Writing Advice

Rejection: Or when to seek out famous rejected authors

I am ‘waiting for news’.

I am always ‘waiting for news’.

I have been in the state of ‘waiting for news’  for a very long time. I’m an old hand at it – I finish a book, or revisions or a synopsis, send it to my agent and get on with something else. That’s the only way to stay sane until ‘news’ arrives.

And usually, it’s news like this:

‘We really liked this but’…

‘I loved what she did here but…’

‘This was a strong submission but…’

But, but, but is the story of my life and I am not alone. A new SCBWI member posted on facebook that she’d  had a rejection – her first – she felt like giving up, she was so demoralised. I know.

We all know, because EVERY writer gets rejected. Well nearly every writer – I do know one who has never received a rejection and is on her third book but she is definitely the exception to the rule:


So this is what you do.

You put aside the letter and make a cup of tea. You break off a slab of chocolate and stuff it in your face then you read this list:

Madeline L’Engle – A Wrinkle in Time rejected 26 times.

Frank Herbert – Dune rejected 20 times.

JK Rowling – Harry Potter rejected at least 12 times

Margaret Mitchell had Gone with the Wind rejected 38 times.

Meg Cabot’s Princess Diaries? 17 rejections.

Richard Adams – Watership Down 26 rejections.

Agatha Christie, Salman Rushdie, John Grisham, Malorie Blackman, James Patterson, Rudyard Kipling, Kenneth Graham – all rejected.

Beatrix Potter and Marcel Proust so soundly rejected they paid for their own publication.

Getting it? You are in good company.

Right, now take your cup of tea and go back to that rejection letter. Does it give you anything you can learn from? If it does – hoorah! The sender thinks you are worth more than a standard rejection letter. This is good news. If it doesn’t – well  – stick it on a pile. One day you can count them all up and tell someone reassuringly how many times you were rejected before you were nominated for the Carnegie.



Post Script! Five years later Kathryn Evans was genuinely nominated for the Carnegie Medal with her award winning debut novel More of Me! Keep the faith people, you never know how close you are!

23 thoughts on “Rejection: Or when to seek out famous rejected authors”

  1. I wish you luck. There were some pieces in the Evening Standard recently about how many job rejection letters young unemployed have had to put up with. Imagine making 350 applications and no job to show for them, or having a Masters and being told you’re not up to cleaning toilets? At least with a book it’s just one part of yourself, not your actual whole self.

    That said it is v tough dealing with rejection and your list above makes me think those writers were made of staggeringly strong stuff. I once put a MSS away for 15 years before dealing with the refusing agent’s suggestions (which were actually pretty good!). Nicola

  2. Illustrators too! yes it is hard to hear that your creation is not quite right. Had it recently when my agent told me she is better than any artist she knows and could improve on my work too if she had the time! Arrrh! So yes we all take things to heart, but all also need to learn from the comments and build on suggestions. We take knocks as much as any boxer, but for me it makes me want to fight back and be better! oh and to win obviously!

    1. Ciikey – not sure how I’d feel if my agent spoke to me like that – she’s much more’ I am not a writer, that’s your job – I can only tell you when things don’t work for me…

  3. I’ll imagine all those writers saying NO to waiting for another rejection – and YES to more chocolate, wine and work!

  4. Great post Kathryn. I had around 12 rejections for my first book before it was acccepted. It ended up as a trilogy, so the other two were sort of a given! As I nervously finish the last three chapters of my new book (a stand alone) I find myself preparing for rejection again because I know how tough it is out there. Your advice about getting on with something else straight away is very wise! The list of rejected famous authors was fun, too. Just goes to show………..

  5. Many thanks for this Kathy. It’s very heartening to see all those rejected top authors! I also heard that Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance was rejected 96 times – didn’t know there were that many people you could ask! “We need to talk about Kevin” was rejected loads too I think. And those are two pretty successful books! Anyway, really good post and one to come back to when I next get rejected : )

    1. I loved We Need to Talk about Kevin! Yes it goes to show it’s a lot about taste and zeitgeist – I know we need to work and work to get our scripts as good as they can be but I do think we should sometimes cut ourselves a little slack!

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