This page will be devoted to seeking inspiration from the toils and struggles of other published authors. In reality, most authors do not strike it big with their first book. For every Stephanie Meyer and Tom Clancy, there are hundreds of authors like Stephen King and Nora Robert who write several books before hitting a home run. This started as part of our monthly Writer’s Group meeting. I would research a different, best-selling author every month or so and share their path to writing immortality. Figured I could post these for encouragement to others.
Joanne K. Rowling
She received 12 rejection letters (according to Wikipedia, “a lot of rejections” according to her official website) before finding a publisher who agreed to publish her first manuscript, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Seven years after graduating from university, Rowling saw herself as “the biggest failure I knew.” Her marriage had failed, she was jobless with a dependent child, and she was diagnosed with clinical depression and even contemplated suicide (it was during this time that she came up with the idea for the Dementors in her books). She started writing Harry Potter in 1990, but she had to deal with the death of her mother, a divorce, and raising her daughter (born in 1993) as a single mother. Following her divorce, Rowling returned to school to finish her teaching degree and lived on Social Security. Meanwhile, she struggled to find time to work on her manuscript and would write whenever her daughter was sleeping. When she finished the manuscript in 1995, it took more than a year before her agent was able to find a publisher, and even then, her editor, Barry Cunningham at Bloomsbury, advised Rowling to get a day job, since she had little chance of making money in children’s books. Her Harry Potter books have now sold more than 400 million copies worldwide to become the best-selling book series in history. In 2011, Forbes magazine estimated Rowling’s net worth to be about $1 billion dollars.
Judy Blume describes herself as a lifelong avid reader and says she always made up stories in her head, but she did not start writing the stories down until her children started preschool. She had this to say about rejection: “I would go to sleep at night feeling that I’d never be published. But I’d wake up in the morning convinced I would be. Each time I sent a story or book off to a publisher, I would sit down and begin something new. I was learning more with each effort. I was determined. Determination and hard work are as important as talent.” It took Ms. Blume 2 years before any of her work was accepted. Her books have now sold more than 80 million copies.
She first met her husband in high school, and despite her parents’ wishes, they married in 1968 as soon as they graduated. The thing I love about Nora Roberts is that she was a stay-at-home mom for their two sons and she spent much of her time doing crafts, ceramics, and sewing her children’s clothes. She didn’t begin writing until she was housebound with the boys during a blizzard in February 1979. Roberts states that with three feet of snow, a dwindling supply of chocolate, and no morning kindergarten she had little else to do. While writing down her ideas for the first time, she fell in love with the writing process, and quickly produced six manuscripts. She got several rejections until 1980 when a new publisher of romance novels, Silhouette Books, gave her a home. She published 23 romance novels from 1982 to 1984, but didn’t hit the bestseller list until 1985 when she released Playing the Odds. As of 2009, her novels had spent a combined 806 weeks on the New York Times Bestseller List, including 100 weeks in the number-one spot. Over 400 million copies of her books are in print, including 12 million copies sold in 2005 alone. Over the last 28 years, an average of 27 Nora Roberts books were sold every minute. She ranks 25th on the list of all-time, best-selling fiction authors.
Early in her career Nora wrote in notebooks and then on a portable typewriter in a corner of her kitchen so she could keep an eye on her two small sons. She worked her writing in between her sons’ daily pre-school and nap schedules. When they were both in school full time, her writing schedule mirrored theirs, although she put in extra hours over the weekend. Now, after almost 200 books and countless bestsellers, she writes eight hours a day — every day and looks back at that February blizzard as a blessing in disguise.
An Interview with Gerald Lund on Writing
For more about Gerald Lund or this interview, see my post about it him at http://www.jeffreyolsen.com/?p=322
Rejection Letter Excerpts received by Famous Authors (courtesy of David Farland’s ‘Daily Kick in the Pants’ newsletter)
- “The girl doesn’t, it seems to me, have a special perception or feeling which would lift that book above the ‘curiosity’ level.” The book — The Diary of Anne Frank.
- “It is impossible to sell animal stories in the USA” in a rejection letter regarding the book Animal Farm.
- “A very bad book..” Told to Pierre Boulle about his “Bridge Over River Kwai“
- “The book is not publishable.’ regarding – “Who Killed Viriginia Wolfe?”
- “…too different from other juveniles on the market to warrant its selling” told to Dr. Seuss, about his book And To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street.
- “This is a work of almost-genius – genius in the power of its expression – almost in the sense of its enormous bitterness. I wish there were an audience for a book of this kind. But there isn’t. It won’t sell.” told to Ayn Rand about her book The Fountainhead
- “Jonathan Livingston Seagull will never make it as a paperback” the book written by Richard Bach ended up selling more than 8 million copies.
- “…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 cliché in all the books, lets every good scene fall apart in endless talk and allows her book to ramble aimlessly …” The author was Jacqueline Susann and the book was “Valley of the Dolls“
- “An endless nightmare. I do not believe it would “take”…I think the verdict would be ‘Oh don’t read that horrid book’.” This was written about The War of The Worlds by H.G. Wells. Here is another wonderful critique Mr. Wells received about The Time Machine; “It is not interesting enough for the general reader and not thorough enough for the scientific reader.”
- “This will set publishing back 25 years,” written about The Deer Park by Norman Mailer
- “We are not interested in science fiction which deals with negative utopias. They do not sell.” Written about Carrie by Stephen King
- ‘Do you realize, young woman, that you’re the first American writer ever to poke fun at sex.’ Gentlemen Prefer Blondes by Anita Loos
- ‘I haven’t really the foggiest idea about what the man is trying to say… Apparently the author intends it to be funny – possibly even satire – but it is really not funny on any intellectual level … From your long publishing experience you will know that it is less disastrous to turn down a work of genius than to turn down talented mediocrities.’ The author was Joseph Heller – the book was Catch – 22.
- “It would be extremely rotten taste, to say nothing of being horribly cruel, should we want to publish it.” Was in the rejection letter that Ernest Hemingway received regarding his novel “The Torrents of Spring“
- “an absurd and uninteresting fantasy,” regarding Lord of the Flies
And probably one of the all-time greatest ironic rejections is:
- “You’d have a decent book if you’d get rid of that Gatsby Character.” told to F. Scott Fitzgerald.