Make your own free website on
Article title:   Even the Famous get Blistering Rejections
First posted:   Wed 01 Sep 2004
Article text:


A lot of letters come in asking about rejection, and I just shake my head and sigh. Maybe the best answer of all is to share with you some of what's been said by folks who are supposed to know about movies, screenwriters, novelists, and actors. It'll at least put things in perspective for you and help you remember that if you believe in yourself and your work, and if you never give up, you will find a drummer marching to your very special tune.

  • "In my humble opinion, the picture will be a colossal flop." Business reporter on the impact this failure will have on the producing studio, Columbia Pictures. The writer was talking about "CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND".

    The Spielberg film went on to receive 4 Academy Award nominations and was one of the five top-grossing box office hits of 1977. Columbia's stock soared.

  • "Forget it. No Civil War picture ever made a nickel." Irving Thalberg, MGM Production Executive, advising Louis B. Mayer not to buy films rights to Margaret Mitchell's novel, "GONE WITH THE WIND".

    "GONE WITH THE WIND is going to be the biggest flop in Hollywood history. I'm just glad it'll be Clark Gable who's falling flat on his face and not (me)." Gary Cooper.

  • "SNOW WHITE will sound the Disney death knell." Critic in the publication, "Current History".

    SNOW WHITE was Disney's first full-length feature presentation and earned a special Acadamy Award. It has grossed over $175 million at the box office and another $180 million in home video rentals.

  • "The only way STAR WARS could have been exciting was through its visual imagination and special effects. Both were unexceptional." Film critic, 1977.

    STAR WARS won six Academy Awards, including one for Best Visual Effects. It grossed over $970 million at the box office, making it, at the time, the most successful film ever.

  • "The regretful verdict here is: Dead in the Water." Movie reviewer on the film, "TITANIC," which won eleven Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Director. To date it has grossed over $1 billion dollars making it the most successful movie of all time.

  • "Displays no trace of imagination, good taste or ingenuity. I says it's a sinkeroo." The New Yorker Magazine film critic writing about "THE WIZARD OF OZ."

You Think YOU'VE Been Rejected!

Letters of rejection are really only hurtful when they're addressed to you personally, but we can still emphathize with the ones that follow. Mainly, they help us to realize that rejection is simply a writer's way of life--bumps on the wonderfully horrific journey.

"I'm sorry, Mr. Kipling, but you just don't know how to use the English language." Editor of the San Fransciso Examiner to Rudyard Kipling.

Mystery writer Mary Higgins Clark recently received a $60 plus million dollar advance on her next five books, but this is what happened when she was sending out her manuscript "Journey Back to Love" in the early 1960s: "We found the heroine as boring as her husband did."

Classic writer Colette was told in a letter of rejection: "I wouldn't be able to sell 10 copies."

A rejection letter to Pierre Boulle about his "Bridge Over River Kwai" said, "A very bad book."

Jean Auel, author of "The Clan of Cave Bear" was told, "We are very impressed with the depth and scope of your research and the quality of your prose. Nevertheless ... we don't think we could distribute enough copies to satisfy you or ourselves."

A letter rejecting "The Diary of Anne Frank" said, "The girl doesn't, it seems to me, have a special perception or feeling which would lift that book above the 'curiosity' level."

"Jonathan Livingston Seagull will never make it as a paperback." From the publisher of a magazine refusing an offer to bid on the paperback rights to Richard Bach's best selling novel. Avon Books eventually bought those rights and sales totaled more than 7.25 million copies.

H.G. Wells had to endure the indignity of a rejection when he submitted his manuscript, "The War of the Worlds" that said, "An endless nightmare. I do not believe it would "take"...I think the verdict would be 'Oh don't read that horrid book'."

And when he tried to market "The Time Machine," it was said, "It is not interesting enough for the general reader and not thorough enough for the scientific reader."

Jacqueline Susann's "Valley of the Dolls" received this response, "...she is a painfully dull, inept, clumsy, undisciplined, rambling and thoroughly amateurish writer whose every sentence, paragraph and scene cries for the hand of a pro. She wastes endless pages on utter trivia, writes wide-eyed romantic scenes ...hauls out every terrible show biz cliche in all the books, lets every good scene fall apart in endless talk and allows her book to ramble aimlessly ..."

When Irving Stone sent his manuscript, "Lust for Life," this is what came back in the mail: "A long, dull novel about an artist." I guess that meant "No thanks."

Even Dr. Seuss was not above the scathing rejection, "...too different from other juveniles on the market to warrant its selling."

Before Ayn Rand became known as an intellectual and her books as classics, she had to get past this from one publisher: "It is badly written and the hero is unsympathetic." And this from another: "I wish there were an audience for a book of this kind. But there isn't. It won't sell." So much for "The Fountainhead." Fourteen years later she was sending "Atlas Shrugged" on its publishing rounds and reading in the return mail: "... the book is much too long. There are too many long speeches... I regret to say that the book is unsaleable and unpublishable."

To writer Samuel Johnson (though I don't know which book the editor was referring to): "Your manuscript is both good and original; but the part that is good is not original, and the part that is original is not good."

Regarding "The Spy Who Came in From the Cold" it was written "(this book has) no future ..."

Did you know that only seven of Emily Dickinson's poems were ever published during her lifetime? A rejection early in her career said, "(Your poems) are quite as remarkable for defects as for beauties and are generally devoid of true poetical qualities."

Edgar Allen Poe was told, "Readers in this country have a decided and strong preference for works in which a single and connected story occupies the entire volume."

Herman Melville, who had written a manuscript entitled "Moby Dick," was told, "We regret to say that our united opinion is entirely against the book as we do not think it would be at all suitable for the Juvenbile Market in (England). It is very long, rather old-fashioned..."

Jack London heard, "(Your book is) forbidding and depressing."

Ernest Hemingway, regarding his novel, "The Torrents of Spring" was rejected with, "It would be extremely rotten taste, to say nothing of being horribly cruel, should we want to publish it." Ouch!

William Faulkner may be a classic writer to this, as well as prior, generation, but back when he was trying to crack the publishing market, he had to read letters like this one, "If the book had a plot and structure, we might suggest shortening and revisions, but it is so diffuse that I don't think this would be of any use. My chief objection is that you don't have any story to tell." This was kinder than the rejection he would receive just two years later, "Good God, I can't publish this!"

According to the terrific little book, "Rotten Rejections" (Pushcart Press, Andre Bernarnd, 1990), "Auntie Mame" went through fifteen rejections over a period of five years before finding a home at Vanguard Press.

Now ... go check your mailbox and no matter what's in there, hold that chin up high!
This article was originally published on:
Copyright 2005, Esther Luttrell. All Rights Reserved.