50 Iconic Writers Who Were Repeatedly Rejected

This post is taken from onlinecollege.org and is being reposted here as a great reminder to all writers out there that many now-famous writers took a long time to be discovered. Many self-published first and in a future post we’ll look at some of the top writers who began by self publishing.

Do you know of more who should be added to this list? Or do you have a good publishing story of your own? Send a comment to tell us…

And now here is the article…

Whether you’re a struggling writer, or just studying to be one, you probably know that there’s a lot of rejection in your future. But don’t be dismayed, rejection happens even to the best. Here are 50 well-respected writers who were told no several times, but didn’t give up.

  1. Dr. Seuss: Here you’ll find a list of all the books that Dr. Seuss’ publisher rejected.
  2. William Golding: William Golding’s Lord of the Flies was rejected 20 times before becoming published.
  3. James Joyce: James Joyce’s Ulysses was judged obscene and rejected by several publishers.
  4. Isaac Asimov: Several of Asimov’s stories were rejected, never sold, or eventually lost.
  5. John le Carre: John le Carre’s first novel, The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, was passed along because le Carre “hasn’t got any future.”
  6. Jasper Fforde: Jasper Fforde racked up 76 rejections before getting The Eyre Affair published.
  7. William Saroyan: William Saroyan received an astonishing 7,000 rejection slips before selling his first short story.
  8. Jack Kerouac: Some of Kerouac’s work was rejected as pornographic.
  9. Joseph Heller: Joseph Heller wrote a story as a teenager that was rejected by the New York Daily News.
  10. Kenneth Grahame: The Wind in the Willows was not intended to be published, and was rejected in America before appearing in England.
  11. James Baldwin: James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room was called “hopelessly bad.”
  12. Ursula K. Le Guin: An editor told Ursula K. Le Guin that The Left Hand of Darkness was “endlessly complicated.”
  13. Pearl S. Buck: Pearl Buck’s first novel, East Wind: West Wind received rejections from all but one publisher in New York.
  14. Louisa May Alcott: Louisa May Alcott was told to stick to teaching.
  15. Isaac Bashevis Singer: Before winning the Nobel Prize, Isaac Bashevis Singer was rejected by publishers.
  16. Agatha Christie: Agatha Christie had to wait four years for her first book to be published.
  17. Tony Hillerman: Tony Hillerman was told to “get rid of the Indian stuff.”
  18. Zane Grey: Zane Grey self-published his first book after dozens of rejections.
  19. Marcel Proust: Marcel Proust was rejected so much he decided to pay for publication himself.
  20. Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen: Chicken Soup for the Soul received 134 rejections.
  21. William Faulkner: William Faulkner’s book, Sanctuary, was called unpublishable.
  22. Patrick Dennis: Auntie Mame got 17 rejections.
  23. Meg Cabot: The bestselling author of The Princess Diaries keeps a mail bag of rejection letters.
  24. Richard Bach: 18 publishers thought a book about a seagull was ridiculous before Jonathan Livingston Seagull was picked up.
  25. Beatrix Potter: The Tale of Peter Rabbit had to be published by Potter herself.
  26. John Grisham: John Grisham’s A Time to Kill was rejected by 16 publishers before finding an agent who eventually rejected him as well.
  27. Shannon Hale: Shannon Hale was rejected and revised a number of times before Bloomsbury published The Goose Girl.
  28. Richard Hooker: The book that inspired the film and TV show M*A*S*H* was denied by 21 publishers.
  29. Jorge Luis Borges: It’s a good thing not everyone thought Mr. Borges’ work was “utterly untranslatable.”
  30. Thor Heyerdahl: Several publishers thought Kon-Tiki was not interesting enough.
  31. Vladmir Nabokov: Lolita was rejected by 5 publishers in fear of prosecution for obscenity before being published in Paris.
  32. Laurence Peter: Laurence Peter had 22 rejections before finding success with The Peter Principles.
  33. D.H. Lawrence: Sons and Lovers faced rejection, and D.H. Lawrence didn’t take it easily.
  34. Richard Doddridge Blackmore: This much-repeated story was turned down 18 times before getting published.
  35. Sylvia Plath: Sylvia Plath had several rejected poem titles.
  36. Robert Pirsig: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance faced an amazing 121 rejections before becoming beloved by millions of readers.
  37. James Patterson: Patterson was rejected by more than a dozen publishers before an agent he found in a newspaper article sold it.
  38. Gertrude Stein: Gertrude Stein submitted poems for 22 years before having one accepted.
  39. E.E. Cummings: E.E. Cummings named the 14 publishers who rejected No Thanks in the book itself.
  40. Judy Blume: Judy Blum received nothing but rejections for two years and can’t look at Highlights without wincing.
  41. Irving Stone: Irving Stone’s Lust for Life was rejected by 16 different editors.
  42. Madeline L’Engle: Madeline L’Engle’s masterpiece A Wrinkle in Time faced rejection 26 times before willing the Newberry Medal.
  43. Rudyard Kipling: In one rejection letter, Mr. Kipling was told he doesn’t know how to use the English language.
  44. J.K. Rowling: J.K. Rowling submitted Harry Potter to 12 publishing houses, all of which rejected it.
  45. Frank Herbert: Before reaching print, Frank Herbert’s Dune was rejected 20 times.
  46. Stephen King: Stephen King filed away his first full length novel The Long Walk after it was rejected.
  47. Richard Adams: Richard Adams’s two daughters encouraged him to publish Watership Down as a book, but 13 publishers didn’t agree.
  48. Anne Frank: One of the most famous people to live in an attic, Anne Frank’s diary had 15 rejections.
  49. Margaret Mitchell: Gone With the Wind was faced rejection 38 times.
  50. Alex Haley: The Roots author wrote every day for 8 years before finding success.

Interview with Essi Tolling

A response to some of the questions sent in by readers of Watchers…

Q: What is the inspiration behind this series of books?

A: There’s a long answer and a short one to that question. I love stories is the short answer. Always have. One of my lasting memories from when I was a young boy is of my parents reading to us – especially on those dark winter eveningss in front of a crackling log fire. I loved hearing about the characters, trying to guess what they would do next and where the plot would take them. Hopefully the Tilly Greenway series will have the same effect for readers now. It’s not a regular fantasy-epic, because the plot is based around a lot of hidden secrets which are revealed over time. There are “Who dunnit?” questions, “Where is it?” questions and of course “How on Earth can they get out of THAT?” questions! It’s as much a thriller as it is a fantasy, which is a fun combination to write.

Beyond that, my main inspiration behind the series is my love of nature, history and myth. I’m rarely happier than when I’m tramping around the countryside and I especially like to visit places that have some association with ancient myths and legends. I suppose we’re back to story-telling again, because the stories that run through the land are deep and resonate strongly with me. Trees have their tales to tell, as do stones and plants. Imagine what a four hundred year old oak tree has seen in its life. Or a Yew, which might have been alive for thousands of years. Stories and messages are all around us. I like to listen and learn and hopefully re-tell them in a way that people enjoy.

Q: How many books will there be?

A: More than 2 and fewer than 6. There are also two further novels which are linked to the Tilly series, but separate to it.

Q: What is the storyline?

A: In essence, it is a straightforward quest. Time is running out for planet Earth and Tilly and Zack have to find a number of mysterious keys if they are to save it. They’re up against stiff odds. A sinister secret society has plans for the human race (in Book 1 this is to microchip the whole population with mu-brains). On top of that, there is a group of shadow-entities called The Others who feed off humans although they can’t be seen. Then there is the possibility that a number of alien creatures are living on Earth too. Oh, and a bunch of genetically-engineered mutants are let loose too. So, the kids have their work cut out if they’re going to succeed. But they do have helpers. I’ll leave it to the readers to find out who they might be.

Q: Who would enjoy this book?

Pretty much everyone I hope! I’d say the books are for teenagers upwards, but I recently had some letters from a group of eleven year old children who had all read “Watchers” and loved it, so it seems it’s a real cross-over novel. I’d like to think that readers who like Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings and the Narnia books would enjoy it, but I also think adult readers who like a Da Vinci Code-type conspiracy thriller will have fun with it too. The series is really not like anything else, so the proof will be in the pudding!

Readers who enjoy Grail Quests will certainly like the series. So will people who like riddles. In fact, there are a number of hidden codes within the books, waiting for people to discover them..

Illustration from Watchers by Meraylah Allwood


Q: Are you a full time writer?

No, although I do write almost every day. I teach a specific practice that helps people to lower their brain-wave activity into what’s known as the alpha-state. This is actually linked in with the Tilly stories, because it’s in the alpha-state that we dream and the books are all about dreams, visions, prophecies from the past etc. We can only dream when our brains are in the alpha-bandwidth (approximately 7-14 Hertz). It’s interesting to me that we all operate solely in alpha until we’re five years old, all mammals are in alpha all the time – and the Schumann Resonance (the Earth’s vibration) falls within the alpha bandwidth too. It’s in this state that people’s of old cultures not only dream, but communicate with each other too. Australian aboriginals, South African bushmen and so on – as well as true shamans – can all access a place where time and distance mean nothing. You could call it being psychic – or you could just say it’s a natural gift we all have, it’s just that most of us westerners have forgotten it. Modern day remote viewers almost certainly access it.

What happens in dreams fascinates me. As readers will find out, Tilly has the ability to dream into the future…she just doesn’t know how to use that ability at the beginning of the story.

Q: Can you talk a little about the process of writing and what inspires you?

A:My writing process is maybe a little different to most writers. I practice going into the alpha-state and then choose a scene from the story and let it unfold. I’ll experience the scene from each character’s point of view – a bit like an actor playing all the roles – and I don’t try to force them to react in any particular way. They’re alive (for me) so I give them free rein to say and do what they like!  Of course, I have an idea of where I want it to go, but I’m flexible with it. If something unforeseen comes along, I see that as a real inspiration. The other day, the plot took a twist that I really wasn’t expecting, when an unknown character walked in and did something which had a big impact. I then had to shuffle a number of other bits of plotline around to accomodate this new turn of events!

That’s one of the reasons I enjoy writing. Yes, I know what the ultimate end of the story is (I’ve written the last pages already) and I know what is coming in between, but I let the story take on its own life, trusting that it will lead me where it wishes to go. It’s a bit like taking a journey in a car. You can have the journey as well-planned as you like, but you never know EXACTLY what you’ll see out of the window, or who you might meet at the service station when you stop for petrol. And you can never see exactly what’s beyond the horizon, or even the next bend!

What inspires me is mainly is my love of nature, but I also have a strong feeling that we’re at a time of great challenge right now. There is so much on television that is so negative and I’d like to think that the Tilly series has a part to play in balancing that with a message of hope. That’s the serious backdrop to the story. But mainly, it’s a good old rigmarole with plenty of twists and turns. Oh, and I can guarantee that no one will be able to guess the ending!

Listen to Essi reading extracts from Watchers here

To find out more about Essi visit his blog here