The literary world is littered with later-regretted rejections. My favorite, not because it’s the most extreme but because it involves an author whose work and life have profoundly influenced mine, involves Madeleine L’Engle, author of the young adult classic, A Wrinkle in Time.
L’Engle received two years’ worth of rejections from 26 publishers for A Wrinkle in Time, which was finally published in 1962 and went on to win major awards and be translated into more than a dozen languages.
Madeleine L’Engle was hardly unique...
"I received your rejection by email recently, which was surprising since I did not submit an application to the Art San Diego Short Film Program. Like most artists, I am accustomed to having my work rejected, but being rejected from something I did not enter is a new low."
– Shawnee Barton
- Theodore Geisel’s first book as Dr. Seuss was turned down 27 times before landing a publishing contract.
- J.K. Rowling was rejected by a dozen publishers before Bloomsbury embraced the first Harry Potter novel.
- The original Chicken Soup for the Soul book was nixed by more than a hundred publishers before it launched a multimillion-dollar franchise.
- Publishing giant Alfred A. Knopf passed on George Orwell’s Animal Farm, as well as on Vladimir Nabokov and Sylvia Plath.
- Stephen King, discouraged after Carrie’s 30th rejection, tossed the manuscript into the trash. Fortunately, his wife retrieved it: Carrie sold more than a million copies in its first year; King is now ranked as one of the top-selling authors of all time.
- Other literary rebuffs? William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, Oscar Wilde’s Lady Windemere’s Fan, Joseph Heller’s Catch-22, John le Carré’s The Spy Who Came in from the Cold and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.
– Shawnee Barton
When someone passes on your manuscript, regardless of the reason, here are six ways to help you get through and past the pain.
1. Feel What You Feel
Don’t bottle up your feelings. Cry. Curse. Scream. Throw things. Throw up. Then get past the rejection and move on.
2. Write Your Feelings
Powerful emotions birth powerful writing. Channel all you feel into one of your characters – if not as part of this story, then as part of another.
3. Take Writer's Revenge
Write a scene where you subject the source of your rejection to something unspeakably hideous, hurtful and horrific. It’s the writer’s equivalent of sticking pins into a voodoo doll, and you'll have more fun writing it than you ever ought to admit!
4. Look for the Silver Lining
Every experience, however emotionally debilitating, contains the seeds of something positive. Once the pain begins to subside, be open to a flash of insight that will reveal the silver lining around your storm cloud of rejection.
5. Look for the Spark of Truth
If your rejection letter offers reasons for the turndown, pay attention to them and use your discernment to determine whether those reasons highlight real weaknesses that it would serve you to address in a new draft.
6. Keep Writing
Don't let rejection stop you. Keep writing and keep seeking out ways to improve your craft.
"I cannot read your M.S. three or four times. Not even one time. Only one look, only one look is enough. Hardly one copy would sell here. Hardly one. Hardly one."
– Publisher Arthur C. Fifield's 1912 rejection letter to Gertrude Stein
Ask Yourself These Questions When Faced with Criticism or Rejection
- Can I refuse to let criticism or rejection stop me from moving forward with this writing project?
- If I am unable to get an agent, a publishing deal or a screenplay option, can I trust that there may be other reasons why I was called to write this? Can I be okay with that?
Toward the end of her demoralizing two-year period of rejections, Madeleine L’Engle covered up her typewriter and decided to give up on writing. On her way to the kitchen, she had an epiphany: an idea for a novel about failure. In a flash, Madeleine L’Engle was back at her typewriter. “That night, I wrote in my journal, ‘I’m a writer. That’s who I am. That’s what I am. That’s what I have to do – even if I’m never, ever published again.’ And I had to take seriously the fact that I might never, ever be published again. It’s easy to say I’m a writer now, but I said it when it was hard to say. And I meant it.”
• Adapted from The Voice of the Muse: Answering the Call to Write, Birthing Your Book...Even If You Don't Know What It's About and Organic Screenwriting: Writing for Film Naturally. Read more about famous rejections and how to deal with yours in any of these books.
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