Following on from my post about The Author Brand, I thought it might be an inspiration to others to collate some information about some of the world’s most famous authors, and their paths to success. Today I’ve focussed on rejections by agents and publishers.
The ladder to the top can be a long and treacherous one, and it seems not even the most successful authors made it to the summit unscathed!
‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’ was rejected by twelve different publishers before Bloomsbury finally took it on, and only then on the advice of the CEO’s eight-year old daughter!
Grisham penned his first novel, the iconic ‘A Time to Kill’ whilst legally representing a 12 year-old rape victim. After three years writing the famous tale, Grisham was rejected by over thirty publishing houses before Wynwood Press finally cut him a break.
Stephen King took the rejection of his first novel ‘The Long Walk’ so badly, even though he only submitted it to one publisher, that he gave up on the story all together.
The bestselling author of ‘The Princess Diaries’ faced rejection after rejection for three years before finding a publisher. She admits to having kept every single rejection letter in a giant U.S. postal bag which is so heavy she can’t even lift it! And editors didn’t hold back with their criticism… one particularly scathing review stated that ‘The Princess Diaries’ wasn’t suitable for children. Try telling that to the millions of children who have since bought the books and watched the movies!
‘Lord of The Flies’ was rejected twenty times before being published. One editor actually described it as ‘an absurd and uninteresting fantasy which was rubbish and dull’! Oops!
One publisher rejected the iconic journal because ‘The girl doesn’t, it seems to me, have a special perception or feeling which would lift the book above the ‘curiosity’ level.’
Apparently Catch-22 was originally entitled ‘Catch-18’ but Heller increased the number with each rejection letter! One of the ‘best rejection’ it received said ‘Apparently the author intends it to be funny – possibly even satire – but it is really not funny on any intellectual level …’
Four publishers rejected the iconic ‘Animal Farm’, including famous poet T.S. Elliot. Elliot criticised Orwell’s ‘Trotskyite politics’, whilst another editor simply stated ‘It is impossible to sell animal stories in the USA’!
‘To Kill a Mockingbird’, one of my favourite novels, was rejected by J.B. Lippincott Company because it ‘had too many short stories strung together, and needed to be rewritten’.
On a similar note, a few years ago the director of the Jane Austen Festival decided to find out what sort of reception Jane herself might get, had she been an author in this day and age. With only a few minor changes, David Lassman submitted the opening chapters and plot synopses to three of Austen’s most famous books – Pride and Prejudice, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion – to publishers and agents. He submitted the books under early titles which Austen had once considered, and used the pen name ‘Alison Laydee’, a play on Austen’s nom de plume ‘ A Lady’.
Despite not even changing the opening line of Pride & Prejudice – one of the most famous lines in literature – only one editor noticed the plagiarism! And EVERYONE else rejected ALL of Austen’s work.
I realise that possibly says more about the lack of education of those we’re pinning our hopes to at the moment, than anything else … but it also shows that even literary genius can go unnoticed in today’s harsh market! So don’t get too disheartened by the rejection emails … we’ll get there in the end 😉
As another of my favourite childhood authors, C.S. Lewis, once said … ‘Failures are fingerposts on the road to achievement.’