For any aspiring writer, a rejection letter, regardless of the provenience of said letter, is one of the most dreaded of objects. In this line of work getting rejected is considered a sort of literary murder – people are knowingly destroying something you’ve spent time on, and a lot of it. But the thing is everyone got rejected, more or less. I can think of very few instances when writers found publishers/agents from the first try. Or the second, or the tenth.
Editors/agents are quite human. So they make mistakes. But it’s not just about that, like one publisher wrote Frank Herbert while rejecting Dune ( I might be making the mistake of the decade, but …) It’s more along the line of literary preferences. I know publishing is an industry, and I know that it’s all about business decisions, but editors/agents make those decision on account of their own ideas of how a book should look or what it should do, and they have to be able to sell it. It’s like giving your novel to a lot of random strangers. If you’re unlucky, you might even get a long streak of people who won’t like your story.
Agatha Christie got 500 rejections, and then went on to sell more books than anyone else on the planet, with the exception of Shakespeare.
J.K. Rowling got 12 rejections, before making a billion dollars out of Harry Potter, and breaking all sorts of ridiculous records in terms of book sales.
Dr. Seuss got a rejection letter than went like this, “Too different from other juveniles on the market to warrant its selling.” Of course, he didn’t give up.
“I’m sorry Mr. Kipling, but you just don’t know how to use the English language.” – this is how the youngest writer ever to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature was rejected.
“We feel that we don’t know the central character well enough.”- this is what J.D. Salinger got for The Catcher in the Rye, which is probably famous just because the narrator has such a clear and interesting voice.
“It would be extremely rotten taste, to say nothing of being horribly cruel, should we want to publish it.” – this one was addressed to Hemingway.
William Golding received something like this, “An absurd and uninteresting fantasy which was rubbish and dull.” Of course, he didn’t give up, and his masterpiece, The Lord Of The Flies sold 15 million copies.
It took Gertrude Stein 20 years before getting her first poem published.
As I said earlier, Frank Herbert got rejected 20 times, John Grisham got rejected 25 times, even the very prolific/rich/famous Stephen King got a dozen rejection letters for Carrie.
“Too radical of a departure from traditional juvenile literature.” – The Wizard of Oz
Even notorious bestsellers, like Twilight ( got rejected 14 times) or The Help (60 rejection letters) stand as proof to the fact that rejection is a part of a writer’s life.
“An endless nightmare. I think the verdict would be ‘Oh don’t read that horrid book.” – War Of The Worlds, H.G. Wells.
“Our united opinion is entirely against the book. It is very long, and rather old-fashioned.” – Moby Dick.
Even James Joyce, who some consider to be the supreme literary genius of the past century received 22 rejections for The Dubliners, before it finally got published. He sold three hundred books in the first year, out of which 120 were bought by the author himself.
“An absurd story as romance, melodrama or record of New York high life.”- rejection letter for The Great Gatsby
Alex Haley wrote for eight years before selling his first short story. Eventually he went on to win the Pulitzer. Much like Norman Mailer, who got his fair share of rejection letters before winning the Pulitzer also. Twice.
Jack Kerouac, George Orwell, Mario Puzo, all of them got their fair share of rejections.
To end this post on a positive note, I believe that the only thing a writer can do is write. And he has to persevere at this task. If he starts the day thinking about getting published, about landing that six figure deal, or just finding an agent, if he writes with the thought of having to write something brilliant, because anything short of brilliant won’t impress the agents, he’s just putting unnecessary pressure on his shoulders.