Posted by: Kathy Temean | November 29, 2011

What’s Your Rejection Letter Threshold?

After reading about so many rejected famous authors, I thought you might draw enough inspiration to keep writing and illustrating and continue to submit after reading this post.


Author Dick Wimmer passed away on May 18, 2011, at 74 years old. He received 160+ rejections over 25 years! He spent a quarter of a century being told “no.”

He could have quit after 20 years, or 150 rejections, and no one would have blamed him. But he kept submitting. Maybe he had his own list of famous author rejection letters to keep him going!

Finally, his novel Irish Wine (Mercury House, 1989) was published to positive reviews. The New York Times called it a “taut, finely written, exhaustingly exuberant first novel.”


Dr. Seuss got rejection letters, too. Here is one:
“too different from other juveniles on the market to warrant its selling.”

Here’s a rejection letter for THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK:
“The girl doesn’t, it seems to me, have a special perception or feeling which would lift that book above the ‘curiosity’ level.”

Madeleine L”Engle’s A WRINKLE IN TIME was turned down 29 times.

Jerry Spinelli was rejected for 15 years, before getting his first book contract for SPACE STATION SEVENTH GRADE.

THE TALE OF PETER RABBIT was turned down so many times, Beatrix Potter initially self-published it.

Rudyard Kipling received this: “I’m sorry, Mr. Kipling, but you just don’t know how to use the English language.” Editor of the San Francisco Examiner.

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.”

Here is a rejection letter for Harry Potter:
30 June 1997

Dear Mr./Mrs./Ms./Miss J.K. Rowling:

At this time, we must decline your submission of HARRY POTTER AND THE PHILOSOPHER’S STONE. Unfortunately, the manuscript reeks of being completed on a manual typewriter. For heaven’s sake, it is 1997. Do you own a computer?

The second major problem with this manuscript is its sheer length. Who do you think you are, Charles Dickens? We don’t pay by the word here. Plus, how do you expect parents to muddle through 309 pages to explain the characters, plot, subplots and themes to their children? What if the child has to do a book report on this thing? Can you imagine how long the CliffsNotes would have to be? Also, if parents and children spent time actually perusing the book together, the hours they would be stuck in the same room would be agonizing. Bringing families together is not something you would like to have on your conscience, I guarantee it.

In addition, the subject matter of HARRY POTTER AND THE PHILOSOPHER’S STONE leaves a bit to be desired. Why would children want to read about a dorky, bespectacled tween’s experiences with the world of wizards and magic? And what about the lightning bolt on the main character’s forehead? What does it mean? How did it get there? Will it be gone when puberty hits?

Finally, children’s books today are cultivated mainly for transition to the big screen. Undeniably, this one manuscript would translate into a seven-hour film (or at least a three-night TV miniseries). In addition, the manuscript’s ending foreshadows a second and even third installment in the series—maybe more. How will a competent director find child actors who can stay sober and out of jail long enough to play the characters to fruition?

Mr./Mrs./Ms./Miss Rowling, we appreciate your enthusiastic approach to such a dark subject. However, in this day and age, we must admonish you against penning such large manuscripts. One day, people will probably spend their time communicating with each other via e-mail only—or worse, a sort of shorthand somehow transmitted over the telephone. Your manuscript would serve as merely a dinosaur in this technical age.

Harriet Plotter,
Senior Editor

PS: Actually, this one is a joke, but it is only funny because we can truley imagine it to be true.

Rejected: The Left Hand of Darkness, a novel by Ursula K. Le Guin

In 1968, Le Guin‘s agent received this rejection letter with regard to her novel, The Left Hand of Darkness. This “unreadable” book, so described by the editor whose note is above and whose identity Le Guin protects, went on not only to be published but also to win the 1969 Nebula Award for Best Novel and the 1970 Hugo award — only two of many more the author has racked up. Considered one of the greatest fantasy writers of our time, Le Guin is held on par with Tolkien by scholars and is often regarded as the first to produce feminist texts within her genre.

Here are some links to read more:

So what is your rejection letter threshold? Take heart, keep your chin up and keep submitting!

Talk tomorrow,



  1. Excellent question, Kathy 🙂 Mine is pretty high, I think. I haven’t nearly hit my possible “limit” with any of books, especially since I’ve slowed down my submissions to a near halt. (I need to work on something specific before I can submit my work to an agent, so I’m not actively submitting just now.)

    I find it amazing the things that have been said about these books and how “off the mark” they were. Are you sure the Harry Potter one is real? I’m pretty sure that’s one that was written to show how ridiculous rejection letters can be.

    Anyway, good point as to NOT STOP TRYING! 😀 Thanks!


    • Yes, I can’t imagine that Potter letter is real.


      • Mary and Donna,

        I’m not sure about that, since it has appeared on places like Writer’s Digest.



      • Yeah, but I remember there being an article or something somewhere (very possibly Writer’s Digest) with bogus rejection letters of successful books. I REALLY wish I could remember where, and that one sounds too familiar to me. It’s also signed “Harriet Plotter.” lol Pretty funny, I think!


    • Donna,

      I need to start submitting, too. I remember the time about eight or nine years ago when I decided to submit to artist reps and to editors. I sent out a bunch of submissions to both and then the double rejections started coming in. That was really tough.

      You could be right about the Harry Potter letter, but it has been published on Writer’s Digest. You would think they would vet those things.



  2. Thank you. Needed this post today;)


  3. Rejections are like a rite of passage. Or like having to sit the bench the first year you play softball. They maim but fill you with determination at the same time 🙂


    • Agreed! We all have to pay our dues…


    • Jan,

      Good way to look at it. Of course, there is a big difference between sitting on the bench for one year, compared to sitting there for fifteen. I wish we all could sit on the bench for one year. Wouldn’t that be grand?



  4. great post! Thanks for putting it all together.


  5. The Harry Potter letter was written by in response to a Writer’s Digest reject-a-hit challenge: What harsh rejection letters might the authors of some of our favorite hit books have had to endure? It was written by Kinda S. Lenberg of Colorado Springs, Colo., who “cracked up the WD editors by imagining the early trials and tribulations of a now-superstar wizard.”

    It is very funny, indeed, but not one of Rowling’s actual rejection letters.


    • Thanks for checking it out, Cheryl. I KNEW they had something like that, but it’s got to be from at least a year or two ago, I think. It was a lot of fun to read 🙂


    • Cheryl,

      Thanks for clearing that up. Just shows how incorrect information can get out on the internet. It is very funny. Thanks for letting us know. I put a PS: under the letter to make sure future readers know it is not real.



  6. How wonderful that so many of our stellar authors were rejected so often yet persevered, not only to be published but become famous! Yup, it gives us hope!


    • Jeanne,

      That was my goal in posting. Sometimes, it is hard to keep the faith.



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