Famous Writers who Overcame Rejection


This week I was lucky enough to score a guest post over at author Elizabeth Craig’s blog. I wrote on a subject I’m painfully familiar with- Rejection. More specifically, How to Survive Rejection. Please check it out, and all the other great posts on Elizabeth’s blog.

Consider this a companion piece. Below I’ve listed examples of famous and successful writers who have weathered rejection during their career. Hope it keeps you motivated!

Sylvia Plath


In 1962 the famous poet and novelist Sylvia Plath received a curt rejection notice from The New Yorker. In the note, the editor suggested that “Perhaps we’re being dense,” in rejecting Plath’s work. At least they got one thing right.  Plath posthumously won the Pulitzer Prize for Collected Poems in 1982

There’s a quote often attributed to Plath which I think is really helpful for any aspiring writer, “I love my rejection slips. They show I try.”

F. Scott Fitzgerald


Fitzgerald penned The Great Gatsby, and was, without a doubt, one of the most acclaimed American writers in history. But, did you know that his follow-up novel, Tender is the Night, was panned by critics?

The book was so ridiculed that Fitzgerald fled to Los Angeles looking for success as a screenwriter. He ultimately failed there as well. Once thought of as a rising star, Fitzgerald was considered a has-been by the end of his career. What’s worse, when he opened the newspaper he had to contend with reviews like this:

“Fitzgerald says that this book is his farewell to the members of his own generation; I hope he changes his mind. He has in him at least one great novel about them, and it is a novel that I want to read.”

That level of snark would drive any writer to alcoholism.

Ernest Hemingway


Ernest Hemingway was one of the most prolific writers and drinkers of the last century. He’s known for seminal works like, Old Man and the Sea, For Whom the Bell Tolls, and  A Farewell to Arms. Unlike Fitzgerald, Hemingway enjoyed success during his life. However, at the start of his career when Hemingway was shopping his book The Sun Also Rises he received a pretty direct rejection slip from one editor that stated:

“I found your efforts to be both tedious and offensive. You really are a man’s man, aren’t you? I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that you had penned this entire story locked up at the club, ink in one hand, brandy in the other.”

That’s probably not far off from the truth, though.

J.K. Rowling


Rowling has been open about her early struggles breaking into the literary world. She even posts old rejection letters on Twitter from time to time. Her first Harry Potter novel, Philosopher’s Stone, was rejected about a dozen times. Of course, the series has gone on to make Rowling a billionaire.

Lately, she’s written under various pen names when submitting new work to publishers. Of course, anything submitted under with her real name would be published in a heartbeat. But, with the cover of anonymity, she’s garnered rejections as recently as 2016 for a manuscript titled, Cuckoo’s Calling. One publisher even suggested that Rowling isn’t a very polished writer and that,

“a writers’ group or writing course may help” in her path to success. Sure thing, buddy…

Lisa Genova


Upon its success, Lisa Genova’s novel Still Alice was gobbled up by Hollywood and turned into an Academy Award-winning film. It was a long journey from page to screen, though. Genova spent a year trying to get the book printed by a traditional publishing house. She was rejected over and over by literary agents and publishers alike.

Genova didn’t let that stop her, though. Clearly, the publishers were wrong about her book. So, she built a website for the novel, contacted a printer, and self-published her work. The novel went viral, and Genova earned a half-million dollar book deal with The New York Times.

Sometimes you can’t take no for an answer.  

Stephen King


Stephen King’s first critical success was the novel Carrie. This was actually the fourth novel he’d written, but he couldn’t get the first three published. Carrie suffered an early and almost fatal setback when King, himself, rejected the work.

After writing it he tossed the manuscript into the kitchen garbage. His wife later found the novel, read it, and encouraged King to submit it to publishers. Which he did.

Thirty times.

That’s right. King was rejected thirty times before he got his novel published. But, when an editor finally did sign off on Carrie it kicked off one of the most prolific writing careers of the last half-century.

So, you know. Don’t give up too early.

2 comments on “Famous Writers who Overcame Rejection”

  1. The ability to overcome rejection is the reason great writers are great and that’s why we tell their stories and read their books again and again. Greatness is honed and crafted from the talented until it is known to the world and accepted from who they really are, inside and on the pages they penned.
    . —-Tennessee Gunns

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