I’ve seen quite a few posts recently about the hardships faced by writers and whilst I firmly agree that being realistic in your expectations is paramount and that true success in the industry is rare, I think it’s also important not to get too weighed down by the negatives. Many of the world’s most well-known, loved and respected works of fiction were either rejected or were produced by writers who overcame extremely dire odds to reach such heights. For example:
- The first Harry Potter book was rejected 12 times before publication. Its author, JK Rowling, overcame depression and near poverty to become one of the most successful writers of all time.
- Gone with the Wind was rejected 38 times before eventual publication. It has since sold over 30 million copies.
- Agatha Christie faced continued rejection letters for five years before securing a single deal.
- Beatrix Potter was rejected so relentlessly that she decided to self-publish 250 copies of her now iconic children’s book, The Tale of Peter Rabbit.
- William Golding was told in a rejection letter that his classic, Lord of the Flies, was “rubbish and dull”.
- Maya Angelou faced an incredibly turbulent childhood and without the money to attend college, she turned to prostitution. She didn’t take writing seriously until she was almost 40 and soon became one of the most celebrated authors and poets of our time.
- Life of Pi won The Man Booker Prize and spawned a very successful movie. Before all this, it was rejected by 5 publishers.
- When Stephanie Meyer approached agencies with Twilight, she was turned down 14 times.
- Louisa May Alcott was told in a particularly cutting rejection to give up writing and “stick to teaching”. Her book, Little Women, published over 140 years ago, has never been out of print since.
- Mary Elizabeth Frye, having never written before, penned Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep on a paper bag, to try and console a friend. She only circulated it privately and never sought recognition, despite its growing popularity. She was only confirmed as the author over 60 years after its creation, with the poem now considered one of the world’s most enduring and beloved.
- Lady Chatterley’s Lover was rejected by so many UK and US publishers that author D.H. Lawrence initially self-published in Italy. It was banned for 30 years before Penguin decided to release it in the UK.
- Stephen King was told that books like Carrie “do not sell”.
- Simon Kernick’s first two books were never picked up for publication. He’s now a best-seller.
- Mary Shelley began work on Frankenstein when she was only 18 years old. Upon its initial publication her authorship was left anonymous, with her age and gender often cited as the reasoning behind the decision. She was later celebrated as a serious writer, even in her lifetime, a rarity for women of the era.
There are many more examples where these came from and while I would reiterate the importance of living in the real world and working hard, so long as you continue to write out of passion, it can’t hurt to dream. You never know, one day those dreams just may come true.