“Fight Against Stupidity And Bureaucracy”
Gilbert Young was as aspiring writer, something that will find sympathy with many bloggers and blog readers I’m sure.
But Mr Young has not been the most successful of authors. In the 1970s he wrote a book, World Government Crusade, and last reports indicate that it was rejected by more publishers that any other manuscript. He even wrote to the Soviet Ambassador to see if Russian publishers might be interested. They were not.
He amassed a collection of 205 rejection slips.
It’s all hardly surprising since the subject matter of his book outlined the policies of the ‘World Government and Old Age Pensioners’ Party’ that he had founded in 1958.
But whilst Mr Young’s manuscript may well have been worthy of rejection, sometimes publishers have made serious errors when assessing work submitted to them by aspiring authors. Stupidity is indeed everywhere!
Take a look at these famous examples and the publisher’s comments. It’s a fairly long list, but interesting to see the variety of great writers who started off their careers being rejected. At least some of them will surprise you!
Thank goodness they were persistent enough to carry on. Another good lesson there for aspiring writers today.
Perhaps rather fittingly, whilst the authors and books they criticized have gone on to become household names, the publishers doing the rejecting have long been forgotten.
“Lady Chatterley’s Lover” by D H Lawrence
‘for your own sake do not publish this book.’
“The Wind in the Willows” by Kenneth Grahame
‘an irresponsible holiday story’
“Lord of the Flies” by William Golding
‘an absurd and uninteresting fantasy which was rubbish and dull.’
“Watership Down” by Richard Adams
‘older children wouldn’t like it because its language was too difficult.’
“Valley of the Dolls” by Jacqueline Susann
Susann’s “Valley Of The Dolls” received this response, “…she is a painfully dull, inept, clumsy, undisciplined, rambling and thoroughly amateurish writer whose every sentence, paragraph and scene cries for the hand of a pro. She wastes endless pages on utter trivia, writes wide-eyed romantic scenes …hauls out every terrible show biz cliché in all the books, lets every good scene fall apart in endless talk and allows her book to ramble aimlessly …”
“Crash” by J G Ballard
‘The author of this book is beyond psychiatric help.’
“The Torrents of Spring” by Ernest Hemingway
Regarding his novel, “The Torrents of Spring”, Ernest Hemingway was rejected with, “It would be extremely rotten taste, to say nothing of being horribly cruel, should we want to publish it.”
“Moby Dick” by Herman Melville
Melville was told, “We regret to say that our united opinion is entirely against the book as we do not think it would be at all suitable for the Juvenile Market in (England). It is very long, rather old-fashioned…”
Faulkner may be a classic writer to this, as well as prior, generation, but back when he was trying to crack the publishing market, he had to read letters like this one, “If the book had a plot and structure, we might suggest shortening and revisions, but it is so diffuse that I don’t think this would be of any use. My chief objection is that you don’t have any story to tell.” This was kinder than the rejection he would receive just two years later, “Good God, I can’t publish this!”
“The Deer Park” by Norman Mailer
‘This will set publishing back 25 years.’
“Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” by Anita Loos
‘Do you realize, young woman, that you’re the first American writer ever to poke fun at sex.’
“The Diary of Anne Frank”
‘The girl doesn’t, it seems to me, have a special perception or feeling which would lift that book above the “curiosity” level.’
“Lust for Life” by Irving Stone
Stone’s manuscript “Lust For Life” was rejected 16 times, with letters like this, “A long, dull novel about an artist.” Eventually he found a publisher and went on to sell about 25 million copies.
“Barchester Towers” by Anthony Trollope
‘The grand defect of the work, I think, as a work of art is the low-mindedness and vulgarity of the chief actors. There is hardly a lady” or “gentleman” amongst them.’
“Carrie” by Stephen King
‘We are not interested in science fiction which deals with negative utopias. They do not sell.’
“Catch – 22” by Joseph Heller
‘I haven’t really the foggiest idea about what the man is trying to say… Apparently the author intends it to be funny – possibly even satire – but it is really not funny on any intellectual level … From your long publishing experience you will know that it is less disastrous to turn down a work of genius than to turn down talented mediocrities.’
“The Spy who Came in from the Cold” by John le Carré
‘You’re welcome to le Carré – he hasn’t got any future.’
“The War Of The Worlds” & “The Time Machine” by H.G. Wells
Wells had to endure the indignity of a rejection when he submitted his manuscript, “The War of the Worlds” that said, “An endless nightmare. I do not believe it would “take”…I think the verdict would be ‘Oh don’t read that horrid book’.”
And when he tried to market “The Time Machine,” it was said, “It is not interesting enough for the general reader and not thorough enough for the scientific reader.”
“Animal Farm” by George Orwell
‘It is impossible to sell animal stories in the USA’
Edgar Allen Poe
Poe was told, “Readers in this country have a decided and strong preference for works in which a single and connected story occupies the entire volume.”
“A Wrinkle In Time” by Madeleine L’Engle
L’Engle’s “A Wrinkle In Time” was turned down 29 times.
“Bridge Over River Kwai” by Pierre Boulle
A rejection letter said, “A very bad book.”
“The Clan of Cave Bear” by Jean Auel
Auel was told, “We are very impressed with the depth and scope of your research and the quality of your prose. Nevertheless … we don’t think we could distribute enough copies to satisfy you or ourselves.”
“Jonathan Livingston Seagull” by Richard Bach
The publisher of a magazine refusing an offer to bid on the paperback rights to Bach’s best selling novel said, “Jonathan Livingston Seagull will never make it as a paperback.” Avon Books eventually bought those rights and sales totaled more than 7.25 million copies.
“The Fountainhead” & “Atlas Shrugged” by Ayn Rand
Before Ayn Rand became known as an intellectual and her books as classics, she too received rejections. Of “The Fountin Head” they said, “It is badly written and the hero is unsympathetic,” and, “I wish there were an audience for a book of this kind. But there isn’t. It won’t sell.”
Of “Atlas Shrugged” doing the rounds some fourteen years later, “… the book is much too long. There are too many long speeches… I regret to say that the book is unsaleable and unpublishable.”
“Lady Windermere’s Fan” by Oscar Wilde
‘My dear sir, I have read your manuscript. Oh, my dear sir.’
Jorge Luis Borges
Isaac Bashevis Singer
‘It’s Poland and the rich Jews again.’
‘There is no commercial advantage in acquiring her, and, in my opinion, no artistic.’
“too different from other juveniles on the market to warrant its selling.”
“The Tale Of Peter Rabbit” was turned down so many times, Potter initially self-published it.
Kipling received this from the editor of the San Francisco Examiner, “I’m sorry, Mr. Kipling, but you just don’t know how to use the English language.”
“Journey Back to Love” by Mary Higgins Clark
Although mystery writer Mary Higgins Clark more recently has received a $60 plus million dollar advance on her next five books, in the early 1960s when she was sending out her manuscript of “Journey Back to Love” the publishers were not so generous, saying things like, “We found the heroine as boring as her husband did.”
Classic writer Colette was told in a letter of rejection, “I wouldn’t be able to sell 10 copies.”
Only seven of Emily Dickinson’s poems were ever published during her lifetime. A rejection early in her career said, “(Your poems) are quite as remarkable for defects as for beauties and are generally devoid of true poetical qualities.”
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
‘… overwhelmingly nauseating, even to an enlightened Freudian … the whole thing is an unsure cross between hideous reality and improbable fantasy. It often becomes a wild neurotic daydream … I recommend that it be buried under a stone for a thousand years.