Rejection - well-known writers who didn't find publication easy
Dealing with writer's block

Rejected by a literary agent? You’re in good company

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British Writer Mo FanningRejection can be crushing. There’s little joy when you receive an email that wishes you well but declares that your labour of love is ‘just not for me’. If you find yourself rejected, take comfort that you are not alone. I’ve pulled together a list of well-known writers who struggled to find a home for their words. I hope it offers comfort on the darker days. You might also consider vodka and cake.

Agatha Christie enjoyed five years of constant knock-backs. C. S. Lewis had all but given up before ‘The Chronicles of Narnia’ found a home. Beatrix Potter gave up trying after receiving rejection after rejection. She self-published and the rest is history. Margaret Mitchell received 38 rejections for ‘Gone With The Wind’.

J.K. Rowling eventually signed to the Christopher Little Agency. This was after being rejected by many others. Even then her agent received twelve rejection slips for the first ‘Harry Potter’ book.

Meg Cabot boasts that she kept all her rejection letters in a bag. Eventually, that bag became so heavy she couldn’t lift it. It didn’t stop her trying, and so the world got to read ‘The Princess Diaries’.

Paulo Coelho sold 800 copies of ‘The Alchemist’ until he found a better publisher who shifted 75 million copies.

‘I recommend that it be buried under a stone for a thousand years,’ was the rather mean (and in no way constructive) feedback provided to Vladimir Nabokov. His novel, ‘Lolita’ went on to sell around 50 million copies.

After 14 agents turned down Stephanie Meyer, she finally found one willing to champion ‘Twilight’. It spent 91 weeks on the New York Times best-seller list.

26 publishers rejected Madeleine L’Engle‘s novel, ‘A wrinkle in time’, before it became an award-winning best-seller. Audrey Niffenegger fared slightly better with 25 rejections for ‘The Time Traveller’s Wife’. 23 publishers and agents turned down ‘Dune’ when Frank Herbert sought publication.

They were in good company, James Joyce heard no 22 times when touting around ‘Dubliners’. Urban legend has it that Joseph Heller named his hit book ‘Catch 22’ in honour of the 21 rejections that came before a publisher finally said yes.

Major league rejection

After 60 rejections Kathryn Stockett finally had good news for her book ‘The Help’. Jason Wallace can beat that. 100 agents and publishers rejected ‘Out of Shadows’ – it went on to win the Costa Children’s Book award.

But the award for sticking at it when everyone suggested he should give up must go to Robert M. Pirsig. ‘Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance’ features in the Guinness Book Of Records. It received 121 rejections – more than any other best-seller.

And if you are a short story writer, take heart. The estate of best-seller Jack London in San Francisco, the House Of Happy Walls has a collection of some of the 600 rejections he received before selling a single story.

This article is an extract from my forthcoming book – Please find attached – A guide to getting your work seen by agents and publishers – due out later this month. Sign up to my mailing list and I’ll send you a discount code to get it half price.

By Mo Fanning

Mo Fanning is a British author of dark romantic comedies including the Book of the Year nominated bestseller 'The Armchair Bride', 'Rebuilding Alexandra Small' and 2022's hit holiday romcom 'Ghosted'.

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