No matter how long you’ve been writing, it’s important never to give up. It’s something we at AutoCrit, and countless successful authors across the globe, stress time and time again when the question is asked: Just how hard is it to get a book published?
In this line of work, rejection is common – and a thick skin is something you need to develop, fast.
But tenacity is even more essential.
Despite the rise of self-publishing, the thought of one day winning over dozens of people at a publishing house and landing that coveted advance check still inspires millions of would-be chart-topping authors.
But in an increasingly competitive market squeezed by recession, rising costs and competing technology, the harsh reality is that to get a book published by traditional methods isn’t close to easy for most.
That’s why it’s often a good thing to remember that even the most esteemed writers served their time in the slush pile before their work felt the comforting support of a book store’s shelves.
So if you’re currently waiting for responses to your latest submissions, or just feeling disheartened about reception so far, read on and discover these authors’ stories of publishing woe… and eventual triumph.
Hopefully, they’ll help put things into a more comforting perspective.
J. K. Rowling
Rowling’s origin story is widely known, but always worth repeating. As a single mother scraping by in a tiny flat in the city of Edinburgh, she was forced to rely on state welfare and spent her spare time writing Harry Potter in cafés, her small daughter asleep in the stroller next to her.
“An exceptionally short-lived marriage had imploded, and I was jobless, a lone parent, and as poor as it is possible to be in modern Britain, without being homeless. By every usual standard, I was the biggest failure I knew,” Rowling said during a Harvard University commencement speech in 2008.
When Rowling finished the first in the Harry Potter series, it received 12 publishing rejections in a row before the eight-year-old daughter of a Bloomsbury editor demanded to read the rest of the book. The rest is history.
As a young man, the master of horror received a great many rejections before his writing career took off. In On Writing, he says that throughout the entire time he was trying to get a book published, he pinned every rejection letter up on his wall with a nail.
“By the time I was fourteen,” King said, “the nail in my wall would no longer support the weight of the rejection slips impaled upon it. I replaced the nail with a spike and went on writing.”
King’s success stands as the benchmark for many novelists — a career that has spanned decades and continues today with the imminent release of the film adaptation of his series The Dark Tower.
The beloved children’s author and creator of Peter Rabbit was a pioneer of self-publishing – a hundred years before the appearance of the Kindle made it commonplace. When rejections began to pile up for her “bunny book”, Potter decided to take matters into her own hands. The Tale of Peter Rabbit enjoyed its first printing run, limited to 250 copies, in 1901 at Potter’s own personal expense. Illustrated with 41 black and white woodblock engravings and a colour frontispiece, it proved so successful that within a year it was picked up by one of the six publishers who had originally turned it down. By Christmas 1902, the book had sold 20,000 copies.
Were it not for pure dumb luck, we’d have never had the chance to enjoy The Grinch Who Stole Christmas or Green Eggs and Ham. Theodor Seuss Geisel withstood between 20 and 43 rejections – according to his varied recollections – from publishers when he tried to sell his first story, And To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street.
According to Geisel, he was walking home to burn the manuscript when he bumped into an old Dartmouth classmate who happened to work at Vanguard Press, and the two struck up a conversation. The book was published shortly afterward, and the entire world has enjoyed his works ever since.
Now a curriculum classic, Lord of the Flies did not enjoy early success. Published in 1954, it was Golding’s first novel, and was rejected over 20 times by various publishers. When it was eventually picked up by Faber & Faber, it sold fewer than three thousand copies in the United States during 1955 before going out of print. Golding went on to write several more – and much better received – novels, such as Pincher Martin and The Spire, and later won both the Nobel Prize for Literature and the Booker Prize. Only then did the public rediscover Lord of the Flies and it went on to become a best-seller, adapted twice for film.
Stories like these are rife amongst the ranks of the most revered authors throughout history. How hard is it to get a book published? Extremely. Yet knowing such talented authors as these almost went unheard is a testament to grit, and a reminder to never give up.
As Winston Churchill said: If you’re going through hell, just keep going!