Rejection Letters 1 by Warren Bull
Alex Carter at Mental Floss provides authors everywhere with hope by sharing some of the rejection letters sent to great writers by publishers who missed the opportunity to publish what later became very successful books. I say, let’s rise from our hot keyboards, and shake our hands in the air as we shout, “Write on!”
Famous Authors and Their Rejections
by Alex Carter at Mental Floss
It’s hard to think that authors who have sold millions of books could ever have been rejected, but everyone had to start somewhere.
Melville's masterpiece, Moby-Dick, was turned down by multiple publishers, some of whom had creative suggestions for the author. Peter J. Bentley of Bentley & Son Publishing House wrote: "First, we must ask, does it have to be a whale? While this is a rather delightful, if somewhat esoteric, plot device, we recommend an antagonist with a more popular visage among the younger readers. For instance, could not the Captain be struggling with a depravity towards young, perhaps voluptuous, maidens?"
Melville nevertheless got his tale of futile revenge published—by none other than Richard Bentley, of Bentley & Son. (The American edition debuted less than a month later.) That said, the author still made some serious sacrifices, paying for the typesetting and plating himself.
The Sun Also Rises is perhaps Hemingway's most widely read work, but not everyone was a fan. In 1925, Moberley Luger of publisher Peacock & Peacock wrote to the 26-year-old author: "If I may be frank — you certainly are in your prose — I found your efforts to be both tedious and offensive. You really are a man’s man, aren’t you? I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that you had penned this entire story locked up at the club, ink in one hand, brandy in the other. Your bombastic, dipsomaniac, where-to-now characters had me reaching for my own glass of brandy."
It's a harsh assessment—though from what we know of Hemingway, it proposes a scenario that is not unlikely either. Still, this rejection hardly damaged his career. The novel would be published by Scribner's the following year.
Sometimes fellow writers give the thumbs down. In 1944, T.S. Eliot was working at Faber & Faber and wrote a largely apologetic rejection of Animal Farm to George Orwell that included this appraisal: "… we have no conviction (and I am sure none of the other directors would have) that this is the right point of view from which to criticize the the political situation at the present time … Your pigs are far more intelligent than the other animals, and therefore the best qualified to run the farm—in fact, there couldn’t have been an animal farm at all without them: so that what was needed, (someone might argue), was not more communism but more public-spirited pigs.”
The work was rejected by at least four publishers before making it into print in August 1945.
“An irresponsible holiday story that will never sell.”
This might possibly be the most whimsical description ever of the adventures of Mole, Rat, Toad, and Badger in the best-selling children's tale The Wind In The Willows.
“An endless nightmare. I think the verdict would be ‘Oh don’t read that horrid book.’”
Despite this editor's take on The War of The Worlds, the tale of alien invasion is still in print nearly 120 years later.
“I haven’t the foggiest idea about what the man is trying to say. Apparently, the author intends it to be funny.”
Joseph Heller decided to name his satirical book about World War II after the 22 rejections he received: Catch-22.
“We have been carrying out our usual summer house-cleaning of the manuscripts on our anxious bench and in the file, and among them I find the three papers which you have shown me as samples of your work. I am sincerely sorry that no one of them seems to us well adapted for our purpose. Both the account of the bombing of Dresden and your article, 'What’s a Fair Price for Golden Eggs?' have drawn commendation although neither one is quite compelling enough for final acceptance."
Sent to Kurt Vonnegut by Atlantic Monthly in response to three writing samples, this is one of the more pleasant rejection letters. Vonnegut turned the Dresden bombing account into Slaughterhouse-Five.
“I rack my brains why a chap should need thirty pages to describe how he turns over in bed before going to sleep.”
To be fair, Marcel Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past is 1.5 million words long, so perhaps this is a reasonable question.
One very helpful rejection I got was from the publisher who later accepted and published my first book. I am so happy it was not published in the awful version that I submitted first. Do you have any happy rejection stories?