Nobody likes to be rejected. Even the most seasoned, thick-skinned, successful writers hate getting rejections.
Unfortunately, for aspiring authors rejection isn't just a passing disappointment - it's a way of life.
As a writer, you can count on getting hundreds of rejections. And - I hate to say this - your hundredth rejection will sting just as much as the first.
At some point, you will be tempted to throw in the towel.
Don't do it. Try my foolproof method instead.The method
Before I explain my tried-and-true method for handling rejections, I have to preface it with the admonition that it will take a little organizational work on your part. Ideally, you should do this before you start submitting your work. After all, you want to avoid as much pain as possible. Of course, if you have already started submitting your work and are in the throes of an existential crisis, it still isn't too late.
1) Make a 'top 50 list.' Find 50 places to submit your work and rank them in order of desirability. (For example, if you are submitting a story, the top slot could be the New Yorker.)
If you are submitting a short story, go here
, and find 50 literary magazines.
If you are submitting query letters to agents, go to Agentquery
and make a list of 50 agents for your genre. (Be sure to check Agents Seeking Clients here
Resources for Science Fiction/Fantasy writers are here
Resources for Children's and YA writers are here
Resources for Romance writers are here
.Resources for Mystery/Thrillers are here.
2) If your top slot says "no simultaneous submissions" then, immediately
after getting your rejection, submit to the #2 spot on your list.
3) If your top slots - or your remaining slots - don't say "no simultaneous submissions" submit to all of them at once. One of them will take you, and your waiting time will be considerably reduced.
4) If you are submitting to agents, make sure you revise and hone your query letter as you submit, but keep working your way down your list. Don't stop
5) When you get close to number 50 (and I have done this more than once), make a new 'top 50 list.'
Do this doggedly - without pausing to contemplate the futility of writing or the pointlessness of existence - and you will do just fine. And keep writing! Having several of your works making the rounds on your 'top 50' will increase your chances of success.
You may find, as I did, that by using this technique you will not only avoid the rejection blues, you will get published.
I enjoy reading bad reviews of famous novels - almost as much as I enjoy getting them. It comforts me to know that if a book of mine is called "lugubrious," I will be keeping company with Aldous Huxley.
(Unlike Brave New World
, not one of my books has been called "lugubrious," or even "nauseating," but this is probably due to an avoidance of polysyllabic adjectives on the part of contemporary reviewers.)
These books were panned primarily because they broke new ground. Innovative writing is rarely well received in the short run. However, in the long run, these books have stood the test of time, and are now considered classics.
Here are some truly harsh reviews of 20th-century classics assembled by Sean Hutchinson for Publisher's Weekly
. If your book has the good fortune to be called "silly," know that you are right up there with Richard Wright.
Really Harsh Early Reviews of 20 Classic 20th-Century Novels
By Sean Hutchinson
Ulysses – James Joyce
Joyce’s magnum opus redefined literature and was a major event upon its release in 1922. Some bought into its radical structure, but others didn’t—including fellow modernist Virginia Woolf. In her diary she called Ulysses “an illiterate, underbred book it seems to me: the book of a self-taught working man, and we all know how distressing they are, how egotistic, insistent, raw, striking, and ultimately nauseating ... never did any book so bore me.”
The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald
Cited by many as the Great American Novel, Fitzgerald’s inimitable The Great Gatsby remains a staple in classrooms and on bookshelves the world over. Critic and journalist H.L. Mencken, however, called it “no more than a glorified anecdote,” and that “it is certainly not to be put on the same shelf, with, say, This Side of Paradise [Fitzgerald’s debut novel].” In her review for the New York Evening World, critic Ruth Snyder said, “We are quite convinced after reading The Great Gatsby that Mr. Fitzgerald is not one of the great American writers of to-day.”
Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov
Nabokov’s novel about a literature professor who becomes obsessed with a 12-year-old girl wasn’t without controversy when it was published in 1958. Orville Prescott’s review in the New York Times listed two reasons why Lolita “isn't worth any adult reader's attention.” “The first,” he said, “is that it is dull, dull, dull in a pretentious, florid and archly fatuous fashion. The second is that it is repulsive.” Later in the same review, he called Nabokov’s writing “highbrow pornography.
Brave New World – Aldous Huxley
The ritualistic and drug-filled dystopian world created by writer Aldous Huxley may have been too much for some when it was first published in 1931, but the New York Herald Tribune may have missed the point of the book altogether when their review called Brave New World “A lugubrious and heavy-handed piece of propaganda.”
Catch-22 – Joseph Heller
Heller’s satirical novel about World War II is so popular that the phrase “Catch-22” has become a ubiquitous modern idiom meaning a type of no-win situation. Heller was in a no-win situation, according to critic Richard Stern, whose New York Times review called the book “an emotional hodgepodge.” He added, “No mood is sustained long enough to register for more than a chapter.”
Under the Volcano — Malcolm Lowry
Lowry’s novel—about an alcoholic British consul in Mexico during the Day of the Dead celebration on the eve of World War II—has both dazzled and frustrated readers since its debut in 1947. The New Yorker only reviewed it in its “Briefly Noted” section, saying, “for all [Lowry’s] earnestness he has succeeded only in writing a rather good imitation of an important novel.”
To the Lighthouse – Virginia Woolf
The New York Evening Post’s cleverly snide review of Woolf’s highly abstract Modernist masterpiece managed to praise her and shoot her down all in the same sentence: “Her work is poetry; it must be judged as poetry, and all the weaknesses of poetry are inherent in it.”
An American Tragedy – Theodore Dreiser
This sprawling tale of love and deceit's influence has been made into an opera, a musical, a radio program, and more. When the novel was first published in 1925, the Boston Evening Telegraph called its main character, Clyde Griffiths, “one of the most despicable creations of humanity that ever emerged from a novelist’s brain,” and called Dreiser “a fearsome manipulator of the English language” with a style that “is offensively colloquial, commonplace and vulgar.
Invisible Man – Ralph Ellison
Invisible Man won the National Book Award for Fiction in 1953, cementing its reputation as one of the most important books about race and identity ever written. In its 1952 review, however, the Atlantic Monthly thought it suffered from “occasional overwriting, stretches of fuzzy thinking, and a tendency to waver, confusingly, between realism and surrealism.”
Native Son – Richard Wright
Richard Wright’s Native Son is another classic American novel about the African American experience, but the New Statesman and The Nation found the book to be “unimpressive and silly, not even as much fun as a thriller."
Henderson the Rain King – Saul Bellow
Bellow’s uniquely comic and philosophical novel about an American millionaire who unwittingly becomes the king of an African tribe was the author's personal favorite. But it wasn’t a favorite for critic Reed Whittemore. In his review for the New Republic
, Whittemore posed this question to himself: “The reviewer looks at the evidence and wonders if he should damn the author and praise the book, or praise the author and damn the book. And is it possible, somehow or other to praise or damn, both? He isn’t sure.”Read the rest of these really harsh reviews here.
F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Great Gatsby hits theaters today, and predictably the paperback tie-in hit #1 on bestseller lists. But, F. Scott Fitzgerald never saw his book become a success. In fact, at his untimely death at the age of 44, he had earned a grand total of $13.13 in royalties. Read Newspaper Alum's great blog on why it took so long for F. Scott Fitzgerald’s masterpiece to make it to the big time.
"On May 10th, Baz Luhrmann's new film adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s literary masterpiece ``The Great Gatsby’’ hits theaters nationwide starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire, Carey Mulligan, Joel Edgerton, Isla Fisher and Jason Clarke. The official premiere of the film kicked off at a star-studded event at Lincoln Center on Wednesday with a dazzling 3-D spectacle.
``The Great Gatsby’’, written by Fitzgerald while living with his wild and mentally unstable wife Zelda in France and Italy in 1924 and early 1925, tells the tragic story of Jay Gatsby (born James Gatz), once a poor young man who rose to become fabulously rich (through bootlegging) embraces a corrupted form of the American Dream by worshiping the monied class of Daisy Buchanan, a former flame of his while enlisted in World War I. Gatsby finally meets her again for the first time in five years and ultimately becomes destroyed by pursuing what he naively thinks will bring him happiness and fulfillment. The theme of disillusionment with American contemporary culture and its fraudulent emphasis on wealth and power are common threads found throughout the novel. But probably ``The Great Gatsby’s’’ most enduring impact was educating succeeding generations about the roaring 20’s, namely about jazz, gambling, excess drinking, and reckless living.
Whether the film meets with upbeat praise or is scorned by critics; the film will more than likely cause film goers to dust off ``The Great Gatsby’’ from their bookshelves or dash off to the library or their Kindle’s to reread what is now considered the Great American novel.
It’s shocking how long it took ``The Great Gatsby’’ to be considered a classic. It wasn’t until April 24, 1960, for example, that The New York Times wrote: ``It is probably safe now to say that it [The Great Gatsby] is a classic of twentieth-century American fiction.’’Read the rest of this article HERE.
There seems to be no end to the mistakes publishers make - and the Wizard of Oz was one of the biggest. But there have been many less spectacular mistakes as well. The lesson writers should learn from this list is: Develop a thick skin. You'll need it.
The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum
'Too radical of a departure from traditional juvenile literature.'
The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
'It contains unpleasant elements.'
Look Homeward, Angel by Thomas Wolfe
The Blessing Way by Tony Hillerman
'get rid of the Indian stuff.'
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
'Stick to teaching.'
The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck
'The American public is not interested in China.'
Lady Chatterley's Lover by D.H. Lawrence
'for your own sake do not publish this book.'
Garfield by Jim Davis
'Too many animals, and cats don’t sell.'
(93 books, 21 films)
'You have no business being a writer and should give up.'
Remembrance of Things Past by Marcel Proust
'My dear fellow, I may be dead from the neck up, but rack my brains as I may I can't see why a chap should need thirty pages to describe how he turns over in bed before going to sleep.'
For writers, rejections aren't just inevitable – they are a way of life. Every writer gets rejections. Every. Single. One. There are no exceptions. Here is a tally that should, if not encourage you, at least bring you back to reality. The reality is this: keep your day job, but KEEP WRITING!!
The Princess Diaries, by Meg Cabot, was rejected by 17 publishers
Frank Herbert’s Dune was rejected 20 times.
Thor Hyerdahl's Kon-Tiki was rejected 20 times.
Richard Hooker's novel M*A*S*H was rejected 21 times.
James Joyce's Dubliners was rejected 22 times.
John Grisham’s first novel was rejected 25 times.
Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind was rejected by 25 publishers.
Madeleine L"Engle's A Wrinkle in Time was turned down 29 times.
Stephen King's Carrie was rejected 30 times.
Gone with the Wind was rejected 38 times.
Jonathan Livingston Seagull was rejected 40 times.
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance was rejected 121 times.
Chicken Soup for the Soul by Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen received 134 rejections.
Louis L’Amour was rejected over 200 times before he sold any of his writing.
And the grand prize goes to:
C.S. Lewis, who received over 800 rejections before he sold a single piece of writing.
(My goal is to beat C.S. Lewis. What's yours?)
Gertrude Stein's rejection letter merits a special place among rejections, if only because the publisher put so much effort into it. This parody demonstrates the principal character flaw of publishers: they believe they are the final arbiters of literary taste. One hardly needs to point out that being a music critic does not make you Rachmaninov. Or even a Rach knock-off.
Stein, whose salon eventually became the center of the Parisian art world, was the author of The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, a bestseller.
The letter reads:Dear Madam,
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.
Many thanks. I am returning the M.S. by registered post. Only one M.S. by one post.
Letter image from http://www.flavorwire.com/232203/famous-authors-harshest-rejection-letters
The wacky world of publishing continues with this second installment of Publishers Say the Darndest Things. There is a lesson to be learned from these rejections.
(Theodor Seuss Geisel's first book was rejected by 27 publishers - this is why)
'too different from other juveniles on the market to warrant its selling.'
The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. LeGuin
(LeGuin's book went on to win both a Nebula and a Hugo award and to reshape a genre)
'The book is so endlessly complicated by details of reference and information, the interim legends become so much of a nuisance despite their relevance, that the very action of the story seems to be to become hopelessly bogged down and the book, eventually, unreadable.'
The Female Man by Joanna Russ
(winner of the Nebula award)
"We've already published our feminist novel this year, so we don't want another" … "I'm sick and tired of these kinds of women's novels that are just one long whiny complaint."
Mary Higgins Clark
(rejected 40 times)
'Your story is light, slight, and trite.'
(Colette went on to publish 50 books)
"You won't be able to sell 10 copies."
Bridge Over River Kwai by Pierre Boulle
'A very bad book.'
The Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean Auel
"We are very impressed with the depth and scope of your research and the quality of your prose. Nevertheless ... we don't think we could distribute enough copies to satisfy you or ourselves."
Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach
(sold more than 7.25 million copies)
"Jonathan Livingston Seagull will never make it as a paperback."
The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells
'An endless nightmare. I do not believe it would "take"...I think the verdict would be 'Oh don't read that horrid book'.'
Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann
' ...she is a painfully dull, inept, clumsy, undisciplined, rambling and thoroughly amateurish writer whose every sentence, paragraph and scene cries for the hand of a pro. She wastes endless pages on utter trivia, writes wide-eyed romantic scenes ...hauls out every terrible show biz cliché in all the books, lets every good scene fall apart in endless talk and allows her book to ramble aimlessly ...'
The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand
'I wish there were an audience for a book of this kind. But there isn't. It won't sell.'
'(Your poems) are quite as remarkable for defects as for beauties and are generally devoid of true poetical qualities.'
Edgar Allen Poe
'Readers in this country have a decided and strong preference for works in which a single and connected story occupies the entire volume.'
Moby Dick by Herman Melville
'We regret to say that our united opinion is entirely against the book as we do not think it would be at all suitable for the Juvenile Market in (England). It is very long, rather old-fashioned...'
'(Your book is) forbidding and depressing.'
The Torrents of Spring by Ernest Hemingway
'It would be extremely rotten taste, to say nothing of being horribly cruel, should we want to publish it.'
'I'm sorry, Mr. Kipling, but you just don't know how to use the English language.'
Sanctuary by William Faulkner
'Good God, I can't publish this!'
Rejections are hard on budding young authors - even on old famous ones. (We are an insecure lot.) The following list of authors who have been treated almost as badly as you have is bound to make you feel better. If nothing else, know that you are in good company. From the American literary publisher Knopf's Archives at the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center at the University of Texas at Austin:
Jorge Luis Borges
Isaac Bashevis Singer
'It's Poland and the rich Jews again.'
'There is no commercial advantage in acquiring her, and, in my opinion, no artistic.'
'His frenetic and scrambled prose perfectly express the feverish travels of the Beat Generation. But is that enough? I don't think so.'
Lady Chatterley's Lover by D H Lawrence
'for your own sake do not publish this book.'
The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
'an irresponsible holiday story'
Lord of the Flies by William Golding
'an absurd and uninteresting fantasy which was rubbish and dull.'
Watership Down by Richard Adams
'older children wouldn't like it because its language was too difficult.'
On Sylvia Plath
'There certainly isn't enough genuine talent for us to take notice.'
Crash by J. G Ballard
‘The author of this book is beyond psychiatric help.'
The Deer Park by Norman Mailer
'This will set publishing back 25 years.'
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes by Anita Loos
'Do you realize, young woman, that you're the first American writer ever to poke fun at sex.'
The Diary of Anne Frank
‘The girl doesn’t, it seems to me, have a special perception or feeling which would lift that book above the “curiosity” level.’
Lust for Life by Irving Stone
(which was rejected 16 times, but found a publisher and went on to sell about 25 million copies)
‘ A long, dull novel about an artist.’
Barchester Towers by Anthony Trollope
'The grand defect of the work, I think, as a work of art is the low-mindedness and vulgarity of the chief actors. There is hardly a "lady" or "gentleman" amongst them.'
Carrie by Stephen King
'We are not interested in science fiction which deals with negative utopias. They do not sell.'
Catch – 22 by Joseph Heller
‘I haven’t really the foggiest idea about what the man is trying to say… Apparently the author intends it to be funny – possibly even satire – but it is really not funny on any intellectual level … From your long publishing experience you will know that it is less disastrous to turn down a work of genius than to turn down talented mediocrities.’
The Spy who Came in from the Cold by John le Carré
‘You’re welcome to le Carré – he hasn’t got any future.’
Animal Farm by George Orwell
‘It is impossible to sell animal stories in the USA’
Lady Windermere’s Fan by Oscar Wilde
‘My dear sir,
I have read your manuscript. Oh, my dear sir.’
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
‘... overwhelmingly nauseating, even to an enlightened Freudian … the whole thing is an unsure cross between hideous reality and improbable fantasy. It often becomes a wild neurotic daydream … I recommend that it be buried under a stone for a thousand years.’