the mutt

Famous rejections

Posted in General, Writing by grx20 on October 22, 2008

A couple of my friends are going through a rather rough patch. At least one of them has aspirations of becoming a writer … well, starting to write, actually. It’s been something he’s always wanted to do, but for whatever reason, has not been. Recently, however, he has been speaking more about it than ever before. I hope he does it and makes it. 

Instead of pumping him with more inspiring quotes I thought I’d post about real life examples. Famous authors and famous books that had a tough time getting published. We all know the Harry Potter series didn’t have it easy. The cult classic Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance was rejected 121 times before finding a publisher – and the editor’s quote is today as famous as the book –  “It forced me to decide what I was in publishing for.”

No no no! It’s not to put the brakes on his endeavours and make it seem like a uphill struggle or a thankless venture. The idea is to encourage him to keep at it. To say, the rough patch will give way to a better road, and a better path. Hope this helps.

(Entire list at: How Stuff Works – and also available at

Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach
Richard Bach has always said that this story, told from the point of view of a young seagull, wasn’t written but channeled. When he sent out the story, Bach received 18 rejection letters. Nobody thought a story about a seagull that flew not for survival but for the joy of flying itself would have an audience. Boy, were they wrong! Macmillan Publishers finally picked up Jonathan Livingston Seagull in 1972, and that year the book sold more than a million copies. A movie followed in 1973, with a sound track by Neil Diamond.

Chicken Soup for the Soul by Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen
Within a month of submitting the first manuscript to publishing houses, the creative team behind this multimillion dollar series got turned down 33 consecutive times. Publishers claimed that “anthologies don’t sell” and the book was “too positive.” Total number of rejections? 140. Then, in 1993, the president of Health Communications took a chance on the collection of poems, stories, and tidbits of encouragement. Today, the 65-title series has sold more than 80 million copies in 37 languages.

Dubliners by James Joyce
It took 22 rejections before a publisher took a chance on a young James Joyce in 1914. They didn’t take too big of a chance — only 1,250 copies of Dubliners were initially published. Joyce’s popularity didn’t hit right away; out of the 379 copies that sold in the first year, Joyce himself purchased 120 of them. Joyce would go on to be regarded as one of the most influential writers of the 20th century. Dubliners, a collection of short stories, is among the most popular of Joyce’s titles, which include A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Finnegans Wake, and Ulysses.

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig
Pirsig’s manuscript attempts to understand the true meaning of life. By the time it was finally published in 1974, the book had been turned down 121 times. The editor who finally published Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance said of Pirsig’s book, “It forced me to decide what I was in publishing for.” Indeed, Zen has given millions of readers an accessible, enjoyable book for seeking insight into their own lives.

Carrie by Stephen King
If it hadn’t been for Stephen King’s wife, Tabitha, the iconic image of a young girl in a prom dress covered in pig’s blood would not exist. King received 30 rejections for his story of a tormented girl with telekinetic powers, and then he threw it in the trash. Tabitha fished it out. King sent his story around again and, eventually, Carrie was published. The novel became a classic in the horror genre and has enjoyed film and TV adaptations as well. Sometimes all it takes is a little encouragement from someone who believes in you.

Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
The only book that Margaret Mitchell ever published, Gone With the Wind won her a Pulitzer Prize in 1937. The story of Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler, set in the South during the Civil War, was rejected by 38 publishers before it was printed. The 1939 movie made of Mitchell’s love story, which starred Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh, is the highest grossing Hollywood film of all time (adjusted for inflation).

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4 Responses

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  1. Jo-Naathan said, on October 23, 2008 at 2:45 pm

    That is indeed inspiring. For any aspiring writer, or for that matter, aspiring anyone, this is a great post to read. The depth of your posts are getting better and I am starting to realize why reading what the Mutt has to say is getting to be such an interesting part of my daily routine. Heck, I’ve read your blog before the news on BBC this morning.

    On a sidenote, I get the sense this post has been inspired by your affection for your friends and your need to help them out. Especially this one chap who aspires to be a writer. Good luck to him and kudos to you for encouraging him. You are right – it takes 1 believer to make a success out of another person. I am sure your friend appreciates your faith in him.

    • the mutt said, on December 8, 2008 at 11:58 am

      You are one of the most frequent visitors and commentor, so to speak. I appreciate that a lot. Yes, writing is a dreadfully lonely and wrenching job. More than anything else, it demands a phenomenal amount of self-belief and perseverence. It’s ridiculously easy to stop and throw it away, or even worse, not even begin. It is also ridiculously tough to persevere. But that’s the way it works. It takes more internal strength than external factors working for you. And that makes the effort of writing as much a creative venture as a character building venture. Sheer bone-headed obstinacy to succeed and belief in one’s ability … that doesn’t just come, but has to be cultivated and nurtured. Yes, I do hope my friend makes it.

  2. anrosh said, on July 13, 2009 at 1:03 pm

    i came to the right place today

    • the mutt said, on July 15, 2009 at 4:59 am

      🙂 nice to hear that!

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