Stop Spitting Nails and Turn Off the Waterworks - Famous Books and the Authors Who Were Rejected



Are you sending out queries, but getting no responses? Maybe you’re one of the fortunate ones who’ve passed the query sniff test, and someone lifted your letter from the proverbial slush pile and eyeballed it. Woo-hoo, sound the trumpets! Oops, you still received a big fat, NO! Womp, womp! Did an agent ask for chapters, a partial, or even the full manuscript? Wow, hope soars, “they like me, they really like me.” Uh-oh, not so fast. Cue the tissues. They decide to pass. Splat! Your dreams are squashed. What fresh hell is this?



Hate to break it to ya, sweetheart – there’s no magic bullet for writing success, but there is a magic spell:


Legere scribe usu

Numquam cedere

Rejicere repudiation


As you say the spell, add the following to your cauldron:

Eye of newt, a bezoar, a tablespoon of espresso grounds, two pieces of dark chocolate, a shot of tequila, and a glass of cabernet sauvignon.


Just jokes, I made that up, but here’s a roadmap you can follow. Read, write, and hone your craft. Never give up. Thumb your nose at rejection like a boss. Don’t mosey down a rabbit hole of doubt. Stay in the light.


It may surprise you to know, if you’ve experienced any part of this publishing roller coaster ride, you’re not only in good company, you’re in writing royalty company.

Take a gander at these famous authors and their books that were magnificently rejected:

Chicken Soup for the Soul, by Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen, a self-help compilation of inspiring, true stories, received over a hundred rejections. Yeah, I said over a hundred. Holy dismissal, Batman, that’s a stupendous, tremendous heap of rejections. Well, la di da, the book was finally picked up and published in 1993 and it skyrocketed to the Milky Way and back, earning a spot on the best-seller’s list, and garnering insane success.

To paraphrase Jack Canfield, the authors rejected rejection and persevered. Their first book helped many as did the numerous sequels that followed. The authors churned out over 250 titles and encouraged a generation. Fast-forward to 2021 and the Chicken Soup for the Soul franchise boasts an extensive line of merch including, you guessed it folks, soup.


Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, by J.K. Rowling was rejected plenty before she and her series of amazing books became household names. Since that initial elation of representation, the series of seven novels has sold a staggering number of books, over 450 million and counting. As the story goes, before the fame, success, celebrity, and billionaire status, J.K. Rowling now enjoys, she was a struggling, single, destitute mother. Her books have since impacted millions and inspired a love of reading in children who otherwise frowned upon perusing any tomes. All seven Harry Potter books were made into blockbuster movies; the seventh novel was split into two films. Talk about knockout success, she crushed it. I wonder if she took a swig of Felix Felicis, you know, Liquid Luck! If you don’t know, you must be a Muggle. Run out and purchase book six, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, and you'll be in the know.


Imagine if J.K. Rowling had thrown in her wand because of a dozen or so rejections. The world would never know the boy who lived, with the lightning bolt scar. We would never have heard of Voldemort, tasted Butterbeer, eaten Ice Mice, or munched on a Chocolate Frog. J.K. Rowling essentially yelled, “Protego,” casting a shield charm between her and rejection, and she prevailed as the “chosen one.” The Wizarding World of Harry Potter franchise is a multi-billion-dollar enterprise with tons of swag, including games, clothes, toys, candy, spin-off books, and oodles of other loot.


Carrie, Stephen King’s first book, is a supernatural horror that was rejected by publishers, not ten, not twenty, but over thirty times, many claiming there was no place for a book such as this with its epistolary approach. Yet, once accepted by Doubleday, Carrie launched the author’s prolific career with over a million copies sold to date. It also spawned a movie that scared the bejesus out of people. Since the birth of Carrie, King has penned sixty-three novels, about one-hundred-twenty short stories, twenty novellas, and five nonfiction books, and he’s received abundant awards. More of his novels and subsequent adapted movies provoked terror, nightmares, shock, compassion, empathy, and a hundred other adjectives, in a nation and beyond.


Hmm, if Stephen King had burned the Carrie manuscript and it never saw its day in print, if he had believed the naysayers and abandoned the hope of becoming a published author, readers might not have slept with the lights on after reading, The Shining, had their pants scared off while watching the movie, It, or shed a tear over their popcorn while viewing The Green Mile, adapted from The Green Mile book series. By the way, this once rebuffed author, has, as of 2021, amassed a net worth of over $500 million.


A few additional authors to commiserate with are Lisa Genova, of Still Alice fame, Kathryn Stockett, author of The Help, John Grisham, whose first book, A Time to Kill had trouble getting out of the gate, and even the famous Dr. Seuss with his extensive collection of children’s books, including the beloved, Green Eggs and Ham. It’s sad to say there are many more on this unwanted novel list, but the good news is they made it and you can too. Keep in mind, it’s taken some authors decades to realize their dream of becoming a traditionally published author.



Keep pushing forward. If you’ve exhausted all the traditional avenues, there’s always the self-published route. Many authors have elected this option, and many were later picked up by the big publishing houses. So, stop spitting nails and turn off the waterworks. And please, whatever you do, don’t stop writing or believing!



Hi. I'm Liz Ambrico, freelance proofreader and aspiring author. I too am querying agents, editors, and publishers in hopes of becoming a published author.

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I co-founded and managed a successful author and writer group on Long Island for five years. During events with publishers and authors I learned what matters, what agents are looking for, and the benefits and pitfalls of traditional publishing vs. self-publishing.

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