Tuesday, November 2, 2010


As you probably surmised from my query letters, I got a lot of rejections. In fact, I think I'd racked in close to 200 by the time I stopped submitting. But I kept going.

Why? How? Why in the WORLD did I keep paying $.24 (I think it was up to $.33 by the time I stopped) for MORE PAIN?

Because of the stories that inspired me to keep going. To never give up.

The first one I tacked to my wall was a flyer my mom brought home, which was actually supposed to be some sort of advertisement to go to church. It told the story of Theodore Geisel, the poor children's writer who sent his manuscript, THE HOUSE ON MULBERRY STREET, to 24 publishers, and was rejected by each and every one. He was on his way home to burn his manuscript and give up writing for good when he ran into an old friend of his, who had become an editor at a publishing house. A name change later and THE CAT IN THE HAT was born.

God works in mysterious ways, the flyer told me.

Yeah, and so does publishing.

My second inspiration came from a rejection letter, via email from the Intellectual Property Management Group:

Putting Rejection into Perspective

If your manuscript gets rejected, consider the company
you are in when you get rejected by an agent or
publisher who lacks the foresight to see just how
great your work may be. The following list is compiled
from Michael Larsen's book, "Literary Agents."

The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck was returned fourteen
times, but it went on to win a Pulitzer Prize.

Norman Mailer's The Naked and the Dead was rejected
twelve times.

Patrick Dennis said of his autobiographical novel
Auntie Mame, "It circulated for five years through the
halls of fifteen publishers and finally ended up with
Vanguard Press, which, as you can see, is rather deep
into the alphabet." This illustrates why using the
alphabet may be a logical but ineffective way to find
the best agent or editor.

Twenty publishers felt that Richard Bach's Jonathan
Livingston Seagull was for the birds.

The first title of Catch-22 was Catch-18, but Simon
and Schuster planned to publish it during the same
season that Doubleday was bringing out Mila 18 by Leon
Uris. When Doubleday complained, Joseph Heller changed
the title. Why 22? Because Simon and Schuster was the
22nd publisher to read it. Catch-22 has become part of
the language and has sold more than 10 million copies.

Mary Higgins Clark was rejected forty times before
selling her first story. One editor wrote: "Your story
is light, slight, and trite." More than 30 million
copies of her books are now in print.

Before he wrote Roots, Alex Haley had received 200

Robert Persig's classic, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle
Maintenance, couldn't get started at 121 houses.

John Grisham's first novel, A Time to Kill, was
declined by fifteen publishers and some thirty agents.
His novels have more than 60 million copies in print.

Thirty-three publishers couldn't digest Chicken Soup
for the Soul, compiled by Jack Canfield and Mark
Victor Hansen, before it became a huge best-seller and
spawned a series.

The Baltimore Sun hailed Naked in Deccan as "a
classic" after it had been rejected over seven years
by 375 publishers.

Dr. Seuss's first book was rejected twenty-four times.
The sales of his children's books have soared to 100

Louis L'Amour received 200 rejections before he sold
his first novel. During the last forty years, Bantam
has shipped nearly 200 million of his 112 books,
making him their biggest selling author.

If you visit the House of Happy Walls, Jack London's
beautiful estate in Sonoma County, north San
Francisco, you will see some of the 600 rejection
slips that London received before selling his first
story. If you want to know how much easier it is to
make it as a writer now than it was in London's time,
read his wonderful autobiographical novel, Martin
Eden. Your sufferings will pale compared to what poor
Martin endured.

British writer John Creasy received 774 rejections
before selling his first story. He went on to write
564 books, using fourteen names.

Eight years after his novel Steps won the National
Book Award, Jerzy Kosinski permitted a writer to
change his name and the title and send a manuscript of
the novel to thirteen agents and fourteen publishers
to test the plight of new writers. They all rejected
it, including Random House, which had published it.

Every no gets you closer to yes ...


These were the little things that kept me sane, that kept me hoping even after 200 tries. As an agent, they STILL keep me going, STILL keep me sane.

We ALL know those OTHER stories, the ones where some mom in the middle of nowhere dreams up a bestseller, writes it in a month and sells it for six figures after practically NO rejection. The ones that every author seems to think are the norm.

But I want to take a moment to celebrate the TRUE inspirations; the Mandy Hubbards and Stephen Kings of the world, the ones who show that hard work and perseverance really do pay off.

So tell me - what is your story? Your inspiration?

(psst...need more? You can read a whole other version of this here!)


  1. I'll be querying by the end of this year/start of next year. I think that for me, having been through the very competitive experience of going getting into law school and then graduating and competing all over again for jobs has been incredibly helpful. That experience taught me that contrary to whatever I might believe in the moment I'm reading a dream agent's rejection, I will survive. I even learned from it all. Valuable stuff!

    For now, my inspiration lies in the awesome 'how I got my agent' stories all over the internet, the breathless, delighted blog posts about The Call. No harm in a little reading and daydreaming, right?

  2. Yay for the shout-out to Mandy!!! She truly is my inspiration. <3

  3. Hi Natalie...this is a wonderful post that inspires us to keep trying inspite of all the rejection slips piling up. It is especially important for me as I hope to query after few months. But, I am sure its equally important for all writers.

    Btw..I have added the link to this post to my blog and will also share it on Facebook. Thanks once again.


  4. What a wonderful post--and yeah, that is basically the best rejection letter ever, wow.

    As for my inspiration... For me, super cheesy though it sounds, writing is about love. From the first idea to all the way through to the reader, it's about loving the story. Every idea I get I fall in love so completely I think that this is it, this is THE STORY, I will never love another story like I love this one. But then, I always love the next one too, with every fiber of myself. So even if I don't find an agent who falls in love with this one, despite the heartbreak, I can't help but fall in love again when the next idea rolls around.

    Writing is love. Agenting is love. Publishing is love. Reading is love. We all love stories. And it's worth the wait to find the people who love it like you do.

  5. Lovely post. I am finishing up my manuscript and getting close to full blow revision time, so hopefully I will be querying by the end of the year. What inspires me and keeps me going now, and will hopefully continue to do so? My girls (4 and 5). Showing them the example that reading and writing are worthy pursuits and that you are never too old/it's never too late/no dream is too small or too big to follow your passions. That if you spend your time doing somethiing you love, that challenges you and pushes you, despite the outcome--pubbed or not--it will be worth it :-)

  6. Thank you... some more food for thought... courage to continue :)

  7. Great post!
    And I would just like tell aspiring writers that Natalie sent me the sweetest, most encouraging rejection letter ever. I felt inspired and empowered to revise based on her valuable insight. Thanks, Natalie!

  8. What an inspiring post!! Loved it! We writers( and agents) are such a persevering bunch :)

  9. One thing I wonder about once I start the whole query muck once again...

    Is is it good or bad to mention that you were previously agented? On one hand, I can see it as a plug that someone thought your writing was worthwhile. On the other hand, it could come across as "what happened? Where you a bad client?"

  10. It's nice to see that even an agent understands rejection on a personal level. :o)

  11. The first part of King's 'On Writing' is an autobiography and when he wrote about selling Carrie, I cried...ok, sobbed!

    I've loved that freaky man since I was in elementary school and secretly read his books.lol My mother would not have been happy about it. He is definitely my inspiration.

  12. wow, why do I moan over 2 rejection letters? 774 rejections that is perseverance I am not sure I can take that much but Its nice to be in good company.
    Thank you for this inspiring post

  13. I love any rejection (or acceptance!) that has the words "read" and "enjoyed" in it. I figure if an agent or editor read (all the way through?! Really?! Can you tell me a little detail from the beginning of act III so I can just know for sure? :) and enjoyed (!) my work, it can't be total gobbledygook.


  14. Hello Nathalie! It's nice to know you too have received rejections; it's comforting in an odd way. I don't count the rejections. I just don't. I hope that one day, maybe today, maybe tomorrow, I will get that email and things will be on their way to publication. If not, I'll send another and keep writing my next book! I'm too ambitious and tenacious to just give up.

  15. Wow, this was a great post! I'm gonna keep this in mind as I revise and (eventually) query my dystopian. Thanks! :D

  16. I know it's easy to get discouraged with rejection but have you come across many writers who become actively hostile when their work isn't instantly accepted and/or praised?

    I'm surprised at how much of this I see on forums and blogs where critiques are offered. Those writers who get defensive and even resort to insulting the critters and the reading population at large really amaze me!

    Writers must learn how to handle criticism with grace, professionalism and even appreciation.

    Because like rejection, criticism is also a part of the game.

  17. Thank you for this amazing post. I really needed it today. With social media making the world so small these days it's easy to feel like every writer around me is being chosen and I am left in the giant crane machine waiting for the claw to stop my way. I'm developing thicker skin, but some days its really nice to hear I'm not alone. thank you!

  18. Hello, Natalie, Thanks for such an inspiring post. I am getting two manuscripts ready to send out, and it's heartening to be reminded to keep things in perspective as I wait for the responses.

  19. Thanks, Natalie. Good inspiration as I go through my first queries on my first novel. (sidebar: hoping anyway that you'll send me an e-mail on my query!)

    Queries and rejections are just part of "paying my dues" to the profession. :-) Been through this in business, acting and singing, now writing. Step by step.

  20. WOW...Thanks Ms. Natalie, I love the quote...Every NO gets me closer to a YES... I won't give up.. You've inspired me....

  21. Julie - yes, it definitely felt that way to me, too.

    But what kept me going was something I wrote in the book that got me my agent: "time marches forward, crushing me under the rough, black tread of my decisions and the fact I can’t fix them."

    It might be trite, but if life goes on the only choice we have is to keep going as well. If I'm rejected today, I can't change that, I can only try again tomorrow.

    Ultimately, the thought of stopping made me feel worse than the rejections did.

  22. Thanks for sharing the inspiration. I'm getting ready to query after the first of the year (after I get my query letter right)and I'm trying to prepare myself for all the rejections. On my good days, the thing that keeps me going is the love of right and focusing on what I can control--trying to write the best story I can and connecting to the writer community, which is very supportive.

  23. Thank you! I needed this. It's easy to quit, not so easy to persevere. I'm not that inspiration story yet, but I'm still working at it. In the mean time, I love reading about others' successes. :)

  24. Thank you for this inspiration. Was surprised J.K. Rowling wasn't on the list.

  25. This comment has been removed by the author.

  26. 774 rejections? My god! That's a whole lot of patience. And an infinite amount of belief in one's work. Inspirational post. Thanks, Natalie.