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Rejected in Good Company

I was rejected today.

Not me personally, but my first novel, Oceana, received its first rejection today. I say first because I expect more to come. My author friends warned me about rejection letters, about steeling my nerves, girding my loins, but until it actually happened I was unsure how I would react. Their advice helped; I was ready. I didn’t like it, but I was ready. I was fortunate, there were no harsh words or painful criticisms. In fact, there was no feedback at all—the literary agent who delivered my rejection said he was too busy. I don’t know what’s worse: my work being dissected with a dull knife or not meriting even that. If he would have taken time to comment, perhaps that meant it was close, but the fact that he couldn’t be bothered . . . I think I’m reading too much into this.

I have to admit, I’m disappointed. Doesn’t everyone think they are the exception? I had hoped so. Maybe I could be the next James Patterson or Stephen King. Wait, didn’t they get rejected too? In fact, if I recall correctly, The Thomas Berryman Number by James Patterson was rejected 31 times. It later went on to be the first novel of the huge Alex Cross mega-series. When his ability to tantalize an audience was finally discovered, Patterson became one of the best-selling authors on the planet, maybe even in the entire galaxy.

Stephen King’s Carrie received 30 rejections, and A Time to Kill by John Grisham was rejected 28 times. Ouch! Even Dr. Seuss was rejected at the start of his writing career—27 times! Here are some more:

Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time was rejected 26 times because it dealt with evil. At the time, that was a no-no for a children’s book, but today it’s all the rage. Can you say Harry Potter? A Wrinkle in Time went on to win the prestigious Newberry Medal.

You’ve all seen the movie The Time Traveler’s Wife, I suppose. Well, Audrey Niffenegger’s novel was rejected 25 times before it was finally recognized for its brilliance. It became a best-seller and a film.

My personal favorite, Dune, was rejected 23 times before it was picked up by Chilton Books. Chilton publishes automotive manuals! Frank Herbert's masterpiece went on to win a Hugo and a Nebula and is considered the best Sci-Fi of all time, definitely the best in this galaxy, anyway.

Lord of the Flies by William Goldberg – 21 rejections. Now, every school kid reads this incredible—and incredibly weird—book.

Richard Hooker’s M.A.S.H was rejected 21 times, and we all know what happened there.

The Diary of Anne Frank received 15 rejections. Does this seem as twisted to you as it does me?

Ironically, Joseph Heller’s Catch 22 was rejected 22 times. One publisher said, “I haven’t the foggiest idea about what the man is trying to say. Apparently the author intends it to be funny—possibly even satire—but it is really not funny on any intellectual level.” Now, that’s funny!

Some rejection whoppers are Chicken Soup of the Soul and Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Chicken Soup for the Soul was rejected 144 times. One of Chicken Soup’s authors, Jack Caufield, suggests rejecting rejection. Good Call. And Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance was rejected 121 times. (I wonder if he ever submitted to Chilton Books) The editor who finally discovered Pirsig said, “It is probably a work of genius and will, I’ll wager, attain classic status.” He was right.

But what if you are caught in a never-ending loop of rejection? These books were all picked up by publishers eventually, but there are thousands, maybe even millions of authors who never get a publishing deal. What then? Turns out there are loads of examples of successful self-published authors such as Beatrix Potter and M. Proust. Many even went on to land lucrative publishing deals with traditional publishing houses only after their self-published books became popular. Here are a few you may have heard about:

50 Shades of Grey by E.L. James gave the self-publishing world a virtual orgasm with its success, while Andy Weir’s The Martian captivated anyone who breathes. Weir still has the best opening lines of a book ever written: “I’m pretty much fucked. That’s my considered opinion. Fucked.” Well, Andy, not so in the self-publishing world.

My inspiration for writing is the self-published author Christopher Paolini. He wrote the Inheritance Cycle whose first book, Eragon, was made into a movie. The story goes—and it may have errors so sorry Chris—that the young author couldn’t land a publishing deal so his mother, a school librarian, self-published his books. Aren’t moms great?

So, what am I getting at? I don’t want to think I find pleasure in these author’s setbacks and failures; that’s a little sick. Instead, their persistence motivates me to keep trying. I admire their sensitivity to put pen to paper and create magic, yet retain a hide of leather when confronted with rejection. There’s a lesson here. These authors had a book in them bursting to get out, and they didn’t give up. My one rejection seems insignificant in that light. So agents, ready your dull knives and have at it—I’m not finished yet!

Thanks to for the rejection information.

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