“Rejections slips, or form letters, however tactfully phrased, are lacerations of the soul, if not quite inventions of the devil – but there is no way around them.” ~ Isaac Asimov
You may ask, what can an author who’s sold more than 450 million books, as well as providing the content and inspiration for the behemoth that is the blockbuster series of Harry Potter movies, teach me about being rejected?
I would venture to say quite a bit actually. JK Rowling certainly inspired me to keep going, albeit not down the same path, but you’d imagine because of her stellar success she wouldn’t know anything about rejection – but you’d be wrong.
Rowling was rejected numerous times when she began approaching literary agents with Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. I’ll bet they’re kicking themselves now.
The Christopher Little Literary Agency agreed to represent her, a decision which has more than paid off! The rest, as they say, is history.
Rejections under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith
Many of us are aware that JK Rowling didn’t have immediate success when she approached agents and publishers with her first Harry Potter adventure.
Despite those rejections, the best-selling author of the Harry Potter fantasy series and her first adult novel, The Casual vacancy, decided to go incognito for her first foray into crime fiction.
I recently read a newspaper article that highlighted her rejections when she was looking to become published as crime thriller author, Robert Galbraith. When she sent off The Cuckoo’s Calling she came up against the same response as before, and probably some of what you and I have also experienced.
At the request of a fan, only for inspiration purposes and not revenge, JK Rowling revealed some of the responses she received as Robert Galbraith. Here is the reply from publisher Constable and Robinson:
Dear Robert Galbraith,
Thank you very much for giving us the opportunity to consider your novel, which we have looked at with interest. However, I regret that we have reluctantly come to the conclusion that we could not publish it with commercial success.
At the risk of ‘teaching my grandmother to suck eggs’, may I respectfully suggest the following: Double check in a helpful bookshop, on Amazon or in the twice yearly ‘Buyer’s Guide’ of the Bookseller magazine…who are the publishers now of your fiction category/genre. Call the publishers to obtain the name of the relevant editor…then send to each editor an alluring 200-word blurb (as on book jackets; don’t give away the ending!)…
Owing to pressure of submissions, I regret we cannot reply individually or provide constructive criticism. (A writers’ group/writing course may help with the latter.) May I wish you every success in placing your work elsewhere.
So why would an author who is reportedly worth £580 million put herself through that kind of torment? Rowling states: ‘I had nothing to lose and sometimes that makes you brave enough to try.’
It’s thought that twelve publishers turned down Harry Potter in 1996 until Bloomsbury took it on. Rowling pointed out that the same publisher who first rejected Harry Potter had sent the ‘rudest’ response to The Cuckoo’s Calling.
Eventually it was published by Sphere, the same publisher who accepted The Casual Vacancy in 2012. It was released in April 2013 and sold around 450 copies in Britain and a further 1,000 worldwide before the author’s true identity was made public.
Rowling has penned two further novels under the Galbraith pen name: The Silkworm and Career of Evil. So even one of the most successful authors of all-time continues to be rejected!
“You have to know how to accept rejection and reject acceptance.” ~ Ray Bradbury
Most authors have suffered many rejections. Rejection is part of a writer’s life; it’s how you deal with it that matters.
So if you’ve been rejected you’re in great company!
Having been told by an editor that he couldn’t write about women, Stephen King set about penning his grisly epistolary tale of a lonely teenager, Carrie, a vilified misfit with telekinetic powers. King actually rejected himself by binning his first few pages of Carrie, (his fourth novel but first to be published), but his wife Tabitha rescued the pages from his waste paper bin!
Margaret Mitchell had Gone with the Wind rejected 38 times before it was published and went on to win the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1937. The movie of ‘Gone with the Wind’ became the most successful film ever made up to that point, and remained the highest earning film for a further 25 years after it was released in December 1939. It won 10 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Actress, and Best Supporting Actress.
It’s still the most successful film in box-office history after monetary inflation has been taken into consideration.
Other celebrated and successful authors that were rejected include: Mark Twain, DH Lawrence, Herman Melville, Ernest Hemingway, Dan Brown, Beatrix Potter, Agatha Christie, James Redfield, William Golding, George Orwell, John le Carré and Rudyard Kipling to name but a few.
Although it’s unpleasant, it seems par for the course that at some point you’ll be rejected, either as a writer, or in any other endeavour you undertake. If you have the right attitude about it, rejection can inject you with the essential determination and strength of character needed to succeed, as well as helping to hone your skills where appropriate.
“Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.” ~ Neil Gaiman
When I was ready to put my debut novel, The Virtuoso out there, it was a nerve wracking time. I was a first time author, my confidence was growing but I felt vulnerable and self-conscious. I didn’t know if I had it in me to become a published author or if people would enjoy my book.
These fears have been banished since publication and the growing body of healthy reviews.
Needless to say I had many ‘thanks, but no thanks’ type of replies to my submissions, and some didn’t even bother to respond. After a few months of this soul destroying process I decided to self-publish. Independent authors comprise a significant share of the publishing industry. In this 2015 article, The Bookseller attempts to highlight the size of the self-publishing sector within the industry.
John Lock was the first author to sell over a million ebooks on Amazon. It can be done. There are many avenues an author can pursue, which I’m not going to go into here.
Once I took my future into my own hands I felt better about myself. I was no longer at the mercy of literary agents; I could determine my own path.
The key point is to take positive action and don’t stop believing in yourself. Reading is highly subjective, and as Stephen King rightly pointed out, you can’t please all of the readers all of the time, you can’t even please some of the readers all of the time, but you really ought to try to please at least some of the readers some of the time.
If you can do that, you’re up there with the best of them.
I spent years working on my manuscript alongside working and raising a large family, I wasn’t about to ditch my dream because an agent or publisher didn’t feel my work was quite right for them at the time.
In fact, some of my rejection responses spurred me on. I’ll share a couple with you but I won’t say which agents they came from:
Thank you for bearing with me while I took a read of this. The Virtuoso is a window into a fascinating world, and you obviously know your subject very well. I’m afraid I don’t think it’s one for my list – I have to be very selective about what I take on, and to me the focus on relationships and dialogue just felt a little far towards the commercial end of the market for my tastes. Do keep trying it with agents – perhaps have a look in the acknowledgements sections of books that you think are for a similar readership, and see who represents them?
Very best of luck with it.
Thank you for sending me THE VIRTUOSO and for giving me the opportunity to consider your work.
Unfortunately I am not able to offer you representation for your work. Although I thought the premise of the story was engaging, I’m afraid I did not fall in love with the writing, itself, the way I would need to in order to take it on in today’s tough non-fiction marketplace. I am sorry for this response but I feel that an agent must be wholeheartedly and unreservedly behind a book if she hopes to sell it to publishers. These judgements are always subjective and you may well find someone who feels very differently.
Thank you for giving me the chance to consider your work and I wish you luck in your search for a suitable agent to assist you.
Many thanks for sending us this proposal, which I read with interest. I considered it carefully but I’m afraid on balance it just doesn’t quite grab my imagination in the way that it must for me to offer to represent you. So I must follow my instinct and pass on this occasion. I’m really sorry to be so disappointing, but thanks for thinking of us. Of course this is a totally subjective judgement, so do try other agents and I wish you every success.
Thank you for sending in your material to us. We have read and considered your proposal carefully but do not feel it is something we could place successfully in the current publishing climate. Please bear in mind that this is the opinion of one agency alone and that others may feel differently.
We are extremely sorry to disappoint you but we wish you the very best of luck with your future writing.
Thank you for sending me your submission. I found your writing engaging, as you do write with real energy and imagination.
Having said that, I am afraid it wasn’t really something that I am currently looking for but I do wish you every success with your submission.
You may be reading this and thinking, ‘But I’m not an author so this isn’t relevant to me.’ However you can still apply the principles of not giving up, determination, re-evaluation and persistence to whatever project you’re working on.
Here’s a great motivational video by Prince Ea if you need help in that department!
We can all take a leaf out of Scarlett O’Hara’s book – after all, tomorrow is another day!
“I discovered that rejections are not altogether a bad thing. They teach a writer to rely on his own judgment and to say in his heart of hearts, ‘To hell with you.’“ ~ Saul Bellow