There are some people who can take rejection, bounce back and prove the rejectors wrong, short-sighted or just plain stupid. I suppose if you want to be some kind of sales person (and I have a high regard for really good sales people) then you just have to able to refuse to take rejection personally. It might depend on what you are trying to sell. If you are attempting to convince someone they should drop everything and attend a time share experience when everyone knows they will have to sit (or in my case snore) through hours of tedious drivel then I guess you really have to see rejection for what it is. Somebody else is just plain wrong.
They say you shouldn’t take rejection personally but for some people that is very difficult. If you are emotionally attached to a piece of creative art then the opinions of other people might affect the way you think about yourself. Of course, sometimes we have to face the fact that what we have produced actually has no artistic value, even though we desperately want to believe it does. That’s when the whole rejection business becomes more complicated. As a writer I have to accept rejection and there are a myriad examples of famous and successful writers who have been rejected hundreds if not thousands of times.
A cheeky experiment by a Jane Austen enthusiast illustrates this. David Lassman, the director of the Jane Austen Festival in Bath decided to find out what sort of reception the writer might get if she approached publishers and agents in the age of Harry Potter and the airport blockbuster. After making only minor changes, he sent off opening chapters and plot synopses to 18 of the UK’s biggest publishers and agents. He was amazed when they all sent the manuscripts back with polite but firm “no-thank-you’s” and almost all failed to spot that he was ripping off one of the world’s most famous literary figures.
According to The Independent, G P Taylor, a Yorkshire vicar, self-published Shadowmancer before getting a deal with Faber. He now commands six-figure advances.
Doris Lessing was rejected by her publisher when she sent in a manuscript under a pseudonym.
Lionel Shriver’s seventh novel, We Need to Talk About Kevin, was so controversial that it was rejected by several agents and publishers. It became a small underground hit before taking off and winning the 2005 Orange Prize.
Stephen King’s first novel was rejected by Doubleday, prompting him to take a teaching job. He began a short story called Carrie but threw the manuscript in the bin. His wife retrieved it. Doubleday bought the hardback rights for $2,400 (1,200), and New American Library paid $400,000 for the paperback rights.
Claire Morrall’s Astonishing Splashes of Colour was shortlisted for the 2003 Booker prize after being rejected by the major publishing houses and taken on by Tindal Street Press. She still has four rejected novels in a cupboard at home.
Jill Paton Walsh was an established author, but publishers were afraid to take on her religious allegory, Knowledge of Angels. She self-published, and it was shortlisted for the Booker prize.
Richard Adams’s Watership Down was rejected by 13 publishers and several agents. It was taken on by Rex Collings, a small publisher who printed 2,500 copies. It has since sold about 15 million copies worldwide.
Alasdair Gray’s Lanark, begun in the 1950s, was rejected by everybody. Gray finally signed up with the Scottish publisher Canongate and is credited with changing the face of Scottish literature.
John Grisham’s first novel, A Time To Kill, was rejected by 16 agents and a dozen publishers before being taken up by the small Wynwood Press. He became one of the best-selling novelists of all time.
William Golding’s Lord of the Flies was first touted as Strangers from Within and rejected by 20 publishers. Faber and Faber saw some potential and asked for substantial revisions before publishing it in 1954. Golding went on to win the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Norman Mailer’s The Naked and the Dead was rejected by six or seven British publishers on grounds of obscenity. Andre Deutsch dared to publish it and has since been named as one of the 100 best novels in the English language by just about everyone.
Marina Lewycka’s father wrote a history of the tractor, which he failed to sell to publishers. She then named her debut novel A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian. It was snapped up by Viking for 25,000 and won the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize for comic writing.
And finally… J K Rowling’s first Harry Potter novel was taken on by the prestigious Christopher Little agency but still rejected by a dozen publishers, including Penguin, Transworld and HarperCollins. The small London publishers Bloomsbury eventually took it on, apparently on the advice of the CEO’s eight-year-old daughter.
So, I’m not worried that so far I had four or five rejections for my crime thriller ‘Confess-Confess’ and for my young adult fantasy proposal ‘The Kingdoms Of Time And Space’. They are both still out with many publishers and agents so, am I downhearted? Certainly not because I have absolute faith in the works. Nearly all the rejections have come from editors who call me ‘very talented’. As my agent says. what more do they want?