Rejection Hell: You’re Not Alone

by Erin Brown

I’ve been receiving a rash of emails lately lamenting the abject horror of the whole submission—a.k.a. rejection—process. Bottom line: it sucks. Royally.

It’s similar to going on a first date after months (hell, years!!) of preparation: you’re dressed to the nines, sparkly and brilliant for the occasion, putting your best foot forward, excited, ready for the world to be yours and…your jerk of a date takes one brief look at you and says with a smirk, “Nah, you’re no good. Not my type. Ugly. Bad personality. Move along, please.” Facing rejection of your manuscript, your baby, your passion, is no different.

Apparently, writers are supposed to just shrug and submit to this masochistic process at least another fifty times in a row. Are you kidding me? This painful submission process puts writers on par with actors, singers, comedians, artists—any passion that must be ultimately judged by others in order to succeed and reach the masses. It’s a tough gig, and only those with fortitude and true talent will rise to the top.

So I want to remind all of the determined, committed, “I’m gonna get published or die trying” writers out there that many, many famous authors and books throughout the years were rejected time and time and time and time (and time!) again before hitting it big (and I mean big!). Now read on about these famous kicks in the faces, while reciting your new mantra: “I can get published, Mr. or Mrs. Big Time Agent Jerk Face Stupid Head! You just wait and I’ll show you!” *make sure to shake your fist(s) in the air while repeating this intonation.

1.     The Help by Kathryn Stockett

In a recent interview, Kathryn Stockett talked about receiving sixty rejections for her acclaimed novel about three extraordinary women in the segregated South. She said that, “Every one of them made me go back and make the story better.” Her positive spin on the process and hard revision work eventually made her debut novel a #1 New York Times bestseller, with over three million copies sold to date.

2.     Chicken Soup for the Soul by Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen

Within a month of submitting the first manuscript to publishing houses, the creative team behind this multimillion dollar series got turned down thirty-three consecutive times. Publishers responded with "anthologies don't sell" and the book is "too positive." The total number of rejections came to one hundred and forty! Today, the series is comprised of sixty-five titles and has sold more than eighty million copies in thirty-seven languages. “Too positive,” my arse!

3. Carrie by Steven King

One of the more well-known stories of rejection was for Stephen King’s ultimate horror classic about a persecuted coal miner’s daughter with telekinetic powers who is eventually doused in pig's blood at a real humdinger of a prom (that’s a direct quote from the jacket copy, obviously). King received thirty rejections for the story and subsequently threw it in the trash. His wife, Tabitha, grabbed it out of the trash can and then gave some sort of big speech about talent, love, support, blah, blah, blah. Anyway, King sent it around again and the rest is history!

4.     Tony Hillerman

Publishing over thirty books, including his acclaimed series about the Navajo Tribal Police, Hillerman is a virtuoso. He’s won too many awards to count, including the Mystery Writers of America's Grand Master Award. He was told by publishers early on "to get rid of all that Indian stuff.”

5.     George Orwell

Animal Farm was rejected several times. One publisher wrote, "It is impossible to sell animal stories in the USA." Apparently, in Europe, though, pig novels were selling like hot cakes.

6.     The Diary of Anne Frank  

One publisher famously wrote that, “The girl doesn’t, it seems to me, have a special perception or feeling which would lift the book above the ‘curiosity’ level.” Very perceptive of you, Mr. Soon-After Unemployed Publisher.

7.     J.K. Rowling

This obviously terrible writer was rejected dozens of times—by all of the big houses—until the CEO of Bloomsbury’s eight-year-old daughter begged him to publish the story about young Harry Potter. From the mouths of babes….

8.      On the Road by Jack Kerouac 

One publisher wrote, “His frenetic and scrambled prose perfectly express the feverish travels of the Beat Generation. But is that enough? I don’t think so.”  

9.     The Enormous Room by e.e. cummings

This debut was rejected by fifteen publishers. The book went on to become a quintessential work of poetry. Cummings eventually dedicated the book to the fifteen publishers who rejected him with these immortal lines: “hah! in your face, publishers! i’m e.e. cummings, losers, i can do what i want!” 

10.  Judy Blume

Are you there Publishers? It’s me, Judy! Ms. Blume suffered rejections for two straight years. She famously said, “I would go to sleep at night feeling that I'd never be published. But I'd wake up in the morning convinced I would be. Each time I sent a story or book off to a publisher, I would sit down and begin something new. I was learning more with each effort. I was determined. Determination and hard work are as important as talent.”

Now that’s the spirit, Judy!  

Remember to take a lesson from these luminaries as you dive into the very tough and often soul-sucking submission process. Try to use any feedback you get to improve your work; don’t give up; write something new in the interim; persevere, work hard; and most importantly, take a page from e.e. cummings and use all of your spare time to plot revenge on anyone and everyone who dared cross you along the way (*I hereby absolve myself from any legal action pursuant to aforementioned revenge schemes).

Erin Brown worked as an editor in New York City for over eight years. She recently left Manhattan to start her own freelance editorial business. To learn more about Erin, visit her website at

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