“Hardships often prepare ordinary people for an extraordinary destiny.”
– C S Lewis
“Writing – ain’t for the faint hearted.” Who said that? Oh yes, of course, me! And if you think it is, I suggest you give up now. It often involves long, solitary hours tapping away at a keyboard, in front of a computer screen, where emotions are apt to swing violently from belief your work is the next big thing to the worse piece of writing on the planet – ever. Then there are the edits and the rewrites and that’s long before you start submitting your work. And once you do, there’s every possibility it will be rejected. But if you are lucky enough to get a publisher, or indeed as many brilliant writers now do, successfully self-publish, you’re still putting your work ‘out there’ for public scrutiny. Reviews are vital to a writer and sometimes they’ll be great, at others, brutal. So without doubt, the one thing you open yourself up to, as a writer, is rejection and criticism. In fact, that’s probably a given for most things in life, especially those that catapult you, one way or another, into the public arena, which of course writing most definitely does.
However, how can you become known as a writer unless you take a chance? Luckily, reading is subjective. There will always be those (hopefully!) who love your work and sadly those who don’t. Never let rejection or bad reviews sway you from pursuing your writing dream though. Rejection is a strong test of character. Nonetheless, I do accept there will be days when it’s not always possible to remain so philosophical. So, for all the writers and would be writers reading this and suffering a crisis of confidence, here is a list of famous writers whose novels were initially rejected.
- A publisher rejects H.G. Wells The War Of The Worlds, describing it as “an endless nightmare.” Eventually published in 1898, it has been in print ever since.
- Louisa May Alcott is told to “stick to teaching.” She doesn’t give up on her dream to become a published writer and later Little Women goes on to sell millions. Some 140 years later it is still in print.
- Agatha Christie experiences 5 years of continual rejection before landing a publishing deal. Her book sales are now in excess of £2 billion.
- In 1968 Ursula K. Le Guin receives a letter from an editor suggesting her book, The Left Hand of Darkness is “Hopelessly bogged down and unreadable.” It goes on to become one of her many best-sellers, regularly voted as the second best fantasy novel of all time, next to The Lord of the Rings.
- Stephen King was told, “We are not interested in science fiction which deals with negative utopias. They do not sell.” Carrie sold over one million copies in the first year alone.
- Initially rejected by 16 literary agencies and 12 publishers, the modest print run of 5000 copies for John Grisham’s, A Time To Kill, quickly sells out and goes on to become a best seller. He now has combined sales of 250 million.
- The Christopher Little Literary Agency takes on a new client. Her novel is rejected by 12 publishers. Eventually picked up by an editor at Bloomsbury, the company agree to publish but tell the writer to get a day job as she has little chance of making money from children’s books. Yet Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling generates a series of such books, setting records as the fastest-selling books in history, with combined sales of £450 million.
- Small publishers in San Francisco, Macadam/Cage, fall in love with and agree to publish a debut novel sent to them. Prior to this, 25 literary agents rejected it. Translated into 33 languages and adapted as a movie, Audrey Niffenegger’s, The Time Traveller’s Wife sells 7 million copies.
- Only selling 800 copies on its limited first release, the author finds a new publisher and Paulo Coelho’s, The Alchemist, sells 75 million.