Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Famous Rejection #78: Robert M. Pirsig

Robert M. Pirsig’s “Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” was rejected so many times that it won a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records.
 
The book was rejected 121 times, which is more rejections than any other bestseller.
 
Not only did Pirsig face and overcome overwhelming rejection to his book, but the philosophical novel took him four years to write. He worked during the day as as a writer of computer manuals, and then would work on his own writing from 2 a.m. to 6 a.m. before starting his day job.
 
Pirsig’s is an incredible story of dedication and perseverance.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Famous Rejection #77: Edgar Allen Poe


Edgar Allan Poe was a classic American author and poet, largely known for his dark mysterious writing, in works such as “The Raven.”  But for many years, he struggled to make a living (which pushed him to enlist in the army), and get published.

In particular, in the spring of 1837. J. & J. Harpers rejected a volume of Poe’s short stories which later became “The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket” for three reasons: that most had appeared in print, they were too “learned and mystical” and that on a whole, the structure was “detached takes and pieces.”

In a famous rejection, Harpers wrote, “Our long experience has taught us that both these are very serious objections to the success of any publication. Readers in this country have a decided and strong preference for works (especially fiction) in which a single and connected story occupies the whole volume, or a number of volumes, as the case may be.” 

However, Poe was persistent, and one year later the same publisher accepted the manuscript for publication.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Famous Rejection #76: Chinua Achebe’s ‘Things Fall Apart’


Chinua Achebe’s “Things Fall Apart” has been considered a milestone in modern African literature written in English, and is one of the first to receive global acclaim. It has sold over 8 million copies worldwide, been translated into over 50 languages, and was selected as Time Magazine’s 100 Best English-language Novels from 1923 to 2005.

And, it too, was rejected:
It was sent to several publishing houses; some rejected it immediately, claiming that fiction from African writers had no market potential. Finally it reached the office of Heinemann, where executives hesitated until an educational adviser, Donald MacRae – just back in England after a trip through west Africa read the book and forced the company's hand with his succinct report: "This is the best novel I have read since the war".
In 1958, the publisher published 2,000 hardcover copies, and the rest is history.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Funny Faux Rejections


Taking a small break from the official countdown to One Hundred Famous Rejections, here are some faux rejections for a good laugh, as well as a reminder that even agents face lots of rejection.

Agent Andy Ross, while commiserating on the rejection he faces on a daily basis for the projects he represents (and recognizing the shame and humiliation that writers deal with from these same letters), engaged in a fun exercise where he employed the rejection templates that he receives so often on famous classics.

Here's one of our favorites:
Macbeth by William Shakespeare

Andy,
Thank you for sending us Macbeth by William Shakespeare. Mr. Shakespeare certainly brings a fresh voice to the modern theatre and has a commendable mastery of plot and character. That said, I am not going to make an offer on this book. I think that Mr. Shakespeare has a certain  inelegance of style and his language skills could use some refining. I also noticed a number of careless misspellings in this work. The extensive “scholarly” footnoting with its endless references to “folios” and “quartos” was annoying and distracting.
I feel compelled to say, and I hope neither you nor your client take offense at this, that some of his “speeches” are just plain pretentious and not suited to the more casual sensibilities of our upscale readers. For instance:  Macbeth says: “It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” Don’t you think this could be stated more clearly and succinctly? How about: “Life is pretty confusing. Sometimes I just want to shake my head and cry.”  Furthermore, I could not help but note an obvious unattributed locution from William Faulkner. Your author should try to be more careful.
Ha! To read the full list of Andy’s funny faux rejections, click here!

Famous Rejection #75: Joseph Heller’s “Catch 22”


Joseph Heller is best known for his dark comedy novel “Catch 22.” But before he was a success, Heller faced rejection. He wrote a story about the Russian invasion of Finland for the New York Daily News, who rejected it.

As for “Catch 22” itself, there’s a difference in opinion about rejection that it may have faced. While Wikipedia claims that the novel never was turned down, itself, others have said that “Catch 22” received some emphatic rejections.

The most famous of these rumored rejections reads, “"I haven't 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."

Whether that rejection letter is true, one thing is certain. The novel didn’t always receive the kindest reception from the literary community.

The New Yorker wrote “[Catch 22] doesn't even seem to be written; instead, it gives the impression of having been shouted onto paper. What remains is a debris of sour jokes.”

It shows that an opinion is just an opinion whether you’re published, or trying to get published.