Sweet Rejection

July 19, 2016

“We have not had success with parables, and have moved away from the food area.”

As I mentioned a few posts ago, I have a manuscript right now in the hands of twenty publishers. Make that in the hands of eleven publishers, because nine have now said “No,” the ninth being the one who just replied as above. (Our manuscript, as you’ll have guessed, is a parable about food.)

Rejection is painful. Whether you’re a lonely single asking someone out on a date, or a salesperson hoping for a contract, or an entrepreneur seeking investors, or a writer looking for a publisher, it’s always difficult to hear, “No.”

What’s really interesting about it is what happens next.

Every romantic comedy, from A Midsummer Night’s Dream to Tootsie, hinges on the sting of vehement rejection. The explosion, the split, the unequivocal “You? Never!” always occurs somewhere in the midnight that then leads to the dawn of Yes. The “No!” has to occur. It is the little death that clears the way for new life, the wintry freeze that fertilizes the coming spring. When Harry first met Sally there wasn’t room for them to fall in love; they both first needed their personalities stretched out a bit.

And it’s not just in movies. It happens in real life, too. Our lives. I’ve certainly known rejection, and I know you have, too. Everyone has. It’s part of the human comedy.

Hey, our whole journey started with being rejected (or at least ejected) by our mothers, right? And yes, it was warm and comfy where we were before, and yes, the room service was awesome, and yes, we were living the Life of Riley for nine months or so until we were so rudely evicted into the cold hard lights of the delivery room. And no, it wasn’t fun.

But it was necessary. There wasn’t room in there to do the growing we were about to do.

And that, I think, may be the why of it, the bigger reason behind the various circumstantial reasons. It seems to me the purpose of rejection is to make more room.

To make enough room to grow in.

Which brings me back to that manuscript: with each new editorial rejection, I’m watching the horizon to see what comes of the opening space.

Meanwhile I thought I’d offer up the following vignettes of writers who have taken it on the chin on the way to great publishing success. While these examples are about writers, they could be about anything — so if you’ve ever suffered rejection, in any form, from any quarter, then read these stories and take heart!

(Note: scroll down to find matching book titles and author names.)


A. On its initial limited release, this author’s book sold only 800 copies. “Time to find a new publisher,” he thought, and that’s exactly what he did.…

B. This author got 38 rejections from publishers before finding one who agreed to publish her novel.…

C. After too many publishing rejections to count, this author finally decided to self-publish. She printed 250 copies for family and friends. Seeing this version, a publisher who had previously rejected it reconsidered.…

D. The rejection letter said this manuscript was “too different from other juveniles on the market to warrant its selling.” The author was a cartoonist and ad man; this was his first book. After 20 to 43 rejections (accounts vary), he was walking home with his manuscript in hand to go burn it, when he bumped into an old classmate — a chance encounter that led to the book’s publication.…

E. One editor wrote, “The girl doesn’t, it seems to me, have a special perception or feeling which would lift that book above the ‘curiosity’ level.” After which fifteen more editors also said no.…

F. “An absurd and uninteresting fantasy,” said one rejection letter. “Rubbish and dull.” He must have been right; after all, when this novel was published, it sold fewer than 3,000 copies before going out of print. After that, though, it seemed to catch on.…

G. “An irresponsible holiday story that will never sell.” (Oh, but it did.…)

H. 26 publishers rejected this one; #27 must have seen a glimmer of possibility.…

I. The author’s agent received twelve publishing rejections in a row. Finally, when one editor’s eight-year-old daughter demanded to read the rest of the book, the man accepted it and agreed to publish it — but told the writer she has little chance of making money in children’s books and advised her to “get a day job.…”

J. “I haven’t the foggiest idea about what the man is trying to say. Apparently the author intends it to be funny—possibly even satire—but it is really not funny on any intellectual level.” Or so the editor thought.…


a) The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, has sold some 75 million copies in 56 languages; as of this writing it has been on the New York Times bestseller list for 404 consecutive weeks.

b) Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell, has sold more than 30 million copies; a Harris poll found it American readers’ second-most favorite book (after the Bible).

c) The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter, has since sold some 45 million copies.

d) To Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, Seuss’s first book, has sold 300 million copies, and he is the ninth best-selling fiction author of all time.

e) The Diary of a Young Girl, by Anne Frank, has since been published in 60 languages and sold more than 25 million copies.

f) The Lord of the Flies, by William Golding, with 15 million copies sold, is considered one of the best novels in the English language.

g) The Wind in the Willows, by Kenneth Grahame, has sold 25 million copies worldwide.

h) A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L’Engle, won the 1963 Newbery Medal and became an international bestseller, with 8 million copies sold.

i) Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, by J.K. Rowling, spawned a series whose last four novels consecutively set records as the fastest-selling books in history, on both sides of the Atlantic, with combined sales of 450 million.

j) Catch-22 by Joseph Heller, went on to sell 10 million copies (and counting). Heller gave the novel its title, so the story goes, because Simon and Schuster finally agreed to take it on after 21 no’s.

(Examples drawn from Rotten Rejections, ed. André Bernard, and litrejections.com)




  1. Laura Steward

    Personally I want to read the rest of the manuscript. You teased me with the little blurb you shared in the last post!

    • John David Mann

      I’ll email you!


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