Publishers claim that their rejections are not necessarily based on value judgments. They may like a manuscript, they say, but be unable to publish it because of prior commitments or scheduling jams, lack of money or other operational obstacles.
They have let some amazingly big fish slip through their nets, great classics and ultimate blockbusters of all varieties: War and Peace, The Good Earth … To Kill a Mockingbird, The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayam, Watership Down.
An agent once told me that a publisher passed on The Perfect Storm. The acquisition editor’s reason was “Who would want to read about a bunch of fisherman.” I suppose Peter Benchley’s book, Jaws, was passed over by some agents and publishers because it was just a fish story.
The list goes on and on.
Here are some examples of famous author rejection letters.
Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D H Lawrence
‘for your own sake do not publish this book.’
Lord of the Flies by William Golding
‘an absurd and uninteresting fantasy which was rubbish and dull.’
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.’
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.’
Animal Farm by George Orwell
‘It is impossible to sell animal stories in the USA’
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.’
Watership Down by Richard Adams
‘older children wouldn’t like it because its language was too difficult.’
The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
‘an irresponsible holiday story’
The Spy Who Came in from the Cold by John le Carré
‘You’re welcome to le Carré – he hasn’t got any future.’