Even the Best Get Rejected

Jim Rubart laughing at Steve Laube’s original rejection letter (which Jim had kept for years).

We’ve written about rejection before, and yet it is a topic that continues to fascinate.

There are many stories about famous authors and their worst rejection letters. I thought you might enjoy reading a few I have collected over the years.

  1. George Orwell’s Animal Farm was rejected by Alfred Knopf saying it was “impossible to sell animal stories in the U.S.A.”
  2. Stephen King’s Carrie was rejected with the statement that the publisher was “not interested in science fiction which deals with negative utopias. They do not sell.”
  3. William Golding’s Lord of the Flies was rejected by an agent saying it was “an absurd and uninteresting fantasy which was rubbish and dull.”
  4. L. Frank Baum’s Wizard of Oz was rejected because it was “too radical of a departure from traditional juvenile literature.”
  5. William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream received this rejection: “September 29: The most insipid, ridiculous play that I ever saw in my life.”
  6. Jim Davis, creator of Garfield, was told that his comic would never succeed because of the popularity of Snoopy. “Too many animals, and cats don’t sell.”
  7. Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 received a rejection letter saying, “I haven’t really the foggiest idea about what the man is trying to say.”
  8. Rudyard Kipling was told by an editor to stop submitting queries with the words, “I’m sorry, Mr. Kipling, but you just don’t know how to use the English language.”
  9. One writer I know received her rejection letter in a FedEx envelope. I guess the publisher wanted to tell her no absolutely, positively overnight.
  10. Another writer opened their SASE (self-addressed stamped envelope) with anticipation only to discover it was full of ashes.
  11. Ted Dekker’s first novel (which many years later was published under the title Red) was rejected by an editor who wrote, in essence, “You are a good writer but you have not created memorable characters like those found in the writings of Orson Scott Card.” That editor was Steve Laube.
  12. James Rubart’s first novel Rooms was turned away at a writers conference by an agent who wrote, “Your protagonist is not very likable. I cheer for his failure because he is so arrogant.” That agent was Steve Laube.

Take heart. Even the best get filleted.

And sometimes the one wielding the knife isn’t always right.

 

36 Responses to Even the Best Get Rejected

  1. Avatar
    Roberta Sarver April 15, 2019 at 5:09 am #

    Wow, Steve, we can see what we have to look forward to in days to come. Seriously, though, it’s encouraging to know the best sometimes get rejected. I read once that someone submitted “War and Peace” under another name–and it was rejected.

  2. Avatar
    Jamie Foley April 15, 2019 at 5:11 am #

    Sometimes it takes getting filleted to know where we need to improve. Then we can knock it out of the park on the next draft. 😉

  3. Avatar
    Debby Kratovil April 15, 2019 at 5:16 am #

    Let’s not forget J.K. Rowling (Harry Potter) was rejected by EIGHT publishers before she found one to take the chance. And there was the author of The Shack (William P. Young) who finally self published his VERY popular book. It was on the New York Times paperback best seller list for about 2 years. I’ve had my share of pink slips, but that first one turned me into a pile of jello for a few days. Then I was at a writer’s conference and someone said to just get up, repackage yourself and go find another publisher! One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, I like to say!

  4. Avatar
    Sharon K Connell April 15, 2019 at 6:09 am #

    Steve, this is priceless. And for you to make this admission is great. Such humbleness is rare in this business, from what I’ve seen over the years. None of us can be right all the time. I try to get that across to the members of my group forum. Not the writer, the editor, the agent, the publisher, etc. We all make mistakes and are all in a constant state of learning.

    You give encouragement to writers who chose to follow the traditional path. Thank you.

  5. Avatar
    Jennifer Mugrage April 15, 2019 at 6:11 am #

    Ah, thanks. I needed this today.

    My favorite is #8.

    The ashes is the best! My most similar story so far was a form rejection sent in an envelope on a 3×2 card. I guess they couldn’t spare the paper.

  6. Avatar
    Andrew Budek-Schmeisser April 15, 2019 at 7:03 am #

    The stone the builders put aside
    became the cornerstone.
    So, dear writer, should this betide,
    you are not alone.
    The Lord above saves for us
    all our fallen tears;
    do you think He’d do no less
    with our heart-work of years?
    The mortal coil will pass away
    beyond your recollection;
    and you’ll see on this bright day
    God’s face in your reflection.
    He’ll treasure each word and story
    as a flame you lit for His glory.

  7. Avatar
    Emme April 15, 2019 at 7:05 am #

    Another reason for rejection is when your platform and social media presence is not strong enough for the editor. I must admit, that bothers me.

    • Avatar
      Laurie April 15, 2019 at 7:43 am #

      Oh my, this is such a hot button for me. We all know not everyone is cut out to do or be everything…and yet apparently all writers are expected to excel in social media?! Um…no.
      I realize those numbers could help, in theory, but any Christian editor or agent who knows his/her Bible should know God doesn’t need a big number in order to do big things. If the writing, premise, plot, etc., are all excellent, a writer shouldn’t be penalized for lack of followers. Clearly, they’re using their time in the right way—improving their craft. Just because some writers have had success blogging and rocking social media doesn’t mean the rest of us should be forced to follow in their footsteps.
      Like I said, hot button. 😉

      • Avatar
        Brennan S. McPherson April 15, 2019 at 5:38 pm #

        Be encouraged, social media is not the only way to build a platform. Speaking engagements, email list, basically any way that you can reliably communicate with people who would be interested in supporting your work, is considered a part of your platform. Self-publish your work and you’ll realize platform isn’t necessary because it’s dictated by the powers that be, but because it’s necessary in order to sell a book.

  8. Avatar
    Katie Powner April 15, 2019 at 7:07 am #

    All my favorite rejections have come from you, Steve!

    • Avatar
      Kim April 15, 2019 at 12:59 pm #

      Now, that’s funny, Katie…lol.

  9. Avatar
    Jeanne Takenaka April 15, 2019 at 7:40 am #

    Rejection is part of the process, it seems. There’s comfort in knowing even timeless authors (past and present) have had to navigate through rejection.

    And it’s good to know one industry professional’s opinion is that: an opinion. Others may see potential in the work one person rejected.

    I had to grin at the rejections you shared that you wrote . . . and at the success those authors have found beyond that no. 🙂 We all miss the good ones sometimes.

  10. Avatar
    Nora April 15, 2019 at 7:53 am #

    Steve, excuse me for asking this. How many palm to face slaps have you given yourself.

    You’re right. Even the best get rejected, ridiculed (not that you would), and laughed at.

    🙂

  11. Avatar
    Ann L Coker April 15, 2019 at 8:15 am #

    Great closing remarks. That, Steve, ought to appear in print somewhere.

  12. Avatar
    yashmeajourney April 15, 2019 at 8:27 am #

    Encouragement and humility … an enticing package. Thank you.

  13. Avatar
    Laura Kirk April 15, 2019 at 8:45 am #

    These are quite interesting.

    This may be a bit off subject, well, a lot off subject. Haha. I vaguely recall you once authorizing for submission the first two chapters along with a third chapter further into the manuscript if needed to show multiple scenarios. Is this accurate or did I dream it? Do you prefer the first three chapters or is it acceptable to send the first two and, maybe, chapter 7?

    Thank you for your blog. It is always fun and enlightening.

  14. Avatar
    Kristen Joy Wilks April 15, 2019 at 9:26 am #

    Ha! I love it! And I bet those writers went back and improved their stories to the point that we can’t imagine them being rejected. It gives me hope, perhaps I can do the same!

  15. Avatar
    Andrew Budek-Schmeisser April 15, 2019 at 9:50 am #

    Just realised – I’m a bit slow – that this is an excellent post for Holy Week, because it’s all about rejection – and redemption.

    Steve, my hat is off to you. The planning for this post’s deeper message is awesome.

    From a place of love and laughter
    where I thought I heard the angels sing
    I was thrown into disaster
    and the heavy beat of demon-wing.
    I felt like He’d rejected me
    and everything I might yet give
    and turned, indifferent, from my plea
    that I might yet hope to live.
    It’s hard to see in this door’s closing
    windows opened to vistas bright,
    I feel alone, and it’s confusing
    to wander through this last long night.
    But I ken that I’m no expendable pawn;
    the harrowing Friday birthed Easter Dawn.

  16. Avatar
    Sheri Dean Parmelee, Ph.D. April 15, 2019 at 10:36 am #

    Steve, your title, “Even the Best Get Rejected by Steve Laube” is so true. Been there, done that, got the T-shirt , and worn the hat. Note that I, with no ill will, extended the quotation to include your name. So true…..

  17. Avatar
    Kay Turner April 15, 2019 at 11:07 am #

    Steve, this is such an inspiring and welcome gift. Your inclusions created laughter in an empty room. For those of us who think that would never happen to someone of your stature, and wisdom, you’ve given us insights and encouragement to keep going. I’m definitely printing this and hanging it in my office. It’s GOLD for writers who go the distance. Not once, but again and again.

    By the way, your podcasts are a gold mine. I’m finding nugget after nugget of valuable information. Thank you!

  18. Avatar
    claire o'sullivan April 15, 2019 at 11:53 am #

    Great post!

    Countless rejections, all worth a good giggle or serious consideration of what my work needed. Desperately.

    Steve, thank you for baring even your soul for your rejections on paper some now great authors. Ted Dekker, I bet, took your suggestions to heart and reworked his novel. Despite your facepalm(s), God is in control, and writers get to humble themselves and develop (more) patience.

    My last rejection from an agent (no names here, Steve, haha) has resulted in a ton of revisions, and your rejection was perhaps the kindest, respectful, and educational that I’ve ever received.

  19. Avatar
    Maco Stewart April 15, 2019 at 1:51 pm #

    Thank you. Very encouraging, Steve. Providing encouragement even when your “day job” is so often saying “no” shows your heart, harbinger ogre though you may be.

    “Of course, when you see MY proposal, well–it will be a completely different story!” so we all like to think.

    • Avatar
      claire o'sullivan April 15, 2019 at 2:33 pm #

      Truth.

  20. Avatar
    Daphne Woodall April 16, 2019 at 12:45 am #

    I love your rejection stories you share here and at conference. Have you ever accepted from the same author you rejected? New story or old.

  21. Avatar
    Cathy Krafve April 16, 2019 at 5:09 pm #

    Steve, you are a terrific sport! (Great to see you at Mt. Hermon!)

  22. Avatar
    Corrine DeRosa April 19, 2019 at 9:21 am #

    I really needed this. Thanks for the encouragement. I will keep trying and will not give up.

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