Rejection is a constant part of life. And we writers have to face more of it than most. In fact, I read somewhere recently that authors take more criticism in a year than do most ‘normal’ people in a lifetime. And while that may be an exaggeration, so often it doesn’t feel like it.
As Bruce DeSilva pointed out in his Wildcard interview on Tuesday: “The great James Lee Burke’s first novel, THE LOST GET-BACK BOOGIE, was rejected 111 times before it was finally published—and then went on to be nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. Rejections have more to do with whether agents and publishers think a book will sell than about whether they think it is good.”
I came across a recent article in the Huffington Post about famous rejections—or rejections of the famous. Because it’s not enough to be simply turned down, but sometimes an author receives such a damning comment about their work that they could be forgiven for throwing in the towel.
It’s only later, after their books have become prize-winning bestsellers, that these rejections stop stinging and become rather funny. So, here’s some of the best of the bunch:
Anne Frank’s THE DIARY OF A YOUNG GIRL
Anne Frank’s diary only found a publisher successfully after being featured in a newspaper article. Before this, the famous memoir was rejected repeatedly, with one publisher saying, “The girl doesn’t, it seems to me, have a special perception or feeling which would lift that book above the ‘curiosity’ level.”
William Golding’s LORD OF THE FLIES
Presumably not foreseeing Golding’s classic novel becoming a schoolroom staple, 20 publishers rejected it. One with the damning comment, “an absurd and uninteresting fantasy which was rubbish and dull.” Try writing that on a GCSE English paper.
Vladimir Nabokov’s LOLITA
Eventually published in Paris (where else?), LOLITA was rejected by Viking, Simon & Schuster, New Directions, Farrar, Straus, and Doubleday. Originally cast away as, “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.” The American version of the novel went on to be a bestseller, selling 100,000 copies in the first three weeks.
John le Carré’s THE SPY WHO CAME IN FROM THE COLD
It’s not unusual for first novels to be rejected, but John le Carré’s went on to make TIME Magazine’s All-Time 100 Novels list. The publisher who passed on the author with the comment, “You’re welcome to le Carré – he hasn’t got any future,” presumably didn’t imagine this.
F. Scott Fitzgerald’s THE GREAT GATSBY
Fitzgerald’s principal character is arguably as famous as the novel he appears in, yet one publisher advised the author in a rejection letter, “You’d have a decent book if you’d get rid of that Gatsby character.”
For myself, I had the usual run of rejections for the first novel in my series. One publisher told me that although they very much liked Charlie Fox, they “didn’t see where you can take this character to get more than one book out of her.” Book ten, DIE EASY, comes out in October (UK—Jan 2013 US).
And when I was contemplating bringing out my backlist last year in e-book format, I was strongly advised by one publisher against going the indie route. “She will sell 17 copies to friends, and that will be it.” The books sell more than that every hour of every day since.
So ‘Rati, want to share your best/worse pieces of criticism or rejection with us? And all the sweeter if they’ve subsequently been proved wrong!
This week’s Word of the Week is elocution, which when coupled with lessons is often taken to mean to learn to speak without an accent, or to mask one’s original accent, but it actually means the art of effective speaking, especially public speaking, in terms of enunciation and delivery; eloquence.
Oh, and if anybody is near The Gallery at Bank Quay, Warrington on Friday evening (7-9pm) I shall be giving a talk hosted by Wire Writers and the Warrington Writers’ Group. Hope to see you there!