!

Liane Spicer said...

Aoife.Troxel, welcome to Novel Spaces! 121 you say; that's a helluva lot of paper, not to mention heartbreak. But submission #122 did it, proof indeed that one should just move on to the next target.