Frank Fiore – Novelist & Screenwriter

July 8, 2009

Famous Rejection Letters

Filed under: On Writing — Frank Fiore @ 3:22 PM

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‘for your own sake do not publish this book.’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.’



  1. […] This post was Twitted by BJMuntain […]

    Pingback by Twitted by BJMuntain — July 9, 2009 @ 12:23 AM | Reply

  2. Nice… As a struggling debut novelist,I am not sure whether it cheers me up or depresses me. I suppose the first thing all writers must learn is to be thick skinned?

    Comment by mostwantedspythriller — July 16, 2009 @ 5:20 AM | Reply

    • Mark – Yes. knowing that some of the best were turned down by some of the least helps us deal with our craft.

      Comment by Frank Fiore — July 16, 2009 @ 8:04 AM | Reply

  3. A was truly amazed reading this posting 🙂 10x

    Comment by Rogger Dojh — July 16, 2009 @ 12:03 PM | Reply

  4. (Possibly apocryphal rejection letter)
    “I’m currently sitting in the smallest room in the house with your manuscript before me. Soon it will be behind me.”

    Comment by David White — July 16, 2009 @ 1:55 PM | Reply

  5. In the forward of the book, A River Run Through It, the author, Norman Maclean, talks about how a Manhattan publisher rejected his book because it was a Western. The author wrote back, asking for an explanation. The publisher said it was a Western because it has trees in it.

    Comment by David White — July 16, 2009 @ 1:58 PM | Reply

  6. Thanks for posting. Always interesting to learn about the struggles other writers and artists have. It’s a lonely path sometimes, but someone has to walk it!

    Comment by Robert Brodey — July 16, 2009 @ 5:13 PM | Reply

  7. I heard Wanda Coleman recieved over 4000 rejection letters!

    Comment by frankmundo — July 16, 2009 @ 5:37 PM | Reply

  8. Oddly comforting, and at the same time, quite disturbing. It’s a shame that good judgment on the part of editors turns out to be wishful thinking, even if it is a rare occurrence. We are, after all, counting on them to spot OUR talent, not squash it. Seeing these, how can we take ANY rejection to heart?

    Comment by Rae — July 16, 2009 @ 7:04 PM | Reply

  9. Sir,
    Thanks a lot. I really felt comforted by your post. The couple of rejections that I received last week, no more disturb me. With a newly acquired vigour, I will try again. Thanks again.
    May god bless you!
    Abdullah Khan

    Comment by Abdullah Khan — July 17, 2009 @ 2:04 AM | Reply

  10. Frank,

    My first novel, Three Strange Men, is currently under review at several publishing houses. As the first rejection letters from agents and editors begin to come in, I have found solace in your excellent quotes. Thanks for lisftiong my spirits and reminding me that only through persistance can we prevail.


    Comment by Andrew — July 17, 2009 @ 6:16 AM | Reply

  11. Thanks for reminding us that not only our work, but our entire world, is based on the template through which it’s viewed. As my Buddhist teacher advises, nothing exists on its own side. Supposed “objective reality” is an interplay between our minds and the other. Bottom line, we should write from our heart, our gut and our passion, and those who need to “get it” will get it. And those who don’t, well, there are many lifetimes beyond this one.

    Comment by MaryLynn Schiavi — July 17, 2009 @ 7:16 AM | Reply

  12. Gee Thx everyone. I’m glad I helped in some way to brighten up your day.

    Comment by Frank Fiore — July 17, 2009 @ 7:49 AM | Reply

  13. I thoroughly enjoyed reading all the comments and the rejections of all those great authors and I can at least arm myself with more backbone when my rejection letters start coming in. It’s so refreshing to know that one must just keep going along and forget that the important thing is to keep on writing and not give up. Thanks Frank.

    Comment by Zochitl — July 17, 2009 @ 1:23 PM | Reply

  14. Good to read these, and be reminded of Einstein’s quote: “Great Spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds.” So glad none of those authors gave up, and glad to read that you’ve inspired many, (including myself), to never give up. With thanks.

    Comment by Darra Baker — July 17, 2009 @ 11:08 PM | Reply

  15. Just wanted to add that back before my first story as published, I wrote to the editor of the small literary magazine, whom I’d met at a concference, that if the story was published it would be my first snd if rejected, would also be my first. He sent me a manilla envelope full of rejections he himself had received and said it was all part ofd the process. But he did end up publishing my story!

    Comment by Barbara Green — July 28, 2009 @ 12:03 PM | Reply

  16. When you have made a name for yourself, maybe then you might be able to laugh it off, but when it happens, it hurts.

    I had also written an article about what famous writers went through at the hands of publishers. If somebody cares to see:

    Comment by Shruti — July 30, 2009 @ 10:46 PM | Reply

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