SATURDAY WRITERS’ WORLD STORY
With Bisi Daniels
Blog: www.bisidaniels.com, 08050220700
Don’t let rejection kill your dreams in 2018; keep on writing because you are not alone. Many great writers have walked that road
Publishers and literary agents normally have good reasons for rejecting manuscripts. Their interest in a manuscript is an investment, so they are expected to make good literary (now and marketing) decisions or back the best horse. For this, they have editors and readers, and also involve marketing executives in deciding the manuscript to invest their time and resources in.
Some publishers also decide to let manuscripts pass due to prior commitments or scheduling jams, lack of money or other operational reasons.
But over time many of them have goofed (big time). They mistakenly rejected manuscripts that turn out to be great classics or blockbusters.
In Nigeria, where a growing army of creative writers has only few publishers to pitch their works with, many are forced to self-publish. But poor sales become their rejection letter. The result is that manuscripts are piling up in various homes, hacking down the motivation of writers.
Many great writers have survived the deluge of rejection letters into stardom. Many of today’s stars have braved themselves through rejection. They include Stephen King and our adorable Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
Stephen King’s first published novel sold four million copies in paperback. Fantastic! But do you know something? The novel, Carrie, was rejected 30 times by publishers. One of them wrote, “’We are not interested in science fiction which deals with negative utopias. They do not sell.” Tired of rejection slips, King reportedly threw the manuscript into the garbage — but his wife fished it out again, and he decided to try one more time.
Chimamanda was reported to have said, “I didn’t ever consciously decide to pursue writing. I’ve been writing since I was old enough to spell, and just sitting down and writing made me feel incredibly fulfilled.”
And she has a glowing profile: “Her fascination with writing was seemingly born with her; she began writing and illustrating stories for her mother when she was six years old. By the time she was twenty-one she had published a collection of poems and a play. Her first novel, Purple Hibiscus, was published in 2003 and won the Best First Book award in the 2005 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize; her second novel, Half of a Yellow Sun, was published by Knopf/Anchor in 2006 and was awarded the 2007 Orange Prize for Fiction.”
In the early stages, she did suffer some rejection. In one of her interviews, she admitted, “the rejections were particularly crushing. I would sit in bed and think, ‘Oh my God, they hate my work.”’
She also said this: “Writing should speak to you, should make you feel fulfilled even when it doesn’t end up being published. That said, my first rejection was difficult because I took it personally. I would not have reacted this way if I had known what I know now–that choosing to write is a package and that rejection comes with the package”.
But one account said, “ she was encouraged to keep going when she found some writers’ websites, on which she posted her work and got constructive feedback. (She became particularly good friends with Kenyan writer Binyavanga Wainaina, whom she later met when they were both shortlisted for the Caine Prize for African Writing. He won). Slowly, her stories were accepted, the first by the prestigious The Iowa Review, and at last she found the encouragement to keep going. “It was like, somebody is noticing.”
“Things didn’t happen in a rush after that, but they did happen. She got more stories published. Then she got an agent. Then Purple Hibiscus came out, and the prize listings, the truly unexpected part, started to roll in.”
There is also a lot to learn from celebrated American writer, Judy Blume. She said, “When I was growing up, I dreamed about becoming a cowgirl, a detective, a spy, a great actress, or a ballerina. Not a dentist, like my father, or a homemaker, like my mother — and certainly not a writer, although I always loved to read. I didn’t know anything about writers. It never occurred to me they were regular people and that I could grow up to become one, even though I loved to make up stories inside my head.
I always had an active imagination. But I never wrote down any of my stories. And I never told anyone about them.
When I grew up, my need for storytelling didn’t go away. So when my own two children started preschool I began to write and I’ve been writing ever since!”
Sounds all sweet, but there is bitterness in her experience with rejection. Blume received “nothing but rejections” for two years. According to Blume: “I would go to sleep at night feeling that I’d never be published. But I’d wake up in the morning convinced I would be. Each time I sent a story or book off to a publisher, I would sit down and begin something new. I was learning more with each effort. I was determined. Determination and hard work are as important as talent”. Determination and hard work certainly did the trick for Blume, who is now considered to be one of the most influential children’s literature writers of her generation.
Now I know one thing. Rejection letters shouldn’t kill. As some of the agents and publishers politely say, “this is not right for us, but try others (agents/publishers). Don’t give up on writing.”
I also know that it may take years, but writing pays off eventually.
Some Horrible Rejection Letters
Lady Windermere’s Fan by Oscar Wilde
‘My dear sir,
I have read your manuscript. Oh, my dear sir!’
Lust for Life by Irving Stone
(It was rejected 16 times, but found a publisher and went on to sell about 25 million copies)
‘A long, dull novel about an artist.’
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes by Anita Loos
‘Do you realize, young woman, that you’re the first American writer ever to poke fun at sex.’
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
‘… overwhelmingly nauseating, even to an enlightened Freudian … the whole thing is an unsure cross between hideous reality and improbable fantasy. It often becomes a wild neurotic daydream … I recommend that it be buried under a stone for a thousand years’
Jorge Luis Borges
Isaac Bashevis Singer
‘It’s Poland and the rich Jews again.’
‘There is no commercial advantage in acquiring her, and, in my opinion, no artistic.’
‘His frenetic and scrambled prose perfectly express the feverish travels of the Beat Generation. But is that enough? I don’t think so.’
Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D H Lawrence
‘for your own sake do not publish this book.’
The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
‘an irresponsible holiday story’
Lord of the Flies by William Golding
‘an absurd and uninteresting fantasy which was rubbish and dull.’
Watership Down by Richard Adams
‘older children wouldn’t like it because its language was too difficult.’
On Sylvia Plath
‘There certainly isn’t enough genuine talent for us to take notice.’
Crash by J G Ballard
‘The author of this book is beyond psychiatric help.’
The Deer Park by Norman Mailer
‘This will set publishing back 25 years.’
The Diary of Anne Frank
‘The girl doesn’t, it seems to me, have a special perception or feeling which would lift that book above the “curiosity” level.’
Barchester Towers by Anthony Trollope
‘The grand defect of the work, I think, as a work of art is the low-mindedness and vulgarity of the chief actors. There is hardly a lady” or “gentleman” amongst them.’
Carrie by Stephen King
‘We are not interested in science fiction which deals with negative utopias. They do not sell.’
Catch – 22 by Joseph Heller
‘I haven’t really the foggiest idea about what the man is trying to say… Apparently the author intends it to be funny – possibly even satire – but it is really not funny on any intellectual level … From your long publishing experience you will know that it is less disastrous to turn down a work of genius than to turn down talented mediocrities.’
The Spy who Came in from the Cold by John le Carré
‘You’re welcome to le Carré – he hasn’t got any future.’
Animal Farm by George Orwell
‘It is impossible to sell animal stories in the USA’. When Orwell first shopped the book around in 1944, everyone viewed it as excessively critical of the USSR, while the USSR was helping Britain defeat Nazi Germany. Four publishers rejected Animal Farm, including Orwell’s regular publisher. Another publisher accepted the novel, but then rejected it at the request of Peter Smollett, an official working in the British Ministry of Information. Smollett was later revealed as a Soviet spy. Faber and Faber also rejected the book, with T.S. Eliot penning the letter himself. Refusing the book for being “generally Trotskyite,” he added, “We have no conviction that this is the right point of view from which to criticise the political situation at the current time.” In fact, the book would not be published until WWII was over.
After finding a publisher, Orwell wrote a preface to Animal Farm, “Freedom of the Press,” about self-censorship during the war. In it he stated that, “Anyone who challenges the prevailing orthodoxy finds himself silenced with surprising effectiveness.” The preface was not published. Source: Taylor, David John
“I’m sorry Mr. Kipling, but you just don’t know how to use the English language”. These were the words used by one of the editors of the San Francisco Examiner newspaper when rejecting one of Mr. Kipling’s short stories. Mr. Kipling is now a revered author.
The Lord of the Flies was rejected by 20 publishers. One denounced the future classic with these words (which should be inscribed on the hapless publisher’s tomb): an absurd and uninteresting fantasy which was rubbish and dull.
John le Carré
After he submitted his first novel, The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, one of the publishers sent it along to a colleague, with this message: “You’re welcome to le Carré – he hasn’t got any future”.
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s (later Sorceror’s). The number bandied around the internet is that 12 major publishers rejected the first Harry Potter book, before someone was willing to take a chance. Rowling recently told Oprah Winfrey,
My agent knows better than I do… It was a lot of people. A lot of people just sent it back, virtually by return post. It was like a boomerang. I did really believe in it. I just though, This is a good story…. For some reason, I can even remember being quite pleased with the rejection letters. “F. Scott Fitzgerald got these. It’s all part of being a writer!”
One publisher held onto it for six months before finally rejecting it — and then when Bloomsbury decided to take it on, this other publisher suddenly decided they wanted it too. But Rowling decided that she should go with the publisher that wanted the book right away, rather than the one that kept her waiting and then turned her down. According to the BBC, the entire series has sold more than 400 million books worldwide.
After reading his Lady Chatterley’s Lover, one publisher warned: for your own sake do not publish this book.