In this post, Writers Write looks at famous rejection letters and what writers can learn from them.
Writers like Ernest Hemingway, Stephen King, and George Orwell are all iconic writers. Believe it or not, there was a time when publishers didn’t care who they were yet.
Here are 6 famous rejection letters and their lessons for other writers.
Famous Rejection Letters & Their Lessons For Other Writers
The Color Purple by Alice Walker
The Color Purple is a story about emotion and strength. It would win the 1983 Pulitzer Prize, and a movie adaptation followed in 1985. A remake is planned for 2023.
Author Alice Walker would face several rejection letters, including one from The Viking Press that stated, ‘We were bothered by your decision to end every sentence with an exclamation point.’
The full rejection letter compliments the narrative, but declined its publication.
The Lesson: Keep powerful characters.
Carrie by Stephen King
Carrie tells the story of telekinetic Carrie White, who has one heck of a prom night. Almost all writers know that Carrie was rescued from the bin by King’s wife, who urged him to submit again.
In On Writing, Stephen King tells of his multiple rejections. Eventually, he put them all on a spike in his room.
One rejection for Carrie said: ‘We are not interested in science fiction which deals with negative utopias. They do not sell.’
The first run of 30, 000 copies by Doubleday sold immediately.
Stephen King would experience similar rejections, submitting as then-unknown Richard Bachman.
The Lesson: Submit again.
The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
The Sun Also Rises is characteristic of Hemingway fiction.
A notable fan of brevity, Ernest Hemingway is one of the bestselling authors of all time. At the beginnings of his literary career, this wasn’t the case.
Publisher Peacock & Peacock would reject the bestselling novel, with criticism about the writer’s voice.
Dated from June 1925, the rejection letter says: ‘It’s hard to believe an entire novel’s worth of pages could be filled up with the short, stunted sentences you employ here.’
The same letter also bites: ‘Nice? The river looked nice? I daresay, my young son could do better!’
These short sentences would become a Hemingway standard, studied as literary genius.
The Lesson: Omit unnecessary words, as in The Elements Of Style.
Animal Farm by George Orwell
The tale of Animal Farm is satirical gold today, but was once personally rejected by the author T.S. Eliot.
When Orwell submitted to Faber & Faber, the rejection would call the manuscript remarkable, but also refuse its publication. The political perspective – and the author’s request for a rushed answer – are given as some of the reasons.
It seems though publishing politics could have played a role, and Eliot seems truly regretful to pass on the manuscript. Rightfully so: Animal Farm is one of the most-read books in the English language.
The Lesson: Submit somewhere else.
The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith
Robert Galbraith is the crime-writer pseudonym of author J.K. Rowling, and The Cuckoo’s Calling published in 2013. Publishers weren’t aware of the writer’s fame, and several would reject it in manuscript form.
J.K. Rowling published one rejection letter on Twitter on March 25, 2016.
Publisher Constable & Robinson would respond with kind, yet basic writing advice.
An excerpted gem from the letter says: ‘Then send to each editor an alluring 200-word blurb…’ The oblivious editor ends the letter by wishing her success to publish elsewhere, the most common sentence for rejected writers.
Sales of The Cuckoo’s Calling would spike once Galbraith’s true identity became known.
The Lesson: Submit again, but somewhere else.
Moby Dick by Herman Melville
Moby Dick is a true literary classic, with more adaptations than one article could hope to list. The story is iconic now, though this was not the opinion of first potential publishers who rejected the book…with some questions.
The rejection asks: ‘First we ask, does it have to be a whale?’
Without the whale, there would be no book!
The same letter advises that the protagonist shows ‘depravity towards young, perhaps voluptuous, maidens?’
Melville kept the whale, and sold the book.
The Lesson: Don’t change everything – sometimes, you have to keep the whale.
The Last Word
One publishers rejection is another one’s gain. If you have faced rejection, don’t worry: we all have. We hope that Writers Write helps you to tell your stories better.
By Alex J. Coyne. Alex is a writer, proofreader, and regular card player. His features about cards, bridge, and card playing have appeared in Great Bridge Links, Gifts for Card Players, Bridge Canada Magazine, and Caribbean Compass. Get in touch at alexcoyneofficial.com.
If you enjoyed this, read other posts by Alex:
- 8 Self-Published Books (That Went Big)
- The Art Of The Complaint Letter
- 6 Bits Of Writing Advice From Authors’ Letters
- The Art Of Writing Fiction With Fewer Settings
- 8 Statistics About The Writing Industry (You Should Know)
- 5 Incredible Story Beginnings & Endings
- 7 Tips For Writing Competitions
- Writing The Vampire Tale
- Writing Advice From Twitter
- 9 Tips For The Artful Interview