59 famous author rejections that will comfort you on the hard days

59 famous author rejections that will comfort you on the hard days

Rejection is hard to swallow, especially when you’ve sent your vulnerable heart into the world in novel form. Literary agents may respond with the dreaded form letter rejection. Or worse, they may not respond at all. These rejections often cause writers to question their abilities, their story, and their value.

I’ve been sending a new picture book into the scary world of publishing for the past few months, and I’ll admit, every rejection diminishes my hope just a titch. Getting published is a vulnerable process; I don’t think it is easy for anyone, including some of the greatest authors of all time. If you don’t believe me, this post provides a list of 59 famous author rejections. Read (and reread) it on the hard days. Although the rejection will still sting, you’ll be able to maintain your hope a little longer.

Here are 59 famous author rejections that will comfort you on the hard days.

Agatha Christie

5 years of continual rejection

Anne Frank, The Diary of Anne Frank

15 rejections

"The girl doesn’t, it seems to me, have a special perception or feeling which would lift that book above the ‘curiosity’ level.”

Audrey Niffenegger, The Time Traveler’s Wife

25 rejections

Sent the book unsolicited to a small San Francisco publisher after rejections; became a bestseller and a film

Ayn Rand, The Fountainhead

“Unsaleable and unpublishable.”

Beatrix Potter, The Tale of Peter Rabbit

Had to self publish because she was rejected so much

D.H. Lawrence, Lady Chatterley’s Lover

“...for your own sake do not publish this book.”

Daniel Handler, The Basic Eight

37 rejections

A year after so many rejections, he became Lemony Snicket and sold over 65 million copies

David Markson, Wittgenstein’s Mistress

54 rejections

Dick Wimmer, Irish Wine

162 rejections

The sequel Boyne’s Lassie was also rejected 83 times

Donal Ryan, Spinning Heart

47 rejections

Dr. Seuss, And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street

27 rejections

He almost gave up on writing before he bumped into an editor friend who took a look.

“Too different from other juveniles on the market to warrant its selling.”

Elmore Leonard, The Big Bounce

84 rejections

Made into a movie twice

Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises

"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."

Esmé Weijun Wang, The Border of Paradise

41 rejections

Landed on Granta‘s list of the best young American novelists

F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

"You’d have a decent book if you’d get rid of that Gatsby character."

Frank Baum, The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz

“Too radical of a departure from traditional juvenile literature.”

Frank Herbert, Dune

23 rejections

Often described as the best-selling science fiction novel of all time

George Orwell, Animal Farm

4+ rejections

In 1944, T.S. Eliot, then working at Faber & Faber, responded, "… we have no conviction (and I am sure none of other directors would have) that this is the right point of view from which to criticise 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.”

H.G. Wells, The War of The Worlds

“An endless nightmare. I think the verdict would be ‘Oh don’t read that horrid book.”

Heidi Durrow, The Girl Who Fell From the Sky

48 rejections

Durrow said, “It received some 48 different rejections from publishing houses mostly because people said to me that there was no market for a story about a half black half Danish girl. There was no Afro Viking demographic to sell this book to.”

Herman Melville, Moby-Dick

multiple publishers

“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?"

J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

12 rejections

An editor’s eight-year-old daughter demanded to read the book and the rest is history. That same editor originally advised Rowling to get a day job since there isn’t any money in children’s books.

Jack Kerouac

“Frenetic and scrambled prose.”

Jacqueline Susann, Valley of the Dolls

“Undisciplined, rambling and thoroughly amateurish writer.”

James Joyce, Dubliners

18 rejections

Took nine years and he didn’t receive royalties.

James Lee Burke, The Lost Get-Back Boogie

111 rejections

Took nine years to get published and was nominated for the Pulitzer prize

James Patterson, The Thomas Berryman Number

31 rejections

“I keep a list of all the editors who turned down my first novel. Sometimes they send me books and ask for blurbs. Mostly, though, they’re dead.”

John Grisham, A Time to Kill

28 rejections

John Le Carré, The Spy Who Came In From The Cold

"You’re welcome to le Carré—he hasn’t got any future.”

John Spurling, The Ten Thousand Things

44 rejections

Took 15 years to write and won the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction in 2015

Joseph Heller, Catch-22

22 rejections

“I haven’t really 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.”

Judy Blume, The One in the Middle Is the Green Kangaroo

2 years of rejection

Kathryn Stockett, The Help

60 rejections

Stockett said, “After my five years of writing and three and a half years of rejection, an agent named Susan Ramer took pity on me. What if I had given up at 15? Or 40? Or even 60? Three weeks later, Susan sold The Help to Amy Einhorn Books.”

Kenneth Grahame, The Wind In The Willows

“An irresponsible holiday story that will never sell.”

Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five

“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 not 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."

L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

5 rejections

Pulls it out of a hat box after two years and resubmits

Lisa Genova, Still Alice

About 100 rejections

Opted to self-publish after so many rejections; then acquired and re-issued and spent 40 weeks on the New York Times best seller list

Louis L’Amour, Bantam

200 rejections

Louisa May Alcott, Little Women

“Stick To Teaching.”

Madeleine L’Engle, A Wrinkle in Time

26 rejections

“Publisher after publisher turned down A Wrinkle in Time because it deals overtly with the problem of evil, and it was too difficult for children, and was it a children’s or an adults’ book, anyhow?”

Marcel Proust, Remembrance of Things Past

“I rack my brains why a chap should need thirty pages to describe how he turns over in bed before going to sleep.”

Margaret Mitchell, Gone With The Wind

38 rejections

Marlon James, John Crow’s Devil

78 rejections

“There was a time I actually thought I was writing the kind of stories people didn’t want to read. I did give it up. I actually destroyed the manuscript, I even went on my friends computers and erased it.”

Meg Cabot, The Princess Diaries

Three years of rejection

Paul Beatty, The Sellout

18 rejections

“I get hurt when I meet editors who tell me about books they really liked but couldn’t publish. I don’t know what that means. Sometimes I romanticize—I go back even to the Harlem renaissance, when people would say, ‘This book isn’t going to sell but I believe in you.’ I think there’s still some of that in publishing. I hope there’s still some of that.”

Richard Hooker, MASH

21 rejections

After revising the book, he sold it and it became a TV series

Robert Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

121 rejections

Rudyard Kipling

“...you just don’t know how to use the English language.”

Sam Lipsyte, Homeland

35 rejections

“I was getting married at that time, while I was getting turned down. Every day there were five more rejections. And it sort of didn’t look good. And I felt awful for my wife, for marrying a guy who was getting rejected every day.”

Samuel Beckett, Murphy

40 rejections

Won the Nobel Prize in Literature

Sergio de la Pava, A Naked Singularity

88 rejections

Decided to self-publish after so many rejections; eventually won the PEN/Robert W Bingham prize for debut fiction

Stephen King, Carrie

30 rejections


Stephenie Meyer, Twilight

14 rejections

Sylvia Plath, “The Bell Jar”

“Reject recommended: I’m not sure what Heinemann’s sees in this first novel unless it is a kind of youthful American female brashness. But there certainly isn’t enough genuine talent for us to take notice.” “...maybe now that this book is out of her system she will use her talent more effectively next time.”

Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita

“…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.”

William Golding, Lord of the Flies

21 rejections

William Kowalski, Eddie’s Bastard

79 rejections

Became an international bestseller

WM Paul Young, The Shack

20 rejections

Eventually self published

Zane Grey

“You have no business being a writer and should give up.”

Well, there you have it. 59 famous author rejections that can comfort you during the hard times. This is only a small portion of the famous authors who faced rejection before finally reaching their goals. If these writers persevered despite harsh feedback and mountains of rejection letters, so can you. Don’t you quit.

Leave a comment below about what motivates you on the hard days.

Keep writing, keep reading, keep creating, and FREE THE WRITER!


A writer like you: TM Thorne

A writer like you: TM Thorne

Writing prompt of the day: Write a cinquain.

Writing prompt of the day: Write a cinquain.