Regardless of where you are in your creative career, you’ve no doubt had to deal with the nasty ‘R’ word: I’m talking REJECTION, not the coveted RECOMMEND.  Today’s Notes from the Net offers some realistic views from those that have been there, those that dish it out and if you’re a screenwriter — what you should never do to get around it.

Below is a snapshot of some of the more famous accounts of rejection for writers that have gone on to wild success.

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.

And the film based on the same also faced incredible hurdles before premiering at this year’s CANNES festival to critical acclaim. Here are some jaw-dropping clips from that:


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.

However – the following link has to take the prize not only for most rejections of a now bestseller but for raw persistence accompanied by guilty angst, that is probably more common among up and coming writers than any would care to admit:


The next link is from an agent’s perspective on why she rejects good manuscripts:


The bottom line is rejection is hard, and though it probably never gets easier your skin gets thicker.  The business of creativity is subjective, which gives it a double set of criteria in making decisions. This is the main reason why I caution writers on entering massive amounts of competitions when they’d be better off spending their money on targeted, honest consultations, advice or conferences.

One final note from the person who was on state assistance when facing her dozen or so rejections comes as a reminder in the form of one of J.K. Rowling’s  5 bits of advice for writers, regardless of what you think of her writing – you cannot deny her success:

#2 Never Accept Rejection.

This is a theme that always comes up from people who have achieved success. Perseverance is key. The manuscript for Harry
Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was rejected not by one or two publishing house – but 12! Did Rowling use a magic wand to keep herself going? Not likely. This is a reminder to believe in yourself and be a true Goonie: never say die.

In closing I want to link you to an update for those screenwriters tired of rejection and contemplating the Amazon Studios thing (yes it is still going on).  There have been minor changes to the screenplay competition but none that merit your submission to the devil.

Here’s a very thorough link on where that contest stands 6 months after its controversial start:


Stay tooned…


3 thoughts

  1. Hey Constance – Hang in there… someday I’ll be able to say ‘I knew her when’.

    I hope Asheville is treating you well.

  2. Thanks, Laurie! as a matter of fact, I was just telling Madeline about the Oscars and how we’ll wear the fanciest imagineable dresses there when one of my books gets made into a movie 🙂 So I am dreaming big.
    yes, I still love Asheville, BTW. hope you are well, also.

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