back to top
Community

Yours Truly: Ruthless Blurbs from the Rejection Letters of 10 Celebrated Authors

Everyone gets rejected at some time or another, but you can always take solace in knowing that you’re in good company.

Posted on

On this day (February 9) in 1926, Hemingway ended his contract with his first publisher, Boni and Liveright, who rejected his novella The Torrents of Spring. The company claimed: “It would be in extremely rotten taste, to say nothing of being horribly cruel, should we want to publish this.”

It’s hard to imagine Papa ever facing rejection — in fact, some have even argued that Hemingway wrote the novella to break his contract with Boni and Liveright, thereby becoming free to sign one with Scribner. (Biographers beg to differ; they call it an honest rejection.) Scribner did proudly accept Torrents and also published The Sun Also Rises that same year. Hemingway went on to enjoy a long relationship with the house and his editor Maxwell Perkins. If anything, his rejection from Boni and Liveright was proof that sometimes rejection leads people to bigger and better things.

In the moment, rejection is tough. People can say rotten things and sometimes spirits are broken, but you can always take solace in knowing that you’re in good company. These are nine more celebrated writers who received their fair share of insults:

1. Alice Munro: “Easily Overlooked,” “Quickly Forgotten,” “Hopelessly Unsaleable” (Knopf)Munro was rejected from Knopf on more than one occasion before she got her start. Her first story collection, Dance of the Happy Shades, was dismissed for being “nothing particularly new or exciting” by editor Judith Jones. But Jones didn’t stop there: She called the work “easily overlooked” and “quickly forgotten.” Still, Munro kept at it and submitted her first novel, Lives of Girls and Women to Knopf two years later. Editor Judith Jones had another look at Munro’s work and argued the novel “[wasn’t] much of a literary gem” and was “hopelessly unsaleable.” She even rejected Munro on the basis that she was “primarily a short story writer.” To be fair, Munro did go on to win the Nobel Prize in Literature as “master of the contemporary short story.”

1. Alice Munro: “Easily Overlooked,” “Quickly Forgotten,” “Hopelessly Unsaleable” (Knopf)

Munro was rejected from Knopf on more than one occasion before she got her start. Her first story collection, Dance of the Happy Shades, was dismissed for being “nothing particularly new or exciting” by editor Judith Jones. But Jones didn’t stop there: She called the work “easily overlooked” and “quickly forgotten.” Still, Munro kept at it and submitted her first novel, Lives of Girls and Women to Knopf two years later. Editor Judith Jones had another look at Munro’s work and argued the novel “[wasn’t] much of a literary gem” and was “hopelessly unsaleable.” She even rejected Munro on the basis that she was “primarily a short story writer.” To be fair, Munro did go on to win the Nobel Prize in Literature as “master of the contemporary short story.”

2. Kurt Vonnegut: “Not Quite Compelling Enough” (The Atlantic)Twenty years before the publication of Slaughterhouse Five (a novel that took Vonnegut 23 years to write and publish), the author submitted three samples of his work to The Atlantic Monthly — one of which was an account of the firebombing in Dresden, which Slaughterhouse is famed for recounting. The rejection letter declares Vonnegut’s pieces as part of the “usual summer house-cleaning” of the manuscript slush pile and turns down his pieces because they are “not quite compelling enough.” Today, the letter is hung proudly in the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library in Indianapolis.

2. Kurt Vonnegut: “Not Quite Compelling Enough” (The Atlantic)

Twenty years before the publication of Slaughterhouse Five (a novel that took Vonnegut 23 years to write and publish), the author submitted three samples of his work to The Atlantic Monthly — one of which was an account of the firebombing in Dresden, which Slaughterhouse is famed for recounting. The rejection letter declares Vonnegut’s pieces as part of the “usual summer house-cleaning” of the manuscript slush pile and turns down his pieces because they are “not quite compelling enough.” Today, the letter is hung proudly in the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library in Indianapolis.

3. Gertrude Stein: “Hardly One Copy Would Sell” (Arthur C. Fifield)Despite being one of Stein’s most widely taught novels today, Three Lives was practically impossible to get published at the time it was written. Publishers hated it and even sent mocking rejection letters, like this one:Dear Madam,I am only one, only one, only one. Only one being, one at the same time. Not two, not three, only one. Only one life to live, only sixty minutes in one hour. Only one pair of eyes. Only one brain. Only one being. Being only one, having only one pair of eyes, having only one time, having only one life, I cannot read your M.S. three or four times. Not even one time. Only one look, only one look is enough. Hardly one copy would sell here. Hardly one. Hardly one.Many thanks. I am returning the M.S. by registered post. Only one M.S. by one post.Sincerely yours,A. C. FifieldEven after Stein decided to turn to a vanity publisher (the early 20th century equivalent of self-publishing), she could only afford to print 500 copies, many of which she sent to publishers with the hope that it could become a commercial success. Still, it wasn’t well received. It faced rejections from H. G. Wells, George Bernard Shaw, W. E. B. Du Bois and Booker T. Washington. In 1933, a little more than 20 years later, the celebrity of Stein’s “The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas” afforded her wider readership and critical acclaim. Today, Three Lives is known as one of Stein’s most approachable works.

3. Gertrude Stein: “Hardly One Copy Would Sell” (Arthur C. Fifield)

Despite being one of Stein’s most widely taught novels today, Three Lives was practically impossible to get published at the time it was written. Publishers hated it and even sent mocking rejection letters, like this one:

Dear Madam,

I am only one, only one, only one. Only one being, one at the same time. Not two, not three, only one. Only one life to live, only sixty minutes in one hour. Only one pair of eyes. Only one brain. Only one being. Being only one, having only one pair of eyes, having only one time, having only one life, I cannot read your M.S. three or four times. Not even one time. Only one look, only one look is enough. Hardly one copy would sell here. Hardly one. Hardly one.

Many thanks. I am returning the M.S. by registered post. Only one M.S. by one post.

Sincerely yours,

A. C. Fifield

Even after Stein decided to turn to a vanity publisher (the early 20th century equivalent of self-publishing), she could only afford to print 500 copies, many of which she sent to publishers with the hope that it could become a commercial success. Still, it wasn’t well received. It faced rejections from H. G. Wells, George Bernard Shaw, W. E. B. Du Bois and Booker T. Washington. In 1933, a little more than 20 years later, the celebrity of Stein’s “The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas” afforded her wider readership and critical acclaim. Today, Three Lives is known as one of Stein’s most approachable works.

KEEP READING ...

This post was created by a member of BuzzFeed Community, where anyone can post awesome lists and creations. Learn more or post your buzz!