Even the Best Get Rejected

Jim Rubart laughing at Steve Laube's rejection letter

I’ve written about rejection before and yet it is a topic that continues to fascinate.

Recently Adrienne Crezo did an article on famous authors and their worst rejection letters. I thought you might enjoy reading a couple highlights of that article and some additional stories I have collected over the years.

  1. George Orwell’s Animal Farm was rejected by Alfred Knopf saying it was “impossible to sell animal stories in the U.S.A.”
  2. Stephen King’s Carrie was rejected with the statement that the publisher was “not interested in science fiction which deals with negative utopias.  They do not sell.”
  3. William Golding’s Lord of the Flies was rejected by an agent saying it was “an absurd and uninteresting fantasy which was rubbish and dull.”
  4. Frank L. Baum’s Wizard of Oz was rejected because it was “too radical of a departure from traditional juvenile literature.”
  5. William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream received this rejection, “September 29: The most insipid, ridiculous play that I ever saw in my life.”
  6. Jim Davis, creator of Garfield, was told that his comic would never succeed because of the popularity of Snoopy. “Too many animals, and cats don’t sell.”
  7. Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 received a rejection letter saying “I haven’t really the foggiest idea about what the man is trying to say.”
  8. Rudyard Kipling was told by an editor to stop submitting queries with the words, “I’m sorry, Mr. Kipling, but you just don’t know how to use the English language.”
  9. Ted Dekker’s Heaven’s Wager was rejected by an editor who wrote, in essence, “You are a good writer but you have not created memorable characters like those found in the writings of Orson Scott Card.” That editor was Steve Laube. :-o
  10. James Rubart’s Rooms was turned away at a writers conference by an agent who wrote, “Your protagonist is not very likable. I cheer for his failure because he is so arrogant.” That agent was Steve Laube….

Take heart. Even the best get filleted.

And sometimes the one wielding the knife isn’t always right.

20 Responses to Even the Best Get Rejected

  1. Tamela January 4, 2011 at 11:21 am #

    I think all of us can relate! Thanks for the chuckles.

    Good to see you back blogging again.

  2. Timothy Fish January 4, 2011 at 12:20 pm #

    Some of these aren’t exactly wrong.

  3. Sarah Forgrave January 4, 2011 at 2:13 pm #

    It all makes sense now. I have a cat in my book and “cats don’t sell”. :)

    If you want to read my thoughts about your rejection letter (in your not-so-spare time :)), here’s a link: http://thewritersalleys.blogspot.com/2010/11/rejection-stinksor-does-it.html

  4. Steve January 4, 2011 at 2:46 pm #

    Sarah,

    Well said. I’m guessing that over the years I’ve written at least 10,000 rejection letters. I’m glad yours was seen as the encouragement it was meant to be.

    Steve

  5. Michael K. Reynolds January 4, 2011 at 5:13 pm #

    Wow, Steve. What a record. 10,000 rejection letters and you were only wrong twice!

    Truthfully, I’m not sure how agents keep from having their brains permanently damaged after having to read through so much garbage.

    Heck. We’ve got it easy. All we have to do is write the rubbish!

  6. Audra Krell January 4, 2011 at 8:48 pm #

    This is a fun post, and very encouraging! Maybe I’ll be on your rejection list someday as a successful author like Rubart. I’ve already received the rejection, so I’m half way to the goal! : )

  7. Anita Mae Draper January 5, 2011 at 4:32 am #

    Ouch. Thanks for the honesty.

    (Jim – If Steve rejects me, can I run to you for a shoulder to cry on? LOL)

    My husband likes competing with me on almost any level and our choice of reading material was no exception in the early years of our marriage. It was his Louis L’Amour books against my Zane Grey novels. I can’t tell you why I liked Grey’s novels back then because I read for pleasure and not from a writers viewpoint. But I certainly related on a literary level when I discovered he ‘privately printed’ his first book, Betty Zane, after it had been turned down by several publishers.

  8. A.C.Townsend January 5, 2011 at 2:47 pm #

    Thanks for sharing these encouraging stories! As someone else has already said, I hope to join Ted Dekker and James Rubart on your “passed over” list some day. I have two very ecouraging, personally written rejection letters in my file, and one of them is from you. Thank you for taking the time to do that. Have a blessed and beautiful day!

    ~ Angela

  9. Merrie Destefano January 5, 2011 at 3:54 pm #

    I honestly think I’ve learned more from my rejections, from both editors and agents, than I learned in any writing class. Each one showed me where I was missing the mark. Not every editor or agent can take the time to point out where you’re making your mistakes, but if they do, I highly recommend paying attention.

  10. Steve January 5, 2011 at 4:55 pm #

    It is a bit like American Idol. You sit down and read (listen) to 20 or more pitches in a row. After a while they start to blur…and then the next one in line absolutely blows you away. The heart starts pumping and you wonder, “is this the one?”

    I’ve had that feeling many times and a number of them are now successfully published writers. Unfortunately the list of folks I turned down who are now successful is rather long.

    Steve

  11. Lynn Dean January 6, 2011 at 10:05 am #

    Your story about rejecting Ted Dekker made a deep impression when I heard you share it at a writers’ conference dinner table. It was just as timely today. Thanks for being human.

  12. Sue Harrison January 6, 2011 at 5:13 pm #

    Thank you! Laughter and encouragement make great companions!

  13. Shanon Nelson January 8, 2011 at 3:22 pm #

    Great Blog! That’s what I was conveying to a friend of mine just today. Do you have some Agents that you would recommend for spirituality, personal growth and/or women’s interest?
    Thanks!
    http://www.getoveryourbs.com

  14. Susie Finkbeiner January 10, 2011 at 11:54 pm #

    Oh goodness. I just mailed my query to your agency. Now I’m a little nervous!

  15. Debbie Lynne Costello October 12, 2011 at 9:51 am #

    Almost 3 years ago I submitted a manuscript to you and you gave me a rejection. But you also told me my manuscript had merit. You told me because of the time period you weren’t interested and gave me examples of a big name author who had half the sales on a novel she wrote in the time period as mine. I also received a very similiar rejection from Tamela Hancock Murray. She told me the story was intriguing, but time period was an impediment and also rejected it. I took both of your advice to heart, along with some published author friends and wrote in a time period that sells. I love the time period I write in now and am so glad I listened. The best part of this story is that I am now represented by Tamela Hancock Murray at the Steve Laube Agency. It does pay to listen to the professionals of this business. BTW I too, have my rejection letters from both you and Tamela. I smile every time I look at them.

  16. Michael August 29, 2012 at 10:23 pm #

    Rejection happens. it’s what we do afterwards with it is the tale of the tape. Great article

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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  3. The Greatest Book (Ever) on Sales & Marketing | The Steve Laube Agency - August 8, 2011

    [...] guest post is from Jim Rubart. He and I first met at the Mt. Hermon writers conference where I infamously rejected him (see #10). A bit about Jim. Since 1994, Jim has worked with clients such as AT&T/Cingular, [...]

  4. Juliana Sliema: On eBooks | Juliana Sliema: Sexy, Literary! - March 19, 2013

    [...] Back to the point I was going to make which is despite all their flaws and limitations eBooks give us authors an incredible opportunity to experiment. Basically, when cutting out the publishing costs there is no risk for us. We can write our generation’s Animal Farm without having to go from publisher to publisher and getting rejections for political reasons. Although of course it is “impossible to sell animal stories in the U.S.A.” [...]

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