When Famous Writers Got Rejected

Don’t worry, even your favorite writers have been rejected.

Putting yourself out there is scary and the dread of rejection can make it even more terrifying, whether you’re looking for love or a publisher. One way we can soften the blow of rejection is by reading and sharing the rejection letters we’ve received. Below, you’ll find rejection letters from publishers that were sent to iconic American writers about now-classic books. If these authors can persist, then so can you.

Do you have a rejection letter of your own? On February 14, 2023, join us at the American Writers Museum for a Rejection Open Mic, as part of our Get Lit: Down With Love event. We’re inviting everyone to share their rejection letters, emails, texts or their stories of rejection. After you’re done, shred your letter and release the rejection into the world. Literally. We’ll have a paper shredder on stage. Don’t let rejection get you down!

Click here to learn more about Get Lit events and get tickets.

Written by Matthew Masino

A collection of poetry by Emily Dickinson
“Queer–the rhymes were all wrong.”

The Making of Americans: Being a History of a Family’s Progress by Gertrude Stein
“I am only one, only one, only one. Only one being, one at the same time. Not two, not three, only one. Only one life to live, only sixty minutes in one hour. Only one pair of eyes. Only one brain. Only one being. Being only one, having only one pair of eyes, having only one time, having only one life, 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.”

White Buildings by Hart Crane
“I am afraid that we will have to pass up White Buildings… It is really the most perplexing kind of poetry. One reads it with growing irritation, not at you but at himself, for the denseness of one’s own intellect.”

The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand
“This is a work of almost-genius– ‘genius’ in the power of its expression– ‘almost’ in the sense of its enormous bitterness. I wish there was an audience for a book of this kind. But there isn’t. It won’t sell.”

Collage of famous writers who have been rejected.
Clockwise starting top left: William Faulkner, Anita Loos, Julia Child, Emily Dickinson, Gertrude Stein

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
“Stick To Teaching.”

Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child, Simone Beck, and Louisette Bertholle
“…It is a big expensive cookbook of elaborate information and might well prove formidable to the American housewife. She might easily clip one of the recipes out of a magazine but be frightened by the book as a whole.”

The Running Man by Stephen King
“We are not interested in science fiction which deals with negative utopias. They do not sell.”

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes by Anita Loos
“Do you realize, young woman, that you’re the first American writer ever to poke fun at sex?”

The Deer Park by Norman Mailer
“This will set publishing back 25 years.”

Moby-Dick by Herman Melville
“First, we must ask, does it have to be a whale? While this is a rather delightful, if somewhat esoteric, plot device, we recommend an antagonist with a more popular visage among the younger readers. For instance, could not the Captain be struggling with a depravity towards young, perhaps voluptuous, maidens?”

Look Homeward, Angel by Thomas Wolfe

Sanctuary by William Faulkner
“Good God, I can’t publish this. We’d both be in jail.”

One of the most difficult parts of getting rejected can be deciding what to do next. Do you give up? Try again? Finally give into your parents, switch careers and go to med school?

No. In my research for this blog, I found this letter from novelist Wallace Stegner in response to a rejection letter from critic Ansel Adams, it read:

Dear Sir:

I am sitting in a secluded small room of my apartment.
Your criticism is before me.
In a few minutes it will be behind me.

An important part of being rejected is finding the courage to give it another shot. In an essay for Vulture magazine, E. Alex Jung writes that Octavia E. Butler “never told an aspiring writer they should give up, rather that they should learn, study, observe, and persist.” Be like Wallace Stegner and Octavia E. Butler and keep writing.

Get over your rejection at Get Lit: Down With Love!

Get Lit: Down with Love

Matthew Masino is the Social Media Coordinator for the AWM. He is also a content creator, writer, and theatre director based in Chicago, Illinois. He graduated with a B.F.A. in Theatre Directing from Columbia College Chicago in 2019. As a theatre artist, Matthew has worked with the International Voices Project, the Chicago Fringe Festival, and BYOT Productions. You can learn more by visiting his website www.matthewmasino.com.

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