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12 Famous Writers on Literary Rejection

“This manuscript of yours that has just come back from another editor is a precious package. Don’t consider it rejected. Consider that you’ve addressed it ‘to the editor who can appreciate my work’ and it has simply come back stamped ‘Not at this address’. Just keep looking for the right address.” – Barbara Kingsolver
David Mitchell Quote
“I got a rejection letter from an editor at HarperCollins, who included a report from his professional reader. This report shredded my first-born novel, laughed at my phrasing, twirled my lacy pretensions around and gobbed into the seething mosh pit of my stolen clichés. As I read the report, the world became very quiet and stopped rotating. What poisoned me was the fact that the report’s criticisms were all absolutely true. The sound of my landlady digging in the garden got the world moving again. I slipped the letter into the trash…knowing I’d remember every word.” – David Mitchell
“Rejections 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
“I love my rejection slips. They show me I try.” – Sylvia Plath
“You have to know how to accept rejection and reject acceptance.” – Ray Bradbury
“Any reviewer who expresses rage and loathing for a novel is preposterous. He or she is like a person who has put on full armor and attacked a hot fudge sundae.” – Kurt Vonnegut
“Every rejection is incremental payment on your dues that in some way will be translated back into your work.” – James Lee Burke
“Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.”  – Neil Gaiman 


“I discovered that rejections are not altogether a bad thing. They teach a writer to rely on his own judgment and to say in his heart of hearts, ‘To hell with you.’“ – Saul Bellow
Anita Sheve Quote
“To ward off a feeling of failure, she joked that she could wallpaper her bathroom with rejection slips, which she chose not to see as messages to stop, but rather as tickets to the game.” – Anita Shreve 
JK Rowling Quote“Often, you have to fail as a writer before you write that bestselling novel or ground-breaking memoir. If you’re failing as a writer – which it definitely feels like when you’re struggling to write regularly or can’t seem to earn a living as a freelance writer – maybe you need to take a long-term perspective.” – J.K. Rowling  
Chuck Wendig Quote
“Rejection has value. It teaches us when our work or our skillset is not good enough and must be made better. This is a powerful revelation, like the burning UFO wheel seen by the prophet Ezekiel, or like the McRib sandwich shaped like the Virgin Mary seen by the prophet Steve Jenkins. Rejection refines us. Those who fall prey to its enervating soul-sucking tentacles are doomed. Those who persist past it are survivors. Best ask yourself the question: what kind of writer are you? The kind who survives? Or the kind who gets asphyxiated by the tentacles of woe?” – Chuck Wendig



  1. 12 October 2014 / 2:10 pm

    Interesting post with a range of insights. I was struck by how considerate most agents’ letters were while I was querying my novel. They were rejections, but gentle ones nevertheless.

    • 18 February 2021 / 5:31 pm

      I realize you left this comment six years ago and might no longer even be living. However, for what it’s worth, I feel compelled to reply. Could the reason only four out of twelve writers were women be as simple as that’s how many responded to a survey/ questionnaire? Could it be those were the best quotes the writer found? Could the answer be that simple? Does everything, even down to this relatively inconsequential article, have to be equal at all times? I fully understand the struggles women have endured and continue to endure, but really? This comment just struck me as completely unnecessary and trivial.

      • A. De Beauvais
        18 May 2021 / 10:44 am

        Hm, but what’s yet more unnecessary, in my view, is your reaction to Annette’s comment. Women’s achievements have historically been under-represented in the literary world, and indeed continue to be. There is nothing wrong with pointing out representation discrepancies; that is how we grow as a society.

  2. 13 July 2015 / 6:37 pm

    I have romanticised every rejection that has come my way. I almost brag it like I have won an Oscar. When you hit glory, failures are your ex-lovers, your muses

  3. Steve Goldman
    10 March 2016 / 6:08 am

    I don’t know. When you’re at it long enough, you know when you’ve got it right. That’s all we can ever hope for. If you know it’s right, screw the rejecting editor.

  4. steve davis
    5 February 2017 / 12:44 pm

    women traditionally haven’t had the same luxury as men for suffering through long-term rejection. Men can generally live closer to the edge for longer periods of time. Women often wind up with kids or taking care of households–at least, until roughly the past 40 years or so.

  5. 17 March 2017 / 5:52 pm

    Yes, I noticed this too and thought how disappointing it was 🙁

  6. 31 October 2019 / 11:52 am

    I got my first rejection in the spring of 2013. I should tell you that this 30 October, 2019 I have been 77 years old for some months. Anyway, my manuscript editor demanded I send it out again, which I did. Unfortunately, in today’s world, while the predators called vanity publishers are not as ubiquitous as they used to be, I fell to another predator, a POD (Print On Demand) publisher. There was virtually no marketing help, and when I fell ill, by which time I had given them my sequel, my sales collapsed and my publisher “fired” me. Now, no agent will look at this memoir set.

    I recommend staying away from POD publishers and fighting to get a real publisher or agent to look at it. I have not been able to do that, and the rejections are no help. It’s already been published and they won’t read it, even though I hold the copyright.

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