books · Publishing · writing

25 Rejection Letters to Famous Authors

conan-rejection-letter

I’ve mentioned before that to be a writer is to be rejected, but how have famous authors really been treated by the publishing industry? I’ve tracked down several excerpts from rejection letters to well-known authors and shared them below. Some of them are hysterical. Others are horrifying. But all of them offer a brief peek into the realm of publishing.

 

Rejection Letter Excerpts

—     —     —

1. “You’d have a decent book if you’d get rid of that Gatsby Character.” – to F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

2. “Stick to teaching.” – to Louisa May Alcott, Little Women

3. “We are not interested in science fiction which deals with negative utopias. They do not sell.” -to Stephen King, Carrie

4. “I rack my brains why a chap should need thirty pages to describe how he turns over in bed before going to sleep.” – to Marcel Proust, Remembrance of Things Past

5. “He hasn’t got any future.” – about John le Carré, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold

—     —     —

6. “My dear sir, I have read your manuscript. Oh, my dear sir.” – to Oscar Wilde, Lady Windermere’s Fan

7. “This author is beyond psychiatric help. Do not publish.”– about J.G. Ballard, Crash.

8. “…for your own sake do not publish this book.” – to D.H. Lawrence, Lady Chatterly’s Lover

9. “If I may be frank — you certainly are in your prose — I found your efforts to be both tedious and offensive. You really are a man’s man, aren’t you? I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that you had penned this entire story locked up at the club, ink in one hand, brandy in the other.” – to Ernest Hemmingway, The Sun also Rises

10. “Frenetic and scrambled prose.” – to Jack Kerouac, On the Road

—     —     —

11. “It is so badly written.” – about Dan Brown, The DaVinci Code

12. “I haven’t the foggiest idea about what the man is trying to say. Apparently the author intends it to be funny.” – about Joseph Heller, Catch-22

13. “Our united opinion is entirely against the book. It is very long, and rather old-fashioned… First, we must ask, does it have to be a whale? While this is a rather delightful, if somewhat esoteric, plot device, we recommend an antagonist with a more popular visage among the younger readers. For instance, could not the Captain be struggling with a depravity towards young, perhaps voluptuous, maidens?” – to Hermann Melville, Moby Dick

14. “We feel that we don’t know the central character well enough.” – to J.D. Salinger, The Catcher In The Rye

15. “I recommend that it be buried under a stone for a thousand years.” – about Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita

—     —    —

16. “Unsaleable and unpublishable.” – to Ayn Rand, The Fountainhead

17. “Undisciplined, rambling and thoroughly amateurish writer.” – about Jacqueline Susann, Valley of the Dolls

18. “Too radical of a departure from traditional juvenile literature.” – about L. Frank Baum, The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz

19. “An endless nightmare. I think the verdict would be ‘Oh don’t read that horrid book.’” about H.G. Wells, The War Of The Worlds

20. “It is not interesting enough for the general reader and not thorough enough for the scientific reader.” – to H.G. Wells, The Time Machine

—     —     —

21. “The girl doesn’t, it seems to me, have a special perception or feeling which would lift that book above the ‘curiosity’ level.” – about Anne Frank, The Diary of Anne Frank

22. “I am only one, only one, only one. Only one being, one at the same time. Not two, not three, only one. Only one life to live, only sixty minutes in one hour. Only one pair of eyes. Only one brain. Only one being. Being only one, having only one pair of eyes, having only one time, having only one life, I cannot read your M.S. three or four times. Not even one time. Only one look, only one look is enough. Hardly one copy would sell here. Hardly one. Hardly one.” – to Gertrude Stein

23. “An irresponsible holiday story that will never sell.” to Kenneth Grahame, The Wind In The Willows

24. “An absurd and uninteresting fantasy which was rubbish and dull.” – to William Golding, The Lord of the Flies

25. “Good God, I can’t publish this.” – about William Faulkner, Sanctuary

—     —    —

Hopefully reading about how authors have struggled and survived the rejection process will make you feel a bit better about your own path to publishing. If you know of any other interesting rejection letters or feel brave enough to describe rejections of your own, feel free to share them here. Seeing a spectrum of rejections helps us all be a better writing community, and frankly, I doubt any of us will receive rejections as vehement as the ones above. (Though I may start saying, “My dear sir. Oh, my dear sir,” to people who bother me.)

 

—     —     —

Attributions:

(I must admit that I don’t have perfect provenance for each of the above excerpts, so if you spot anything egregiously inaccurate, please let me know.)

Letter from Farnsworth Wright, editor of Weird Tales, to Robert E. Howard rejecting the first three Conan the Barbarian stories, 1932, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Conan_Rejection_Letter.PNG

http://www.litrejections.com/best-sellers-initially-rejected/

http://mentalfloss.com/uk/books/can-you-identify-these-17-famous-authors-from-their-rejections

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/booknews/10877825/The-rejection-letters-how-publishers-snubbed-11-great-authors.html

http://susiesmith13.tripod.com/id12.html

Advertisements

95 thoughts on “25 Rejection Letters to Famous Authors

  1. I’m not sure whether this post was meant to be funny, uplifting, or depressing and tragic. After all, these authors all made it (I’m guessing. I don’t know many of them,) but it also shows how the agents are very crass and judgmental. It’s such a shame that, while we slave over books, one person can toss it away and say ‘no. not good enough. just stop.’ Though, I do believe agents have gotten a little better with their crass responses, they still have the ability to crush someone. :/

    Liked by 6 people

    1. Definitely. I take comfort in the fact that most of these letters were from an earlier era, and the editors that I know today all write very professional, mundane letters. I think it takes a very specific personality to feel good about sending a response like some of the ones posted above. I like to think most people are kinder than that.

      Liked by 3 people

  2. I think that judging writings, both at school or at publishing, is one of the most subjective things, as everyone perceives and interprets these things so differently. It is a pure coincidence if it ends in a story of success or the loss of all self-esteem.

    Liked by 4 people

  3. This is what drives Indie publishing. I sincerely hope these letters were placed in files and not actually sent to authors. I really don’t understand what drives commercial publishing beyond money. To that end I’m going to a workshop tomorrow called “Inside the Mind of a Publisher” at http://www.siwc.ca. I will let you know what I find out.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. I think that with a few exceptions, many of these only went to editorial offices and not to the writers themselves, which is for the best. I’ll be interested to hear about your workshop experience; it sounds like it will be informative, and hopefully you’ll take away a lot from it.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Reblogged this on and commented:
    This is what drives Indie publishing. I sincerely hope these letters were placed in files and not actually sent to authors. I really don’t understand what drives commercial publishing beyond money. To that end I’m going to a workshop tomorrow called “Inside the Mind of a Publisher” at http://www.siwc.ca. I will let you know what I find out.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. All of these shock me! You think they could just say sorry I’m not interested. I’ve received serval rejection letters and they were all nice and complimentary, so I’m always surprised by how mean some of these agents can be. But of all them to say that they couldn’t get a sense of Holden Caulfield is crazy to me. I loved him from the opening paragraph. And I bet the person who turned down Stephen King regrets that one.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. I knew some of them! It’s tragic that such fine books (I enjoyed most of them) had been thought of so poorly. Still, I find this post somewhat uplifting – all these persons made it through! They stayed true to their passion and it payed off. There is hope for all of us. Thank you for motivating other writers and opening the eyes of the readers.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. “Too radical of a departure from traditional juvenile literature.” – about L. Frank Baum, The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz

    It’s really weird (and difficult) to think of a world without The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I never knew until about 4 years ago that there was an entire series of Oz books. I found them on gutenberg.org and read the entire series. Delightful. I can’t imagine why, even back then, a publisher would think it “too radical a departure from traditional juvenile literature.” The person who read it much not have liked a rich imagination to inspire children.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It is very odd, isn’t it? Maybe you’ve hit the crux of the issue: rich imagination too much for some. Threatening, perhaps? Or so far out of that reader’s world view? I’m just glad those books made it out into the world because, as you noted, “Delightful.”

        Liked by 1 person

  8. These are hilarious – but I will add that all the rejection letters I have received have been unfailingly polite and professional. And one outstanding rejection went to extraordinary lengths to point out where I could improve my work. So the era where such crushing opinions were order of the day are, thankfully, a thing of the past!

    Liked by 2 people

  9. I wonder if any of the publishers actually learnt from this when the books went on to be successful. I fear not. I assume they continued to reject potentially popular books by continuing to choose only those fitting their own narrow taste, rather than choosing for a wider readership.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Yes, just goes to show how subjective it all is, and money must be their driving force. I’ve had some nicely worded rejections, I think they have to be more PC today, as they might end up being shamed in such a list as this!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Rejection is awful and these are certainly harsh critiques, but I can’t help think that some of the works we read are great because they had been judged so harshly. Perhaps such astringent rejection fuels writers to sharpen their work. Are rejections too polite these days? Too professional? I can’t say for sure. I’m certain there are greats toiling away as we speak, but I sometimes wonder if the fires these days are hot enough to forge masters of the craft as we’ve seen in the past. The interest in creative output is all relative and I find the best way to view any rejection letter is as a receipt for dues paid. Thank you for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. There is definitely a line where the rejections simply are cruel, and I don’t think there is any need for those. Writers and editors are both human, and I think it is important for them to recognize the humanity in each other.

        Liked by 1 person

  12. What a refreshing view on the world of writing and publishing!
    It reminds me that, once again, opinions are like, well, you know.
    It also makes me wonder how many times I have had a negative response to someone else’s efforts, only to be terribly and ridiculously wrong.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Though rejection in this way is indeed awful I tend to agree with Sjhigbee’s assment that these are also hilarious. I also agree that they are probably mostly now part of a bygone era. I had a few rejection letters before deciding to self publish but they were polite and, a couple, quite helpful!
    It is also encouraging to know that works now considered good or even great were not universally greeted with adoration at their beginnings.
    Reading the rejections above reminded me of a work colleague a few years ago (a man in his late fifties) who was a good enough sport to bring into the office a school report. One teacher, after giving low grades simply wrote:-
    ‘This boy is ridiculous! ‘

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That comment from the teacher is hilarious. (And a bit horrifying.)

      I’m glad to hear that your interactions with agents and editors has been mostly positive. Some people offer such wonderful advice even when they are writing rejections. I suppose that is a talent all its own.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Lovely collection of R letters. As you said upthread, most agents are far more gentle today, even if you end up in the same place.

    You wanted other rejections. Here’s one of mine, hot off the press (just came into my inbox yesterday). I’m not including the agent’s name, although I was grateful for her courtesy.

    “Thanks so much for sending along the sample pages of Hans and Greta. I’m sorry to say, though, that I just wasn’t as completely drawn in by the material as much as I had hoped. What with my reservations, I’d better bow out.

    Thanks so much for contacting me, though! I really appreciate it, and wish you the best of luck.”

    Not soul-crushing (unless you’re a fragile writer), but still not the response I was hoping for, of course. Still, everyone gets rejected. All the above authors found agents and/or publishers who believed in their work. So thanks for the shot of hope. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Oh my God, oh my dear God!–don’t I feel better now! I must admit to a huge diversity of reactions when I read reviews others have made of the same book I am reviewing. My opinion is just my own–someone else may like it (or hate it). Obviously, with the comments you published, SOMEONE else found those authors more than publishable!

    Liked by 1 person

  16. I could half-way understand where some of these quotes were coming from, especially for those truly unique masterpieces like Lolita and The Wizard of Oz. They must have seemed a little risky when they came across the agent’s desk.

    But what in the world would the Great Gatsby be if you got rid of Gatsby?

    Thanks for sharing these laughable and somewhat cringe-worthy rejections, Kristen!

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Wow Kristen, this one touched a nerve. And one of mine I might add as I am writing too.

    I have another eg. One that gave great comfort while crying myself to sleep over the latest rejection letter.

    As the author of ‘Vernon God Little’ walked away with the 2003 Booker Prize, every major Literary Agency asked. ‘Why didn’t you send it to us?’

    To each and every one he replied… ‘I did!’*

    They had all ignored it.

    Yet ‘Vernon God Little’ also won the Bollinger Wodehouse Everyman Prize for Comic Fiction, the Man Booker Prize for Fiction, and the 1st Novel Award in the Whitbread Awards.

    Who knows, one day that might be one of us!

    * actually his reply of ‘I did’ was prefaced by an all too familiar phrase containing one four letter word followed by a three letter word. But on the grounds this is a family friendly blog…

    Liked by 1 person

  18. I love this post. I hope you don’t mind that I reposted it on my blog. I am aiming for 100 rejections this year and sharing my journey (and others’ experiences) online. Today, I needed to be reminded that even some of my favourite writers faced rejection.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s