Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Famous People Get Rejected, Too!

I'm inching closer to querying (but it's still off in the distance, not even close enough for me to grab...yet.), which of course makes me think about rejection.


What an ugly word.

We writers like to soothe ourselves by saying the usual things:

"My manuscript isn't for everyone."
"Just because this agent rejected it doesn't mean that one will!"
"I didn't really want to work with that agent anyway!" *sticks tongue out*
"Everyone gets rejected! Even the really, really, really famous authors!"

Fortunately for our sanity, that last statement is actually true! For awhile now, I've been collecting information about the rejection stats of some famous writers. Read them and feel slightly better about yourself. For today, anyway.
  • The original title of Catch-22 was Catch-18, but Simon and Schuster planned to publish it during the same season that Doubleday was bringing out Mila 18 by Leon Uris. Doubleday complained, and Joseph Heller changed the title. Why did he choose 22? Because Simon and Schuster was the 22nd publisher to read the manuscript. Catch-22 has sold more than 10 million copies, and the title phrase is now a part of the English language.
  • Stephen King received many, many rejections in his lifetime, including dozens for his first novel, Carrie (as you know if you've read On Writing, which you should). He used to keep them piled on a nail in his bedroom. King was told, about Carrie, "We are not interested in science fiction which deals with negative utopias. They do not sell." (HA! Can you imagine someone saying this today. Yeah. Right.)
  • John Grisham's first novel, A Time to Kill, was rejected by 30 agents and 15 publishers.
  • Judy Blume says she received nothing but rejections for two years straight before finally becoming a published author. 
  • Dr. Seuss's first book was rejected 24 times.
  • Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time received more than 30 rejections.
  • The first Chicken Soup for the Soul title received 33 "nos" before it finally got a yes. 
  • Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was rejected by 14 publishers. Bloomsbury, a small London publisher, only took it on at the request of the CEO’s eight-year old daughter, who begged her father to print the book. 
  • So many publishers rejected The Tale of Peter Rabbit that Beatrix Potter published it herself.
  • Thirty-eight publishers rejected Gone With the Wind before it finally sold, went on to win the Pulitzer, and was adapted into an Academy Award winning movie.
  • The classic Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig was rejected 121 times. It went on to sell 4 million copies.
So the next time you get a rejection (or are prematurely and irrationally worried about one, like me) just remember - you're not the only one.

Published or soon-to-be published authors that happen to stumble over here, feel free to add your stats, if you want to discuss them, in the comments, and I can add them to the post! Or if you happen to know the stat of a famous author I left out.


  1. Wow. The one that stopped me cold was that JK Rowling's fate was sealed by an eight-year-old.
    I'm nowhere near submitting, but it will be good to know this info when the time finally comes.

  2. Gosh I feel like crying reading this post. Rejections is what made published authors super extra duper admirable. :D

    Anyway, I know about the JK Rowling story, I just didn't know that she begged her father to print it! A girl with an awesome taste!

  3. Do you think that girl reminds her father of that every day? If not, she should!

  4. Love hearing stories about famous authors and their path to success. I am now going to memorize all of them so when the husband wants to know why I've lost it, sworn to quit but still keep querying, it will make sense. ;)

  5. 38 publishers for Gone with the Wind... wow, oh wow! Absolutely fantastic post. I'm with you every step of the way, Heather! <33

  6. Perfect timing, considering I just got a rejection. Gotta have thick skin in business. Hope to see you in a list of future success stories. :)

  7. Thanks for this post. I hope to start querying around December and I'm already telling myself that I'm gonna get a ton of rejections so I need to prepare myself. This gave me hope!

  8. This entry was awesome... I had no idea about any of those rejections. I'm amused. :) Thanks for posting.


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