5 Famous Authors Who Were Rejected by Publishers

Have you gotten a rejection letter from a publisher? You aren't alone.

Rejection slips, or form letters, however tactfully phrased, are lacerations of the soul, if not quite inventions of the devil—but there is no way around them.
– Isaac Asimov

We’ve all gotten rejected once or twice in our lives. This is especially true when it comes to authors: it’s all about putting yourself out there, and you’re bound to come across someone who isn’t a fan.

Of course, one of the benefits of publishing independently is that you don’t have to worry about rejection. There aren’t any gatekeepers trying to stop your work from seeing the light of day. You can publish what you like and let your work be judged by the people who really matter: readers.

Still, sometimes it’s nice to know you aren’t alone. Some of the most famous authors in the world have had their books rejected at one point or another. Here are a few to reassure you that even the greats hit speedbumps every now and then.

Sylvia Plath sent The Bell Jar in under a pseudonym, where it was immediately rejected. The editor then discovered the author’s true identity, and the manuscript was…rejected again.

“I have now re-read—or rather read more thoroughly—“The Bell Jar” with the knowledge that it is by Sylva Plath which has added considerably to its interest for it is obviously flagrantly autobiographical. But it still is not much of a novel.”

Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness received this rejection letter:

A future multiple award winner.


It went on to win both the Hugo and Nebula Awards for best novel. Go figure.

Carrie by Stephen King was rejected 30 times. He even threw the manuscript away before his wife retrieved it from the trash.

Tarzan of the Apes was initially rejected, but Edgar Rice Burroughs’ persistence eventually bore fruit when the novel became a classic.

Even Tarzan's author got rejected!

Sometimes they get a little personal, as with the rejection for Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises:

“If I may be frank, Mr. Hemingway — you certainly are in your prose — I found your efforts to be both tedious and offensive.”

And finally, one bonus rejection: Dr. Seuss’ first book, And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, was rejected 27 times. Where would we all be without a little Seuss in our life?

So there you have it: it happens to the best of us, but you can’t let it get you down! Is one of your favorite authors on this list? Have a rejection story of your own that you’ve learned from? Let us know in the comments!

12 thoughts on “5 Famous Authors Who Were Rejected by Publishers”

  1. I was so sold on my book manuscript “They Said It Couldn’t Be Done,” that I took a huge chance, back in those days, and submitted it to several publishers at once. On the very same day I got two rejections, one said the book was dumb and dry and didn’t have a chance, the other, from E.P. Dutton, said it was “one of the best ideas we’ve seen in a long time,” and offered a contract. The book has done well over the years, although it is now no longer published. Who knows about rejection slips?

  2. Offie Wortham

    I want to know if Lulu can help me produce a high-quality book as good as I could get with Amazon publishers? Can Lulu help me market the book as well as Amazon could?

  3. I have a story that I would like to self-publish but do not know how to go about it and whether i should get it illustrated first before or do you also provide a choice of illustrators?
    Maria Sardi

  4. Hi you guys
    I’m just doing laundry then probably take a nap whoa I’m beat, Cretaceous Too was rejected many several times, they said the same thing, no one is writing poetry stories & lyrics for one collection at this point in time, I took it as a compliment

  5. I would like to point out though that not everyone uses Lulu or other self-publishing venues because they *couldn’t* get published by a traditional publisher. Some of us are widely published in the traditional press, we just know that in some cases we’ll make more going it alone.

  6. @Maria – As a do-it-yourself publishing site, we print and distribute the file that authors upload. So, you should have your book’s illustrations completed before you upload the manuscript. We do however offer paid services – including illustration – if you need help.

  7. @Offie – yes, of course we provide high quality printed products. Our standard line is equivalent to Amazon products. We also have a premium and hardcover formats from which you can choose. We also offer print and eBook distribution to all online bookstores – including Amazon.

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