Tuesday, March 20, 2012


vMost writers get rejected before they begin to sell. Even after you’ve published something, you can still get rejected. Every book must stand on its own. Only Stephen King, Danielle Steel and Nora Roberts can sell anything they write.

But don’t take rejection personally. It might have come from a female editor whose husband just dumped her. Or a male editor whose ex-wife has the same name as your heroine. Or they had a cold that day. Or the sun was shining. If your story is good, it will find a home eventually. My novel SOUTHERN STAR was rejected nineteen times before Avalon Books bought it two years ago.

AUNTIE MAME was rejected sixteen times. LUST FOR LIFE was rejected seventeen times. THE GINGER MAN was rejected thirty-six times. All of those books were published and are so well-known I didn’t even have to mention the authors’ names.

Pearl Buck’s novel, THE GOOD EARTH, was rejected thirty-one times before it sold, and then it won the Pulitzer Prize. One publisher said, “The American public is not interested in anything about China.”

Of Joseph Heller’s CATCH 22, a rejection letter said, “This is a continual and unmitigated bore.”

Tony Hillerman’s first book got this one. “If you insist on rewriting this, take out all that Indian stuff.”

Of John LeCarre’s novel, THE SPY WHO CAME IN FROM THE COLD, an editor wrote, ”You’re welcome to Le Carre. He hasn’t any future.”

And then Sol Stein received this rejection letter from an editor in China. “We have read your manuscript with boundless delight. Were we to publish your story, it would be impossible for us to publish in the future any work of a low standard. And, as it is unthinkable that in the next thousand years, we shall see its equal, we are, to our great regret, compelled to return your divine composition and beg you, a thousand times. to overlook our shortsightedness, temerity and lack of imagination.”

Have you had any unusual rejection letters? Come and share.

Pearl Buck, Tony Hillerman,
Joseph Heller, John LeCarre,
Stephen King, Danielle Steel,
Nora Roberts


  1. What an inspiring blog!!!

    Thanks for sharing it Phyllis!! My funniest rejection was for a short story. I'd published it, and it was a finalist for a Bram Stoker award, then I got a rejection from a magazine I had submitted to the year before! *boggle*

    And they rejected it because no one wants to read vampires anymore... WHOOPS! LOL

    Lisa :)

    1. Lisa: What a shame to lose out when your story was obviously first-rate. But writing more and selling are the best revenge.

  2. I have a rejection letter I framed. An editor at Harlequin took the time to praise my writing style, inform me she loved my heroine and hero and was swept away by my storyline. But since I wrote like Linda Lael Miller, she's have a tough time convincing the acquisitions committee why they should take on another writer with the same writing style. I was unpublished at the time so having my name in the same sentence as NYT best selling author, Linda Lael Miller, was a boost to my ego. I truly doubt I write like her, but the editor knew something about human relations and softened the blow for a wanna-be writer.

    As for Lisa's comment above. Timing is so critical. I'm sure her story was excellent, but the vampire trend was on the downswing. Again, we are at the mercy of the matter HOW well we write.

    1. Vonnie: Thanks for your "rejection" letter. I, too, would be honored to be compared to Ms. Miller. And you deserved those inspiring words.

  3. Phyllis, I must say, that last one confused me, lol. I never received a horrible rejection letter, but I did receive one that said they liked my writing, my story, my characters, and my setting, but they decided to pass on it.

    Enjoyed reading your post.

    1. Oh, Jannine. I've had one of those too. Isn't it frustrating? Thanks for sharing it.

  4. Phyllis, I was so excited when I finished my first historical novel I sent out thirty queries in one day. Before I had a chance to gather more addresses twenty nine rejections came back. One letter said it was wonderful, well written etc. etc. she loved it. If I would write a contemporary novel she'd think of taking me on.

    I took her advice. Loved your post.

    1. Christine:

      Thanks for the comment. Yes, all it takes is one editor to like your work. I'm so happy you didn't give up.


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