The World's Thickest Skins


Records and Anecdotes About Rejection:

Rejection. The bane of our profession. Those emails, or in the old         days, slips of paper, which discourage writers, make them question why they bother, and may even cause them to abandon their dreams. Some don’t even get this far. Sometimes people are so reluctant to risk rejection they don’t send their stories out, or even allow another person to read them.
When I’m interested in something, it very often turns into an obsession. I tend to dwell on the facts, the actual statistics. Therefore, when I decided to discuss rejections, it got me to thinking – what was the highest number of rejections a particular unpublished story received, or an eventually published book, or the most by one author for multiple submissions?
Obviously, determining the number of rejections isn’t as objective as something like a major league player’s home runs, or an element’s atomic weight, or how many number one hit records a musician had. Presumably, an author could save every rejection letter, and produce them if necessary, but I’m relying on their honesty, and the honesty of the websites that reported most of these.
I didn’t spend months researching this, so it’s entirely possible I may have missed some. In addition, some authors, especially under or unpublished ones, might not broadcast their totals out of embarrassment, so there’s that, too.
Without further qualification, here’s what I came up with. (Clearly, with a few exceptions, these were all fantastically successful books/authors. Some totals include agent rejections along with publishers.)
Most rejections – one manuscript/book:
245 – Gilbert Young, for “World Government Crusade”. The English Mr. Young wrote this political treatise in 1958 and endured this staggering total over the next 30 years. So many, he claimed to have run out of publishers to try. The eventual fate of this book is a bit murky – he made the Guinness Book in the 1970’s (with the 106 rejections he’d gotten at that point) and several articles in 1988 claimed the 245 number. However, Amazon listed this title as being published in 1988, but it was currently unavailable. The publisher was listed as “G. Young”, so I’m assuming it was self-published.
217 – Bill Gordon, for “How Many Books Do You Sell in Ohio?” copyrighted 1986. After achieving this total, he started his own publishing company and put this book out, which makes one wonder if he would have overtaken Mr. Young if he hadn’t. Plus, is self-publishing cheating in this case?
123 (133?) – Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen, for the first “Chicken Soup for the Soul” published in 1993. Huge bestseller, and spawned a huge series – over 200 books! Both of these men are listed as owning the publishing company that put this out, so maybe this could be considered self-published, too.
121 – Robert Pirsig, for “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” published in 1974.
112+ – Darcie Chan, for “The Mill River Recluse” published 2011.
111 – James Lee Burke, for “The Lost Get-Back Boogie” published in 1986.
60+ – Vince Flynn, for “Term Limits” self-published initially, in 1997.
60 – Kathryn Stockett, for “The Help” published in 2009.
38 – Margaret Mitchell, for “Gone With The Wind” published in 1936.
26 (29?) – Madelaine L’ Engle, for “A Wrinkle in Time” published in 1962.
Feeling better yet?
To defend the publishers/editors/agents a little, we don’t know the follow-up. Presumably, they realized later how wrong they’d been, and you’d like to think they admitted this, and apologized to the author, maybe even publicly. Of course, there is the nature of creative endeavors – their subjectivity. Some books, no matter how successful, how classic they’re considered by millions of readers, simply don’t appeal to some individuals.
Which makes the publishers wrong about how well they’d sell or be appreciated by others, but not incorrect about their personal opinion. I’m sure we can all think of examples of best-selling books we think are actually terrible.   
Here’s a few editors’ quotes to various famous and successful authors, which came back to bite them on the butt:

Read the entire article in the May 2023 issue of InD'Tale magazine.

You can just click on the magazine image on the left hand side of our home page to open and enjoy!


If you would like to receive the magazine every month (for FREE!) , just sign up on our home page. Once you do, an e-mail validation notice will be sent directly to you. Just open and click the link and you're in - forever!  Each month the magazine will be delivered directly to your inbox to downlad and read!