11 Famous Writers Who Were Rejected Before Making It Big

11 Famous Writers Who Were Rejected Before Making It BigThe list of famous writers who were rejected is long. Rejection and writing go hand-in-hand, but sometimes it feels that those pesky publishers simply don’t know what they are talking about.

We all know that quality of writing isn’t the only reason for reaction. Perhaps your book is not a good fit for the publisher, or the agent is looking for something ‘different’ or your work has just been misunderstood. Yet, no matter what the reason those rejection letters still sting!

Here’s eleven famous writers who were rejected and show that writers might just be right after all…

  1. Madeline L’Engle’s book, A Wrinkle in Time, was turned down 29 times before she found a publisher.
  2. C.S. Lewis received over 800 rejections before he sold a single piece of writing.
  3. Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind was rejected by 25 publishers.
  4. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance was rejected 121 times.
  5. Johathan Livingston Seagull was rejected 40 times.
  6. Louis L’Amour was rejected over 200 times before he sold any of his writing.
  7. The San Francisco Examiner turned down Rudyard Kipling’s submission in 1889 with the note, “I am sorry, Mr. Kipling, but you just do not know how to use the English language.”
  8. An editor once told F. Scott Fitzgerald, “You’d have a decent book if you’d get rid of that Gatsby Character.”
  9. The Dr. Seuss book, And to Think I Saw it on Mulberry Street, was rejected for being “too different from other juveniles on the market to warrant selling.”
  10. George Orwell’s Animal Farm was rejected with the comment, “It’s impossible to sell animal stories in the USA.”
  11. The manuscript for The Diary of Anne Frank received the editorial comment, “This girl doesn’t, it seems to me, have a special perception or feeling which would lift that book above the curiosity level.”

I hope that these famous writers who were rejected will give you a little bit of hope on those dark rejection letter days!


About the Author

By Gary Smailes - Co-founder at BubbleCow, helping writers to write, get published and sell more books. Google+ Twitter

  • http://twitter.com/Jane_lou Jane

    A great post to remind us to keep going. Thanks.

  • David O’Connor Thompson

    Damn! And I was in a fantasy where people would write, ‘Can you believe DOT’s work was turned down six, yes, SIX times before he got published.’

    So I guess your advice is for wannabes to accumulate as many rejections as possible early on to hasten the eventual arrival of the acceptance letter. Perhaps I should be mailing out a hundred letters at a time.

  • Jackie Buxton

    Brilliant! Should be printed out and pasted above every submitting-wannabe-published-writer’s desk!

  • Suzannaenelson

    Shared. Thank you.

  • J.P. Lane

    If ever there were words of encouragement for us struggling authors, it’s that list. Thanks for sharing!

  • J.P. Lane

    If ever there were words of encouragement for struggling authors, it’s that list. Thanks for sharing!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Ellis-Amburn/100000182862561 Ellis Amburn

    So true. Editors’ and publishers’ opinions, sometimes proferred as the gospel truth, are entirely subjective. The only opinion that should matter to any of us is our opinion of ourselves. The joy of writing is in the process, not the result. To expect satisfaction from publiction is a premeditated resentment.

  • http://twitter.com/thejimparker Jim Parker

    Greatly encouraging.  Thanks for sharing.

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  • http://www.RightLineEditing.com ChristineH

    ‘Twould be interesting to see the marketing plans and sales stats for each of those eleven. How much time was required for each to capture an audience and become a best-seller? And how did each become widely known?

    Is also a good heads-up for publishing professionals. Genuine gems are passed over due to haste, nescience, or lack of thoughtful consideration.

  • Snorris2

    Can’t leave out James Joyce’s novels as well! Rejected by all but a small-time book shop publisher in France!

  • Maria

    Think I’ll dust off my query letter tonight..

  • Sandraej95

    And just think about how many times Harry Potter was rejected.. 

  • http://www.naturalparentsnetwork.com Jennifer

    Some of these made me laugh out loud, and most made me feel very grateful these amazing authors didn’t give into the criticism but kept at it so we could all enjoy their writings!

  • http://twitter.com/BreatheDreamGo Mariellen Ward

    Don’t forget JK Rowling — Harry Potter was turned down by 17 publishers. Imagine how they feel now.

  • jj

    800 rejections! It takes an incredibly confident man to make it even half that far.

  • jj

    Also, I’d like to know how many times Twilight was rejected.

  • Nitti1985

    not enough

  • Shahamananadingdong

    lets not forget how many times writers have written pieces of crap and publishers have published them. Subjectivity can be a fickle pickle. 

  • Junkadunk

    Twilight rejection letter would read: Please do not write anymore. If you choose to write. We beg you to stop wiping your ass with your keyboard, and create something more inspiring. We do not care for your sacrilegious depiction of a sparkly, pedophile fruitcake of a vampire. We would also like to ask you to refrain from capitalizing on young, easily swayed, and otherwise insecure teens. If we were to accept your verbal diarrhea, it would only be met with five conditions

    1. Remove high school from the setting. Japan has milked the high school stories into oblivion.
    2. Remove the insecure twat who has the fetish for old men that look and act like kids. e.g. PeeWee Herman with fangs.
    3. Turn “PeeWee” into a ravenous, bloodsucking fuck-head with an insatiable thirst for blood and 24-hour erection.
    4. Beg Bram Stoker for forgiveness, then proceed to impale yourself while praying to Vlad Tepes.
    5. Cut yourself open and look closely at the blood. See teen love in that? Neither should vampires.

    If you cannot meet these conditions, we urge you to take your story to other publishers, as they are in as much need of toilet paper as we.

    Thank you for submitting your steamy stack of shit-paper. We hope we did not upset you. However, if you would like. We can send your copy of “Sparkles: The pedophile vampire” to any rap label of your choosing. As we are confident you will be a big sucess! Good day madam.

  • Leah J. Prewitt

    One of my poetry friends writing a poem that began “Daniel Boone must of been plum crazy” received it back from an editor with the grammar corrected and a rejection letter.

  • ImprobableMoose

    Most amusingly, it had I think it was 9 different publishers fighting over it and was published less than a year after she started writing it - which she did in under three months.  My sister and I have a theory that being rejected repeatedly actually shows you have original and interesting ideas that are probably way better than the crap that is churned out automatically.  The constant fixing and rewriting of books while they attempt to get published most likely gave these authors the chance to improve themselves and their writing.  Although, unlike with Twilight, they probably had decent ideas in the first place.

  • http://www.LifeAfterCaregiving.WordPress.com Linda Brendle

    It takes an incredibly resourceful man to find that many places to send submissions!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Stuart-Reid/542859266 Stuart Reid

    My first book, Gorgeous George and the Giant Geriatric Generator was also rejected 17 times before being accepted.

    It’s available in stores now!!!!!

  • Cyndie Todd

    Author of The Help was rejected 60 times over 5 years, until she finally got a letter of acceptance upon her 61st submission.

  • donthateappreciate

    I think the point of this list in the first place was to show that whether or not someone likes a book is a very subjective thing.  So while I do respect the fact that you strongly dislike the Twilight series, keep in mind that lots of people enjoy the books.  I was personally not impressed either, but I do try to remember that what I appreciate, someone else probably couldn’t care less about and vice versa.  I would recommend trying to find something you can appreciate in everything.  Doing so allows me to learn much more from everything I experience.  If I were to focus on hating something, I might miss out on some pretty awesome parts of that thing.

  • Anastasiya Maslova

    Her audience was pre-teen and teenage girls so I think she
    wrote an amazing book considering it’s become such a hit among them.


    She’s not the greatest writer in the world – it’s obviously
    her first published work, the story is pretty dumb (again, if you’re not a
    teenage girl) and her characters aren’t very well developed. But, throughout
    her books, you go through a lot of emotions – good, bad, sad, sickening (who else has written about a vampire child clawing it’s way from your inside) – and I
    think that’s the main point of a book – to evoke emotions and for the readers
    to actually care for the characters in some way or another.


    What I commend her for is that it is the only series I have
    ever read which had a satisfying ending. She answered all the questions she
    posed throughout the four books (which is more than I can say for Rowling who
    put so many questions into the HP novels that by books 7, she abandoned all
    hope of answering most of them). She ended it perfectly – there is no need for
    a bunch of fake sequels or a look at “10 years from now”

    Have you actually read all the books and hated them? or did you see the poor and ridiculous movies that Hollywood produced - cuz they really need to fire the director and actors from any future productions of anything

  • http://dbakeca.com Dbakeca Italia

    That means the editors didn’t like (or even read) the books…

  • awkwardbrains

    not enough

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  • Vivi-dragon

    so true and look at her now shes one of the riches women in the world

  • Lynn

    From what I heard, it was around 13.

  • Jenni_summers

    Wow I can’t even believe the comment about the Diary of Anne Frank… Some great trivia here, very encouraging for writers tempted to give up on their dream!

  • mandbear

    Twilight is successful because the masses don’t want smart or thought provoking. They want entertainment that’s cheap and easy, just like their mothers.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003018971782 Ade Hodges

    Makes me smile when publishers and agents expect us to submit to them
    one-at-a-time just in case more than one accepts, especially given how
    long a manuscript can sit on a slush pile and let alone the time it takes
    them to read our sample pages and cover letter. I’m sure Kipling must have
    been sending them out ten at a time!

  • Ckostroski

    Charles Bukowski was rejected a TON before the New Yorker picked up one of his poems.

  • http://bharatbuysell.com Free India Classifieds

    Its sad to see that not everyone gets a oppurtunity like others do 

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  • Anoggs28

    I still think they should have had more……. And to tell of their sucsess 

  • imaginativeART

    yyyyeeaaa I tried appreciating something that others enjoyed, and I could not even get through half of that book.. it is complete rubbish and filled with horrible dialogue, characters that a fourth grader could come up with, and her writing is in desperate need of an English professor. Her writing is bland and leaves something to be desired.

  • Hdbaekr07

    there is a reason why zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance was turned down so many times. 

  • Crowley

    I think she IS the richest woman in the world. Definitely the richest author.

  • http://sorchaogle.wordpress.com/ nordie

    And the girl who did “find” her did it by sheer fluke. She was working in an agent’s office as an temp, didnt have anything to read one lunch time, asked if it was ok to go through the slush pile……and found this little book about some boy wizard.   Went back after lunch and told the agent to read the book. Rest as they say is history….

  • http://twitter.com/Leofwine1 David Halle

    I only have one thing to say.

    The point of a book, at least a work of fiction, is to tell a story the emotions are a secondary point. If the book has a poor story it will generally fail even if it evokes strong emotions.

  • Michael Hudson

    You have to wonder whether John Kennedy Toole renamed his famous novel to A Confederacy of Dunces after he gave up on getting it published.

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  • Mdfbianchi

    Oprah is actually the richest woman in the world.

  • Alena

    $300 million dollars later…
    oh yes, the books “generally failed”. 
    By the way - no one’s asking you to read it, as you are not the target audience. The Twilight series did incredible, and I don’t see the point in people having this intense dislike for it. What’s the enjoyment from it? 

  • Alena

    So why don’t you come up with something better? No one’s comparing Twilight/Stephanie Meyer to C.S Lewis or George Orwell, or any other author for that matter… her series did well with what it was supposed to do well with, preteen girls! Why can’t people just let it be?! 

  • http://www.tiecoon.com/boysties.html Boy’s Ties

    Tiecoon.com, ties rejected 186 times.

  • http://www.lilidauphinblog.com/ Lili Dauphin

    Everything in life requires patience. The only time we fail is when we give up. So let’s do what we love and eventually we’ll win. We must never give up our dreams because we’re strong enough.

  • Neri

    One of my favourite anecdotes is from Tad Williams.  Apparently his first book Tailchaser’s Song was turned down by one publisher with the reason being that they “don’t do non-human protagonists”.  It was also rejected several other times, but not for such an odd reason!

  • Anonymous

    #7 Kipling was the major racist who wrote “The White Man’s Burden” 

  • expectations

    The sad part about Twilight is not how poorly written it is, but how popular that poor writing is. I have found that generally people rise to the expectations you set for them. Sure twilight sold millions, but has anyone tried to sell anything of value to the demographic? In comparison to what else is being pushed to teen girls, Twilight is probably some of the best. 

    “If you throw enough sh*t at the walls, some of it will stick, but it doesn’t stop your walls from being covered in sh*t.”

  • Linus Lovely

    Anne Marie Boidock. You may not know her yet, but someday - you will.

  • Brimshack

    I think a couple of those should have been turned down a couple more times, but then again I’ma grumpy old bastard.

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  • Helene

    One has to admire these authors for their belief in their writing and their tenacity in the pursuit of a publisher. One can only speculate how many fall out of the race in defeat.

  • http://[email protected] Carolyn Puga

    I studied journalism ~ family and friends always encouraged me to write, now at 72 I have many different things I’d like to put down on paper… however, believe the first few years of rejection letters stopped me from trying. Seems someone “up there” still wants me to keep writing, or I wouldn’t have seen this published comment on Publishers. . .thanks… this is encouraging… I also had thought about having something printed and selling it myself. . .I’ve read folks are doing that also.

  • Mary

    What about Alex Haley who continued to write and submit for something like ten years . . .and one day an editor wrote back, I think it might have been Murray Fisher, “nice try” scrubbed across the rejected story or whatever. He said that phrase kept him going.

    How’s that? encouraged by a rejection letter!

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  • Aakash12

    I wanted to be be one among the list :) Anyways, I wanted to be one in the best authors. I’ve found this http://www.lithasa.com/.

    I would like to know how this is better than other platforms or self publishing methods !!

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  • cecil mc mahon

    Nowadays, it seems that you need to be the offspring of a noted person to get your book published. The story and the writing, are secondary

  • Anyssa

    She was the richest but apparently gave a LOT of money to charity. One charity in particular was in support of MS research since her mother died of MS.

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