You grow that manuscript next to your heart for a very long, very difficult pregnancy. The labor tempts you to drugs. But when it’s over, you have this amazing thing, this beautiful, extraordinary baby. You send her out into the world, knowing that if the world would give her just a little bit of a chance, they would love her. And then the agents or publishers reject her, and some even tell you exactly why she’s a bit ugly, and you tuck her to bed in a drawer, and you wonder.

I recently read an article in The Writer’s Chronicle about some famous authors whose manuscripts were initially rejected. They included the following:

  • War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
  • The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck
  • Watership Down by Richard Adams
  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  • Harry Potter by J. K. Rowling

I have so much compassion for the publishers who rejected these and other wonderful books. I wonder if on their deathbeds they were still wincing and wishing they had considered these particular babies just a little more carefully. One could say that in this way they were adequately punished for their acquisition sins.

Also in this article I read that an author named Jerry Kosinski won the National Book Award in 1969 for his novel Steps. Six years later a freelance writer typed the first twenty-one pages of Kosinski’s novel and submitted them to four publishing houses. All four publishers rejected it. Two years later he sent out the complete manuscript of the book and sent it to ten publishing houses, including Random House, who had published the book in 1969. Every one of these publishers rejected the novel.

I like stories like this. It gives every writer the comfortable feeling that it’s not her writing that’s keeping her from being published – she’s just misunderstood!

As a young writer, I knew I had a lot to learn. I wrote lots. I studied the best books, I imitated the best writers. I wanted to take a class, but no one would have me – I wasn’t good enough to get in. Finally I wrote a whole book, and it was a finalist for a local award. Based on that, I was admitted into my first writing workshop, taught by Tim Wynne-Jones.

Imagine if they had published my first feeble efforts. I might have thought I was that kind of writer! Imagine if I’d been admitted into other writing classes – I might not have had my first writing lessons by the very best of teachers.

Let every rejection make you more determined. Let it inspire you to up your game. Don’t get comfortable – if no one buys your book, tell yourself it’s because it isn’t good enough yet.

Take your baby out of her drawer and take stock. Make a new baby. Make many babies! Make better babies! Someone’s gonna love her someday, and making them is the fun part, anyway.


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8 responses to “rejection

  1. skvanzandt

    Thank you for these wise, encouraging words, Martine. A great reminder about how subjective this whole process is.

  2. The last line made me laugh out loud. Levity during the holidays is always welcome! Thanks, Martine. Yours is a valuable perspective about both the publication and the writing process.

  3. Thanks, Martine. I needed to hear this. Been thinking that maybe I’m not cut out for this kind of motherhood. And thanks, Holly, for pointing me back to the last line. Levity is definitely welcome!

  4. Don’t take it personally. But take it to your writing desk. As always, Martine, you’ve cut to the chase– what a gift. Thank you.

  5. This great encouragement from such a gifted writer — and mother and grandmother! Christmas is a time of great hope. Hope for the baby manuscript that has still not found its way, hope I get these presents wrapped before midnight, hope for peace.

  6. Martine Leavitt

    Thank you for your kind comments Sharon, Holly, Laura, Louse and Laura! Merry Christmas!

  7. I’m just coming across this encouraging and inspiring post. Thank you, Martine, and onward!

  8. Martine, you have inspired me! I am going to take my rejected pb manuscript out of the drawer and hope it has turned into … well, not a baby (that would be disconcerting!) but a puppy. Oh, yes!

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