15 Famous Rejection Slips

Rejection slips are part of a writer’s landscape. All authors get them at one time or another, and they usually reflect the opinion of one particular reader — often an over-worked junior employee — on one particular day. You should never take them too seriously. Fortunately, all of the following authors persevered. If they hadn’t we may never have heard of them — or their best-selling books.

Can you identify who, and in some cases, what book, got rejected?

This author finally landed a book deal after five years of continual rejections. Total sales of her books now exceed $2 billion. Only William Shakespeare has sold more books, and he had a 400 year head start.


The author’s agent received 12 rejections in a row. The 13th took it, but only after eight-year-old daughter of the company’s chairman asked for the rest after reading the first chapter. When submitting the second book, the author was told to get a proper job as there was no money in writing for children.


After selling only 800 copies on its first release, the author sought a more sympathetic publisher and subsequently sold 75 million copies of this book.


“I recommend that it be buried under a stone for a thousand years.” This controversial book was first published in France, to great acclaim. The English-speaking publishers who originally turned it down (one of whom is quoted above) went on to sell 50 million copies of it.


After 38 rejections, this author’s book was finally picked up and went on to sell 30 million copies as well as becoming an iconic film starring Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable.


“Too different from other juveniles on the market to warrant its selling.” This was one of the many rejection letters received by this author, but the doctor had the last laugh. He’s now the 9th best-selling fiction author of all time.


“The girl doesn’t, it seems to me, have a special perception or feeling which would lift that book above the ‘curiosity’ level.” One of 15 rejections before this book, originally titled “Het Achterhuis” and published in Dutch, found an English publisher – and sold 25 million copies.


“Nobody will want to read a book about a seagull.” 44 million people apparently did.


“We feel that we don’t know the central character well enough.” So the author tries a rewrite and the book sells 65 million copies, going on to become an American classic.


After years of rejections, this fantasy writer’s book ends up being translated into 47 languages and selling over 100 million copies.


One of this thriller writer’s rejections read: “It is so badly written.” Even so, the book went on to sell over 80 million copies.


Rejected so many times, the author gave up and self-published 250 copies of her book. It’s sold 45 million copies to date.


“Our united opinion is entirely against the book. It is very long, and rather old-fashioned.” One of a number of rejections for this classic. It was finally published with a print run of 3,000 copies, but only 50 of them sold during the author’s lifetime.


Published by a small San Francisco publisher after being rejected by 25 literary agents, the book is translated into more than 30 languages, adapted for a movie and sells 7 million copies.


“I haven’t the foggiest idea about what the man is trying to say. Apparently the author intends it to be funny.” Legend has it that part of this novel’s name came about after 21 other publishers had rejected it.


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The Lester Dent / Doc Savage Master Plot Method

Lester Dent was the real name of the author almost all of the Doc Savage novels. (They appeared under the pen name Kenneth Robeson, a creation of his publisher.) There were 181 of them in total, published between 1933 and 1949. Dent wrote 159 of them. An average of ten a year for 16 years.

Dent died in 1959. His books are still in print, having sold well over 20 million copies, but these days he’s perhaps best known for The Lester Dent Pulp Paper Master Fiction Plot. In it … well, here’s the introduction in his own words:

“This is a formula, a master plot, for any 6,000 word pulp story. It has worked on adventure, detective, western and war-air. It tells exactly where to put everything. It shows definitely just what must happen in each successive thousand words.”

It’s an interesting and entertaining read in its own right, but I’ll let you explore that for yourself. Here’s Michael Moorcock’s
summary of the Dent method:

“First … split your six-thousand-word story up into four fifteen hundred word parts. Part one, hit your hero with a heap of trouble. Part two, double it. Part three, put him in so much trouble there’s no way he could ever possibly get out of it. Then … you must never have a revelation of something that wasn’t already established; so, you couldn’t unmask a murderer who wasn’t a character established already. All your main characters have to be in the first third. All you main themes and everything else has to be established in the first third, developed in the second third, and resolved in the last third.”

You can check out Dent’s first Doc Savage, The Man of Bronze, in a variety formats on Faded Page, “an archive of eBooks that are provided completely free to everyone.” Just click here.

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Writing with a tomato

The Pomodoro Technique is a method of time-management many writers find useful. It was developed by Francesco Cirillo in the 1980’s and takes its name from the tomato-shaped kitchen timer Crillo originally used. (Pomodoro is Italian for “tomato”.)

There’s a whole website devoted to it, but you really only need three items to get started:

  • A timer of some sort.
  • A pencil.
  • A piece of paper.

You can use a timing app on your computer or cellphone, but Crillo recommends a mechanical timer – the type you twist and set – because the physical action of doing so helps you focus on the task. (And personally, I find the quiet tick-tick-tick in the background a subtle prompt to keep going.)

A pomodoro is 25 minutes. It is absolutely indivisible! There’s not such thing as a half-pomodoro or three-fifths of one. If you don’t complete a pomodoro, it’s just not counted.

Here’s how to “pomodoro”:

  1. Decide on a task; writing, revising, editing, etc.
  2. Set the timer for 25 minutes.
  3. Work on the task until the timer rings.
  4. When it rings, put a tick on the piece of paper.
  5. If you have fewer than four ticks on the page, take a five-minute break then go back to step 2.
  6. If you’ve accumulated four ticks, put a line through them to cancel them out and take a 15-20 minute break. When you return, go back to step 1.

The advantage of working this way is that it breaks time up into manageable units and helps you keep focused. (“No, I won’t check my email till the timer rings.”) What’s more, the pomodoros don’t have to be contiguous. I know of one writer who makes her four-a-day by doing two in the morning before work, one at lunchtime, and one in the evening. Writer Kat Loterzo even credits it with helping her draft a book in just three weeks.

There are plenty of reasons for not writing, but surely you can fit in a pomodoro or two…?

 

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Advice from J K Rowling

When J K Rowling spotted a Twitter comment from @beauty_jackson that read:

“HEY! YOU! You’re working on something and you’re thinking ‘Nobody’s gonna watch, read, listen’. Finish it anyway.”

she responded with a memorable series of tweets:


That text in full:

There were so many times in the early 90s when I needed somebody to say this to me.

Even if it isn’t the piece of work that finds an audience, it will teach you things you could have learned no other way. (And by the way, just because it didn’t find an audience, that doesn’t mean it’s bad work.)

The discipline involved in finishing a piece of creative work is something on which you can truly pride yourself. You’ll have turned yourself from somebody who’s ‘thinking of’, who ‘might’, who’s ‘trying’, to someone who DID. And once you’ve done it … you’ll know you can do it again. That is an extraordinarily empowering piece of knowledge. So do not ever quit out of fear of rejection.

Maybe your third, fourth, fiftieth song/novel/painting will be the one that ‘makes it’, that wins the plaudits, but you’d never have got there without finishing the others (all of which will now be of more interest to your audience).

— J K Rowling, April 2017

 

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Check your popularity with n-grams

Y’all know about n-grams, right? Wikipedia nails ’em:

… an n-gram is a contiguous sequence of n items from a given sequence of text or speech. The items can be phonemes, syllables, letters, words or base pairs according to the application. The n-grams typically are collected from a text or speech corpus.

So there you go.

Hmm, right …

My introduction to n-grams came in the form of a question: which is used more, leaped or leapt (as in the past-participle of leap)? And the answer came back very quickly: both, depending on your market.

Google’s Ngram Viewer is the perfect tool for this sort of question. Simply input the two words separated by a comma, choose the years to search and corpus (the group of texts) you want to examine, and hit the Search Lots of Books button. Here’s my result for US English from 1800–2000:

And British English for the same period:

So two winners, depending on your market.

Often there’s only one clear winner. When it was first published in 2011, a couple friends thought the title of my book Too Many Zeros was misspelt. Surely it should be Too Many Zeroes? Not according to Ngram Viewer, for American …

… or for British English …

Of course, the answer you get will depend on the question you ask. The old GIGO principle — Garbage In, Garbage Out — applies. For example, if I add ones to my list of search terms, the book was hopelessly misnamed:

Not that I’d ever be fooled by that …

 

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Lee Child on writing and research

Lee Child readingA while back I asked Lee Child a question. Not in person, but via a Goodreads author promotion, and he was gracious enough to give a detailed reply.

I suspect it’s something many writers struggle with, and I revisited his answer because it’s something I bumped up against last week, writing the follow-up to my novel Private Viewing. Like its predecessor, the new novel is set in London, and although I know bits of London pretty well — having lived there on an off for about four years — there’s lots of bits I don’t know.

The internet is a fantastic tool for writers, but it’s also a fantastic trap. You can lose yourself for hours doing “research” — and I did just that. Till I remembered Lee Child’s answer and “researched” that instead. After a quick re-read, I stepped away from my browser and got back to my text …

 

I’m interested in your writing process. You’ve said elsewhere that the final book is pretty much your first draft; that you sit down, start writing and see where the story leads — both you and Reacher. But what about research? A lot of your books contain detailed descriptions of places, weapons, etc. Do you incorporate that as you go? Or do you add these details in later, once you’ve got the story sorted out?

 

Lee Child:

You could say a writer’s whole life is research. Everyone I meet, everything I read or see or experience is packed away for future use. Whether to do extensive research to ensure all your facts line up is an interesting question. When writing fiction, I don’t think accuracy matters as much as whether people perceive accuracy. If I wrote a novel set in New York City, I could make it extremely accurate, but my guess is the more accurate I made it, the more people might find it inaccurate. What matters is not what NYC is really like, but what people generally think it’s like. Readers will sometimes mail me to correct mistakes they’ve found in my books and sometimes they’re right, but surprisingly it’s usually the things I research most carefully that they say I got wrong. All in all, if you’re convincing rather than accurate, you’ll probably please more readers.

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Bad writing for beginners

Toby Litt on bad writing:

Bad writing is mainly boring writing. It can be boring because it is too confused or too logical, or boring because it is hysterical or lethargic, or boring because nothing really happens. If I give you a 400 page manuscript of an unpublished novel – something that I consider to be badly written – you may read it to the end, but you will suffer as you do.

 

Often, the bad writer will feel that they have a particular story they want to tell. It may be a story passed on to them by their grandmother or it may be something that happened to them when they were younger. Until they’ve told this particular story, they feel they can’t move on. But because the material is so close to them they can’t mess around with it enough to learn how writing works. And, ultimately, they lack the will to betray the material sufficiently to make it true.

It’s worth reading that last — well written — sentence again …

Bad Writing Quote

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Five quotes on writing from Ian Rankin

IanRankin

  • I still think most writers are just kids who refuse to grow up. We’re still playing imaginary games, with our imaginary friends.
  • I don’t have many friends. It’s not because I’m a misanthrope. It’s because I’m reserved. I’m self-contained. I get all my adventures in my head when I’m writing my books.
  • I used to think that whenever I heard that someone had taken ten years to write a novel, I’d think it must be a big, serious book. Now I think, ‘No — it took you one year to write, and nine years to sit around eating Kit Kats.’
  • I am, of course, a frustrated rock star – I’d much rather be a rock star than a writer. Or own a record shop. Still, it’s not a bad life, is it? You just sit at a computer and make stuff up.
  • My first novel was turned down by half a dozen publishers. And even after having published five or six books, I wasn’t making enough money to live on, and was beginning to think I’d have to give up the dream of being a full-time writer.

Ian Rankin, author of 20 Inspector Rebus novels and around 20 others.

Photo by Tim Duncan – Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3588034

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Seven things writers should remember

konrathA gentle reminder from Joe Konrath

This post goes out to no one in particular for no particular reason. Maybe it will motivate some. Maybe it will make others think a little bit. Maybe it will irritate you. But it’s good, tested advice, and worth repeating.
 
1. Nobody owes you a living. I’m old school, and I busted my ass to get where I am. But I don’t feel any sense of entitlement. Yeah, I worked hard. Maybe I’ve got talent. But I don’t deserve readers, and neither do you.
 
2. Success is mostly due to luck. You can do everything right, and still not be satisfied with the state of your career. That’s life. No one ever said this would be fair, fun, or easy.
 
3. Stop whining. The internet is forever. No one likes a person who constantly complains. Even if you feel that bemoaning (insert whatever here) is justified, it will always be linked to you if someone Googles your name.
 
4. Don’t Google your name. What people think of you is their business, not yours. Remember, one of life’s greatest journeys is overcoming insecurity and learning to truly not give a shit.
 
5. Never respond to criticism. It will make things worse. And if you apologize, it will get even more worser. Keep out of any discussion about you and your work. You may think you know better, but you don’t.
 
6. Remember your Serenity Prayer. Fix what you can change, accept what you can’t fix, and learn to know the difference between the two. If it is beyond your control, drink a beer, do yoga, go for a run, or bitch to a close friend where it can’t be seen online. And if you can’t stop dwelling on your bad fortune;
 
7. Quit. The world will keep turning without your work. If writing and publishing is so traumatic, go use your time doing something else you can derive some pleasure from. Life is too short.

Read Joe’s original post.

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Secret writer’s tools – The G&O Style Guide

Pacman or Pac-Man? Phony or phoney? Post-modern or postmodern?

At some point in your writing you’re going to need a style guide. Many publishers use the definitive Chicago Manual of Style, but it’s weighty — and expensive! Online tools are quicker — and cheaper — and the best general style guide I’ve come across is the one published by the UK’s Guardian and Observer newspapers. Entries are often short and to the point:

GuardianStyle-zero  and sometimes amusing:

GuardianStyle-poo

The front page  of the guide is a little confusing if you want to look something up quickly. Better to bookmark the A page and go from there.

GOstyleGuide

Here you’ll find:

  • A style-related quote. (There’s a different one on each page, indexed to the letter concerned, from Aristotle to Zeno by way of Vampire Weekend and Yoda.)
  • A plug for the Guardian’s style guide on Twitter, worth following, if only for gems like this:
.

gp112

.

 

  • A clickable A-Z index (much more useful than their homepage).
  • An illustration of one of the phrases therein.
  • And the meat and potatoes, the entries themselves.

 

The guide is slightly English-centric. You’ll find references to the 11-plus and freshers’ week, but it’s well maintained and bang up to date.

GuardianStyle-ebook

.

It’s also a great “grazing” resource. Take these two entries, for example:

GuardianStyle-meatloaf

 

Or this—proof that even tired cliches can still be made to work:

GuardianStyle-elephant

 

(PS: It’s Pac-Man, phoney and postmodern.)

 

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