Tips from an Industry Insider | A rejection by any other name…

In Publishing Industry by RWA Blog CoordinatorLeave a Comment

Feeling rejected? You’re in good company. Whether your passion is genre fiction, children’s books, poetry or literature, you’ll recognise the names of some of the brilliant authors listed below who were all rejected by one publisher or another.

Are there any lessons in these tales of woe? Several:

  1. Sometimes you’re rejected for a reason. If all the rejection letters keep pointing towards the same flaw, revise.
  2. Are you writing what you love? Don’t try to do the right thing or be on trend. Be yourself. Authenticity and passion sell.
  3. Are you submitting to the right publishing houses and editors? Not everybody publishes everything. Do your homework.
  4. Sometimes your timing is just unfortunate; a publisher’s list is full, or they’ve just accepted a similar novel. Chalk it up to fate and keep submitting.
  5. You only need one yes, so don’t give up. Publishing is not a science, but a matter of personal preference. When you get a rejection, mumble ‘not my tribe’ and move on to the next name on your submission lists.
  6. Not everyone has the ability to recognise the value in something culturally diverse or unique, but somebody will.
  7. If all publishers fail you, self-publish.

Drumroll, please!

‘Stick To Teaching.’ Louisa May Alcott refuses to give up on her dream. Little Women sells millions and is still in print over 150 years later.

‘We have reluctantly come to the conclusion that we could not publish it with commercial success.’ Publisher rejection of The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith, aka JK Rowling.

We suggest you get rid of all that Indian stuff. Publisher to Tony Hillerman on his bestselling Navajo Tribal Police mystery novels.

We found the heroine boring.’ Mary Higgins Clark switches genre to suspense and her second book gets a $1.5 million advance. She is now on a $60 million book deal.

Hopelessly bogged down and unreadable.’ The Left Hand of Darkness becomes the first of Ursula K Le Guin’s many bestsellers. It is regularly voted as the second-best fantasy novel of all time, after Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings.

Undisciplined, rambling and thoroughly amateurish writer.’ But Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann sells thirty million copies.

‘It is impossible to sell animal stories in the U.S.A.’ American publisher on George Orwell’s Animal Farm, which was also rejected by Faber & Faber in the UK.

‘An irresponsible holiday story that will never sell.’ One wonders what Mole, Rat, Toad and Badger thought of this description of the bestselling children’s tale The Wind In The Willows by their creator Kenneth Grahame.

‘We are not interested in science fiction which deals with negative utopias. They do not sell.’ Stephen King eventually published The Running Man under the pseudonym Richard Bachman.

Too different from other juveniles on the market to warrant its selling. A rejection letter sent to Dr Seuss, who has amassed 300 million sales and is the ninth bestselling author ever.

It is so badly written.’ Dan Brown sends The Da Vinci Code out again, this time to Doubleday, despite this damning report. They buy it, and it sells eighty million copies.

‘Nobody will want to read a book about a seagull.’ Richard Bach’s Jonathan Livingston Seagull goes on to sell forty-four million copies.

Older children will not like it because its language is too difficult. On Watership Down by Richard Adams, one of the fastest-selling books in history.

More war stories

Twenty-six publishers reject A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle. It wins the 1963 Newbery Medal and becomes an international bestseller with sales of eight million and counting.

Twenty-four literary agencies turned down The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks. The twenty-fifth did not and sold it to Time Warner one week later for $1 million dollars.

Alex Haley receives two hundred consecutive rejections for Roots which ultimately becomes a publishing sensation, selling 1.5 million copies in its first seven months of release.

After two years of rejections, Reilly and Lee publish The One in the Middle Is the Green Kangaroo, launching the career of Judy Blume. Her combined sales are now over eighty million.

Five publishers reject LM Montgomery’s debut novel. Two years later, she removes it from a hat box and resubmits. Anne of Green Gables goes on to sell fifty million copies.

Gone With The Wind by Margaret Mitchell amassed thirty-eight rejections before selling thirty-million copies  

Despite fourteen consecutive agency rejections, Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight goes on to sell seventeen million copies and spend ninety-one weeks on the New York Times bestseller list.

Little, Brown & Company Little Brown passes on a two-book deal for Alice Walker. The Color Purple sells ten million copies and wins The Pulitzer Prize.

The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter was rejected so many times she decided to self-publish 250 copies. It has now sold over forty-five million.

I’ll give the final word to George Bernard Shaw, he of the sardonic wit and Pygmalion, better known as My Fair Lady: “I object to publishers: the one service they have done me is to teach me to do without them.”

Coming up in forthcoming posts: identifying your sub-genre; publishing trends; defining success, and more.

Laura Boon Russell

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Laura is a bookaholic and tennis tragic. She became entangled in publishing after reading Georgette Heyer’s These Old Shades and ‘stealing’ The Flame and the Flower by Kathleen Woodiwiss from her father’s bookshelves as a teenager. She has worked as a bookseller, sales rep, publicist and freelance editor. She is forever indebted to the RWA for giving her the courage and the tools to write the stories she wants to tell. She has three books out in the wild: The Millionaire Mountain Climber (Wild Rose Press), Lion Dancing for Love (Wild Rose Press) and The Ten-Step Publicity Plan for Authors (indie). 

You can find Laura online at:

Author website

It’s All Write blog

Facebook Author and Business (editing and publicity)

Twitter @LollyRussell

Instagram @lauraboonrussell66 



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