As writers, we’re told to gear up for rejection. We await the return of manuscripts, the curt emails, or the phone calls from our weary agent (if we’re lucky enough to have one).
And for authors entering genres with rules and tropes to live up to—like science fiction or horror, for instance—the entry gates can be especially difficult to get through.
For whatever reason, it seems that some of the greatest literary talents—F. Scott Fitzgerald, Rudyard Kipling, Ursula Le Guin, Sylvia Plath, J.K. Rowling, and many, many more—have had their work rejected (and sometimes a lot) before finding an editor and publishing house willing to give them a chance. But when each of them were given one, they went on to sell millions of books, win countless awards, and inspire thousands of readers.
Below are just a few writers whose rejections may inspire you to keep pushing, even if it means getting your manuscript a little dirty (see below).
The War of the Worlds was rejected by several publishers before being serialized in Pearson’s Magazine in 1897. One editor said of Wells’ classic alien invasion tale “An endless nightmare. I do not believe it would take…I think the verdict would be ‘Oh don’t read that horrid book.'”
The book became a bestseller, being adapted for film, graphic novels, video games, and television.
Animal Farm was rejected by four publishers before being published by Secker & Warburg in 1945, three months after the war ended. Of those four publishers who rejected the novel, one of them was T.S. Eliot himself. The poet and former director of Faber & Faber wrote Orwell a letter in 1944 in which he stated “We have no conviction that this is the right point of view from which to criticize the political situation at the current time.”
The book won a retrospective Hugo Award and was chosen by TIME magazine as one of the best 100 English-language novels.
Dune was rejected twenty-three three times by publishers before being published by a small, Philadelphia publisher, Chilton. Herbert’s friend, Frederik Pohl, said of the deal “No book publisher was interested in acquiring the hardcover rights to this rapidly expanding mass of manuscript…The quite small publishing house of Chilton Books managed to stitch the several existing stories into a single huge novel.”
Dune went on to be a runaway bestseller and one of the most profitable science fiction books ever written. The book won the Hugo Award and the first ever Nebula Award.
Carrie was rejected thirty times by publishers who simply weren’t interested in the tormented, powerful girl covered in pig’s blood. If it weren’t for King’s wife, Tabitha, who scooped the manuscript out of the trash after King tossed it in, the story more than likely would’ve never been published at all. Carrie has since gone on to be adapted for TV and film numerous times.