One of the hardest parts of living the writing life is dealing with the reality of rejection. No one likes rejection. It is hard to have your work returned to you and not lose faith in its value. It’s just as hard to keep from losing faith in our abilities as writers. It’s something everyone goes through; something everyone has to deal with. Everyone. In fact, one of the marks of a true professional (or dedicated amateur on their way) is their persistence in the face of rejection, usually multiple rejections.
There are some things we all need to keep in mind when that dreaded rejection shows up in our mailboxes. Editors and publishers are not gods (though they do seem to have god-like power sometimes). Their word is not necessarily the last one. Each of them is a human being just like the rest of us doing their job to the best of their ability. And their job is to go through the works submitted and pick the ones they think the reading public will like. A rejection doesn’t necessarily mean the work wasn’t any good. It just means, in their judgement, there was no place for it with them.
The second thing to remember is that editors and publishers, for all their knowledge and experience, are often wrong. Often what several say is awful or will never sell, ends up doing quite well, thank you. But only because the author believed in themselves and their work and didn’t quit in the face of (multiple) rejections.
Below is a list I’ve compiled of books that were rejected multiple times but later went on to be very successful. Some became best-sellers and spawned movies and television series. Others became classics. One or two have faded over time, but were quite successful in their time.
When you find yourself discouraged and doubting your abilities maybe you can remember this list and remember that persistence and faith are every bit as important as talent.
Animal Farm Number of Rejections 4
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone 8
Valley of the Dolls 10
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance 12
Robert M. Pirsig
Diary of Anne Frank 16
The Peter Principal 16
Laurence J. Peter
Jonathon Livingstone Seagull 18
Lorna Doone 18
Richard Doddridge Blackmore
Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison 20
A Wrinkle in Time 26
Chicken Soup for the Soul 33
Gone With the Wind 38
If all the authors listed above hadn’t persisted in the face of such rejection, the world would have been cheated out of some very good works of literature, wouldn’t it? Kind of makes you wonder how many are out there somewhere that are just as good (maybe even better) but we’ll never see them because the author gave up after a couple of rejections.
We can’t let ourselves become one of those authors.