Famous Rejections

The Care and Feeding of Your Creative Spirit - Part 6

This appeared in Barney Brantingham’s column in the Santa Barbara News-Press before the publisher went ballistic and fired everybody. I hung this special column on my fridge, and want to share it with all of you.

Many of the world’s greatest wordsmiths have been pummeled by an editor’s cold fish to the face.

Luckily for us, they decided against suicide and found publishers for such works as “Madame Bovary,” Leaves of Grass” and “Catch-22”. ”Rotten Rejections,” edited by Andre Bernard (Penguin Books) has gathered some of the nastiest and wildly wrong – dismissal of great writers.

William Faulkner’s novel, “Sanctuary”, was tossed back in his face with the editor’s horrified remark, “Good God, I can’t publish this. We’d both be in jail.” It was eventually published, of course, and nobody ended up behind bars.

When George Orwell offered the classic satire of communism, “Animal Farm,” an editor wrote back, entirely missing the point: “It is impossible to sell animal stories in the USA.”

“The Diary of Anne Frank,” a young girl’s stunningly perceptive journal written before she died in a German concentration camp, was rejected in 1952. “The girl doesn’t, it seems to me, have a special perception or feeling which would lift that book above the ‘curiosity’ level,” went one rejection slip.

When Gustave Flaubert, the great French wordsmith, sent in his masterpiece, “Madame Bovary,” an editor flung it back with the observation: “You have buried your novel underneath a heap of details which are well done but utterly superfluous.”

Arthur Conan Doyle found that “A Study in Scarlet,” one of his classic Sherlock Holmes stories, was dismissed as “Neither long enough for a serial, nor short enough for a single story.” Oh?

Oscar Wilde’s “The Picture of Dorian Gray” got this pithy rejection from an editor: “It contains unpleasant elements.”

Thomas Wolfe’s epic, “Look Homeward, Angel,” harvested numerous rejection slips, including the comment, “Terrible.”

“The Bridge Over the River Kwai,” written by Pierre Boulle and destined to become an Oscar-winning film, was dismissed with the blunt “A very bad book.”

Patrick Dennis said his famous “Auntie Mame” circulated for five years through the halls of 15 publishers and ended with Vanguard Press, “which as you can see is rather deep in the alphabet.”

Tony Hillerman’s “The Blessing Way” was fired back at him with the advice: “If you insist on rewriting this, get rid of the Indian stuff.”

When Rudyard Kipling submitted a manuscript he got this reply: ‘I’m sorry, Mr. Kipling, but you just don’t know how to use the English language.”

Others getting thumbs down from editors and publishers include Walt Whitman’s poetry in “Leaves of Grass”, Jean Auel’s “The Clan of the Cave Bear,” Nobel Prize winner Pearl Buck’s “The Good Earth”, James M. Cain’s “The Postman Always Rings Twice”, Len Deighton’s “The Impress File”, F. Scott’s Fitzgerald’s “This Side of Paradise”, Joseph Heller’s “Catch-22”, James Joyce’s Ulysses”, D.H. Lawrence’s “Lady Chatterley’s Lover”, and Molly-Ann Leikin’s “The Man in the Moon Will See Me Home”.

If people are telling you no, too, you’re in good company. Keep writing. You know you’re too good to quit.

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