As a writer, over the years, I’ve come to realize that rejection is not a curse fatefully bestowed upon us by the writing Gods themselves, but rejection is in fact a very valuable gift. Like most writers, I’ve experienced rejection in my life at least one thousand times or more. Facing rejection in writing is tough, but the emotions that come as a result of rejection is even tougher. The grappling thoughts of what if I’m not good enough, or when will I be a good enough writer swarm like a sea of molten hot lava inside your creative mind.
All of these questions force a writer to contemplate the power of their words and future stories. But I’m here to remind you to never give up! Below are three brilliant writers who were initially rejected and their words of empowerment that helped them reignite the spark to write again.
J.K Rowling received over 12 initial rejection letters for her Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, before ever getting the okay to see her work on the shelves.
On a delayed train ride from Manchester to King’s Cross Station in London, the unforgettable characters Harry Potter, Ronald Weasley, and Hermione Granger were born to the mind of a young temp named Joanne Rowling. Later changed by publishers to Harry Potter and the Sorcerers Stone, one of the greatest children’s stories of all time would soon be known to the world.
But finishing the book was only the beginning. Rowling knew she would need to convince editors and agents to believe in her work as much as she did. Like most writers, her first attempt ended in rejection. Despite receiving 12 more rejections she belief that Harry Potter was a story people would read, thus Rowling remained motivated despite her initial setbacks.
It took an alleged thirteen attempts for Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone to finally gain acceptance from a publisher. Hitting shelves on July 26, 1997, to publishers surprise the book became an immediate success. Overnight, Rowling was catapulted from her small apartment in Edinburgh to worldwide recognition. Her words of enlightenment when it comes to rejection can be magically summed up in the following quote.
“It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.”
Tomi Adeyemi, a 25-year-old Nigerian-American novelist, wrote her first novel when she was 5 years old. She loved writing, and herself, so much that she decided to create her fictional twin named Tomi, but it wouldn’t be until she was 18 years old when she wrote any other African American characters. For Tomi, this love of portraying her people, culture, and their magic would soon become the foundations of her popular YA best-selling novel, Children of Blood and Bone.
“You can make something out of every unfinished story and every rejection if you work at it.”
Now dominating the New York Times Best-Seller list for over 51 weeks, Children of Blood and Bone was rejected by 60 agents, ten of whom offered feedback. In Adeyemi’s words, “what I got from most of them was, ‘You have something, but I can’t sell this’.” Adeyemi noticed that the books that had lit up the young-adult world in her childhood, such as “Harry Potter” and “Twilight”, were of a different time, and young readers were looking for something new, fresh and exhilarating. “I realized we were in a whole new world,” she says and as a result she continued her journey toward publication and is now working on completing her world acclaimed series.
“If you want to write, just believe that you can, because it’s about perseverance.“
At the inquisitive age of 15, Asimov applied to Columbia College but was rejected because the institutions “quota for Jews for the coming year was already filled. Hoping to become a doctor, Asimov applied to five medical schools in New York, but was rejected by every last one of them. For good measure, he reapplied, and was turned down by each of them once more. He also applied to Columbia’s graduate school for chemistry, and was later denied entrance. But this did not stop Asimov, but helped guide him along his one true path.
Though applying to college can be equally intimidating as querying a literary agent, the two experiences go hand in hand. Ironically, Asimov who was initially rejected by some of the most notable institutions in Higher Education went on to write over 20 novels and short stories which later became the foundations for blockbuster Hollywood films such as Bicentennial Man and I, Robot.
Despite rejection, Asimov went on to become one of the most prominent names in Science Fiction. His prolific thoughts on rejection are reflected within the quotation below.
“You must keep sending work out; you must never let a manuscript do nothing but eat its head off in a drawer. You send that work out again and again, while you’re working on another one. If you have talent, you will receive some measure of success – but only if you persist.”
As a writer, rejection rarely comes without an explanation (Assuming that the agent has time to reply to your query at all). But the next time you experience rejection try to keep in mind some of the quotes from your favorite writers and most importantly never give up. Below is an example of a recent rejection letter I received from my dream literary agent. But no worries, the show goes on!!
“This manuscript of yours that has just come back from another editor is a precious package. Don’t consider it rejected. Consider that you’ve addressed it ‘to the editor who can appreciate my work’ and it has simply come back stamped ‘Not at this address’. Just keep looking for the right address.”
– Barbara Kingsolver