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Rotten Rejections

Magazine

The Letters that Publishers Wish they'd never Sent

Most of these are taken from Andre Bernard's wonderful little book Rotten Rejections:  The Letters that Publishers Wish They’d Never Sent. This extraordinary collection of rejection letters sent by publishers to writers - many delivered to now famous authors of classic books - will make you laugh and provide comfort in the face of your own struggles to get published.

Editor Andre Bernard, himself a distinguished publisher, gathers the most striking examples of this amusing phenomenon, contributed by rejected authors - including such great names as Henry James, Gertrude Stein and Joseph Heller - and rejecting editors alike. WritersServices is reprinting a selection of our favourites by kind permission of Robson Books.

 The Letters That Publishers Wish They'd Never Sent

Rotten Rejections: The Letters that Publishers Wish They’d Never Sent

Robson Books £6.99

Buy the book

Publishers claim that their rejections are not necessarily based on value judgements.  They may like a manuscript, they say, but be unable to publish it because of prior commitments or scheduling jams, lack of money or other operational obstacles.

They have let some amazingly big fish slip through their nets, great classics and ultimate blockbusters of all varieties: War and Peace, The Good Earth … To Kill a Mockingbird, The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayam, Watership Down

The list goes on and on.

Here are a few to cheer you on your way:

(We've added some new ones from the American literary publisher Knopf's Archives at the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center at the University of Texas at Austin):

Jorge Luis Borges
'utterly untranslatable'

Isaac Bashevis Singer
'It's Poland and the rich Jews again.'

Anais Nin
'There is no commercial advantage in acquiring her, and, in my opinion, no artistic.'

Jack Kerouac
'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'for your own sake do not publish this book.'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.'

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes by Anita Loos
'Do you realize, young woman, that you're the first American writer ever to poke fun at sex.'

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.’

Lust for Life by Irving Stone
(which was rejected 16 times, but found a publisher and went on to sell about 25 million copies)
‘ A long, dull novel about an artist.’

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’

Lady Windermere’s Fan by Oscar Wilde
‘My dear sir,
I have read your manuscript.  Oh, my dear sir.’

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.’

'It isn't worth any adult reader's attention.'
(The New York Times)

The Great Gatsby by Ernest Hemingway

'An absurd story'

'A book of the season only.

New contribution:
Recently I was rejected utterly by over 500 literary agents and publishers for the 12th year in a row in an attempt to find representation or a publisher for 5 novels I have created. In my last attempt, one agent wrote to say my titles were so uncommercial that reading my synopsis made him laugh and that he couldn't sell any of my titles to a publisher even if he had a million years to try.

Contribute to Rotten Rejections

Have you ever had a really awful rejection letter from a publisher? If so please share it with us. The names can be changed to protect the guilty (and avoid litigation)!

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More examples of bad judgment

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