Help! I need to hear a good rejection story!

Dear Literary Ladies,
A book that I've toiled on and believe in with all my heart has been rejected by more than a dozen publishers. Am I delusional? Maybe it's no good after all. I need to hear a great story of a book that was rejected over and over but then became a smash success. Who among you has such a story for me today?

A Wrinkle in Time was almost never published. You can’t name a major publisher who didn’t reject it. And there were many reasons. One was that it was supposedly too hard for children. Well, my children were 7, 10, and 12 while I was writing it. I’d read to them at night what I’d written during the day, and they’d say, “Ooh, mother, go back to the typewriter!” A Wrinkle in Time had a female protagonist in a science fiction book, and that wasn’t done. And it dealt with evil and things that you don’t find, or didn’t at that time, in children’s books. When we’d run through forty-odd publishers, my agent sent it back. We gave up. Then my mother was visiting for Christmas, and I gave her a tea party for some of her old friends. One of them happened to belong to a small writing group run by John Farrar, of Farrar, Straus & Giroux, which at that time did not have a juvenile list. She insisted that I meet John any how, and I went down with my battered manuscript. John had read my first novel and liked it, and read this book and loved it. That’s how it happened.

— Madeleine L'Engle (1918-2007)

[A note from Nava: A Wrinkle in Time went on to sell millions of copies, and has won numerous awards. It also has the distinction of being one of the most banned books of all time. Madeleine L'Engle likely paved the way for authors of juvenile and young adult literature to be able to deal with darker themes—the Harry Potter series being just one example.]


Charlotte December 13, 2009 at 10:01 AM  

A Wrinkle in Time is one of my all-time most favorite books ever. I re-read it every couple of years. I had the honor of meeting Mdeleine L'Engle in person and heard her tell the story of the book's rejection. Thanks for this post!

Nava Atlas December 13, 2009 at 2:02 PM  

L'Engle wrote with great honesty about her struggles to get publishes, and quite dispassionately about her successes. I love her writings about the writing life, and am so glad that A Wrinkle in Time finally found a home and gave her the stature she deserved.

Anonymous December 16, 2009 at 12:58 PM  

The first Harry Potter book was also rejected by many publishers and had very limited success in the UK until it was picked up by scholastic in the US.

I'm currently woking on a fiction and a nonfiction project while I write and edit online to keep my family going so I'm with you.

Nava Atlas December 16, 2009 at 2:03 PM  

Yes, Harry Potter is a great example. In fact, L'Engle's books for young readers, including A Wrinkle in Time, most definitely paved the way for books for a younger audience that feature darker themes, a primary example of which is the Harry Potter series.

kanishk December 29, 2009 at 10:51 AM  

I'm currently woking on a fiction and a nonfiction project while I write and edit online to keep my family going so I'm with you.

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Anonymous January 3, 2010 at 9:25 PM  

My mother has passed away 25 years ago. She left me a manuscript of her book.

It also came with a rejection letter from a publishing company saying they wished they could of come to a “money” compromise, and if she wanted to reconsider – they still wanted the manuscript.

How could I consider getting it published ?

Nava Atlas January 4, 2010 at 5:54 AM  

What an interesting story. I'll be honest and say that I think in this publishing climate, you'd have a tough time getting the ms. published because publishers most often want authors to come to the table with an established platform--ie, a ready-made following.

If you think the ms. has merit, and if you can afford it, perhaps you can have a professional editor edit it, then do a small print run using Blurb or one of the other self-publishing houses; drum up interest based on the interesting story you mentioned above (send review copies to bloggers, local newspapers, etc.). Then if it catches on, you'd have a better chance of getting it conventionally published.

Good luck,either way!

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