Five Famous Writers Who Were (Harshly) Rejected

Here is a list of five famous authors who felt the harsh smack of the “Rejected” stamp.

As I’m getting closer to my spring/summer deadline, I keep praying for thicker skin for when those rejection emails come pouring in. I have a lot of fellow writers who follow my blog, but I think everyone could use a little reminder that all great people have faced rejection at some point.

James Baldwin: Author of Go Tell It On The Mountain, Giovanni’s Room, The Fire Next Time.


Source: Click Hole

J.K. Rowling: Author of the Harry Potter Series.

Rowling was rejected from 12 publishing houses before she landed at Bloomsbury In June 1997.

J K Rowling

Source: Wikipedia

Louisa May Alcott: Author of Little Women, Little Men

Alcott was rejected by publisher James T. Fields who said, ““Stick to your teaching, Miss Alcott. You can’t write.”

Image result for louisa may alcott

Source: Boston Women’s Heritage Trail.

Sylvia Plath: Author of The Bell Jar

A harsh comment on the rejection letter Plath received in regards to The Bell Jar:

“I’m not sure what Heinemann’s sees in this first novel unless it is a kind of youthful American female brashnaess. But there certainly isn’t enough genuine talent for us to take notice.”

Image result for the bell jar

Source: FlavorWire  Image found here:We Love It

Charles Dickens: Author of Oliver Twist, Great Expectations, A Christmas Carol

Dickens didn’t tell his friends that he was mailing off his manuscript to publishers because he was afraid that they would make fun of him. Here is part of the rejection letter he received from one publisher for A Christmas Carol:

“Our primary issue is its preposterous main premise. We will grant that readers may indeed be willing to accept the idea of four omnipotent ghosts returning to Earth to do good for the betterment of mankind. However, it stretches the boundaries of credibility to their very limits to expect anyone to believe a CEO would repent his ways via voluntary monetary penance. Pay his secretary’s mortgage? Double his salary? Are you certain, Mr. Dickens, that you did not intend to submit this manuscript to our humor publishing subsidiary?”


Image result for charles dickens a christmas carol

Sources: Writer’s Digest and USA Today.

-Rachel McKee

Author: Rachel McKee

I love reading about everything. I'm not a book snob. Lately I have been "reading" a lot of picture books to my toddler and baby. In my past life before motherhood, I was a professional technical editor and writer.

34 thoughts on “Five Famous Writers Who Were (Harshly) Rejected”

  1. Best wishes in trying to find a publisher to accept your work. I’m not a writer but I know it is an uphill battle.

    I bet the publishers who rejected the above authors are/were kicking themselves now. Here’s hoping that will be the case for those who reject you so you can rub it in their faces.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. If I’m ever gonna get rejected (that is, if I’m ever gonna submit anything to be rejected; rejection is probably inevitable), I want a rejection letter as creative as the one James Baldwin got from Random House. It would probably be much less painful to be rejected with such wit and humour. Unfortunately, that kind of personalized letter is probably rare.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. I did as suggested, but really the one from Random House is the best. Maybe I would have found the others more… funny or ridiculous (like the rejection of A Christmas Carol) if I had actually known the writers. Basically, most great American writers are strangers to me with a few exceptions, not by name but because I haven’t read any of their books.

        I’ve had a “French-Canadian” education in literature, so I didn’t learn of the existence of vastly known books like “To Kill a Mocking Bird” or “Lord of the Flies” until English lit classes in college (still haven’t read those, but “To Kill a Mocking Bird” is sitting on my nightstand waiting for NaNoWriMo to be over). It’s a shame, because English and American classics resonate with me so much more then the French classics. I had to read Albert Camus’ L’Étranger (The Stranger) when I was 16. To this day I still think the teacher who gave us that assignment was a sadist. I can’t believe a teacher would know so little about a book’s “right audience”. Also, I think that might have prejudiced me for life against French literature.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I know what you mean. Sometimes I wonder how many wonderful classics I have missed from other countries because I focus on American classics. I literally LOL’d about the “sadist” teacher. I had a few of those myself.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Yeah, the truth is there are too many classics and no enough time. Which almost makes me “snob” contemporary literature, but what is a girl to do? There are only so many books I can read in a lifetime.

        Are you on Goodreads? I would like to see what American classics you rate 5 stars so I can add them to my to-read list. ^_^

        Liked by 1 person

      4. I am on Goodreads, but I’m terrible about updating my account there. Have you read Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë? Or Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë? Those sisters knew how to write! I would rate both of those novels 5 stars.

        Liked by 1 person

      5. I’ve read everything Charlotte and Anne Brontë, except the Tales of Angria. I loved Jane Eye, but I loved Villette even more. I have a mild obsession with Charlotte, because everything she writes feels like it comes from my own mind. I even got her biography (while I’m not usually interested in biographies) and bought an Elizabeth Gaskell novel just because she was her friend.

        I haven’t read the Wuthering Heights though… I had started to watch a film adaptation of it, but everybody was so crazy that I ultimately gave up. I will probably read it some day. Charlotte seemed to think Emily was a brilliant writer and that’s motivation enough to read her book (I mean, besides the vast praise the book received). I just need to finish everything Charles Dickens first; I’ve only read Great Expectations so far, but it left me in awe. Oh, and Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen, but first I have to finish The Mysteries of Udolpho, which is boring the life out of me, but I’m halfway through so I might as well finish it. Not to mention the Sherlock Holmes series. Yeah, that might take a while, and that’s just the English classics; like I said earlier, next in line is actually “To Kill a Mockingbird”. ^^; Anyway, in a few years, the Wuthering Heights should get to the top of my list of “priorities”.

        Liked by 1 person

      6. I’m scared of reading Little Women. I’ve seen the movie three times before I realized it would always make me cry from “you know when” until the end of the movie. It might not help that I’m in a family of 4 daughters. Is the book as much of a tear-jerker?

        In my list of American classics to read are the two formerly mentioned, the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, the Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Moby-Dick (is it a tear-jerker?), Tender is the Night, The Catcher in the Rye, The Scarlet Letter (I liked the movie). Also something Stephen King; though not “classic” per se, I feel lacking as a reader for never never having read anything Stephen King. I think the only real American classic I have read is “Of Mice and Men” (plus some short stories and poems by various authors). Oh yeah, I do *need* to read more of Emily Dickinson’s poems, too.

        But all those feel like the books every American has read in high school. ^^; Any other suggestion?

        Liked by 1 person

      7. Ohhhh Huckleberry Finn! I love that book. Little Women is a tear-jerker for sure. I haven’t read Moby Dick it’s way too daunting. Do you like Young Adult or Children’s lit? What did you think of Of Mice and Men? I thought the ending was heart breaking.

        Liked by 1 person

      8. Yes, I like young adult and children’s lit. I’m actually a big fan of Dr Seuss, haha.

        Of Mice and Men… it was heart-breaking for sure, but it’s one of those books I’m glad I read anyway. It is tragic, but also touching and beautiful. Compassionate homicide is a rare theme (in my experience), but I think Steinbeck nailed it.


  3. Thanks Rachel. This is a good reminder that we should just keep writing regardless of what road we take on the way to publishing. To me, we need to respect editors’ opinions and trust that they no what’s publishable, but I keep telling myself it’s just one person’s opinion and they can get it soo wrong!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. The satisfying feeling of cranking out a book (or short story in my case) is addictive. I would imagine it’s the same sense of accomplishment that a painter has when they finish a piece. Criticism and rejection hurts but I think it would hurt more to keep that creativity bottled up with no outlet. I will always continue to write as a hobby that I find enjoyable – no matter how many people tell me that my writing is an incredible waste of time! Write on!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree. Reader preferences vary greatly, but we have to stay true to our stories. The way I see it, any feedback, harsh or otherwise is valuable. Sometimes the initial sting hurts though. Happy writing!


  5. Hey Rachel, this is undeservedly harsh as you’ve pointed out but I’ve had a good chuckle! I wonder if anyone has been accepted in their first submission?? As an Australian (where classic lit is slightly more barren), I’ve loved the diversity of international lit, and loooved American lit especially Gone with the Wind and The House of Mirth. Wonder how those authors went in terms of publishing luck…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve wondered the same thing Jolene, wouldn’t that be incredible? First submission and BAM! You get an offer. I haven’t read Gone With The Wind or The House of Mirth. I’ve seen the movie for GWTW and loved it!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I hope that’s what you get to experience – first time pot luck! I’ve always imagined what it would feel like to see one’s own name in print. Guess I can wait for you to tell me that😜

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Yeah, too many publishers decide that only they know what’s good…and they don’t take into account one bit that there are as many different reading preferences as there are writing styles/writers/stories to be told.

    You *know* that the people who rejected JK Rowling wore out their heels kicking themselves in the arse after she made her first million pounds. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  7. As a young teenager I sent out many poems to various Canadian publishers and always received the nicest rejection letters (the theme being I needed some more life experience!), recently I have sent out 2 posts to two local newspapers and a poem to a non-profit neighbourhood house for possible publication and have only heard back about my poem (there is strong interest!), we have to keep trying and I know I have to! A note on the beautiful novel, “Little Women”, it’s the perfect read for the holiday season and even though it’s sad, it is handled with tenderness and grace. I’m sensing a holiday reading list on the horizon…loved this post, Rachel and good luck with your editing!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ohhhhhh I’m so excited for you! Even hearing that they “have a strong interest ” is incredibly encouraging. I can’t wait to hear more. Little Women sounds like a wonderful read right now.



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