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The Writer’s Rejection: Adding Insult to Injury (Inspiration & Fun Quiz!)

Note: This is a guest post by Karen Sargent. Karen anxiously awaits the release of her debut novel Waiting for Butterflies (Walrus, 2017). Visit Karen at Karen Sargent Books and at her blog.

The good ol’ rejection letter. At its best, a rejection tells us we’re close but not quite—so we keep trying. At its worst, rejection forces us into a cavernous pit of humiliation and defeat, and we vow to never write again. (Until the next day, that is.)


We weigh our pile of rejections and remind ourselves the most exalted of authors suffered strings of rejection before their bestsellers made it into print. We cling to this oft stated fact and we take heart.

But even more heartening may be the insults found in some rejection letters received by aspiring authors of the past, insults that surely added to the injury of rejection. Yet, the writers persisted against doubt and defeat to become literary icons.

So, if you find yourself facing yet another disappointment, consider the insults below. Try to match each to the author it was intended for. Your latest rejection might not seem so bad after all.


A. “Undisciplined, rambling, and thoroughly amateurish writer.”
B. “I recommend that it be buried under a stone for a thousand years.”
C. After reading a manuscript submitted a second time under a pseudonym, the editor wrote “it’s still not much of a novel.”
D. “I think the verdict will be, ‘Oh, don’t read that horrid book.’”
E. “We feel that we don’t know the central character well enough.”
F. “[It] doesn’t…have a special perception or feeling which would lift that book above the ‘curiosity level.’”
G. “This will set publishing back 25 years.” (Two-time Pulitzer Prize winner.)
H. “This author is beyond psychiatric help. Do not publish.”
I. “Good God, I can’t publish this.”
J. “We are not interested in science fiction which deals with negative utopias. They do not sell.”


1. H. G. Wells, The War of the Worlds
2. Stephen King, Carrie
3. Jacqueline Susann, Valley of the Dolls
4. Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar
5. J. G. Ballard, Crash
6. William Faulkner, Sanctuary
7. Norman Mailer, The Deer Park
8. J. D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye
9. Anne Frank, The Diary of Anne Frank
10. Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita

Rejection doesn’t mean THE END. It means your novel could sell millions of copies and spend months on the New York Times bestseller list. Rejection could mean your book will be translated into different languages or made into a movie. Or maybe it means you could win the Pulitzer Prize. Twice.

But there’s one thing it means for certain. You. Must. Not. Give. Up.

If you have an experience with rejection that could inspire others, feel free to share it in the comments below.

(Answers: 1D, 2J, 3A, 4C, 5H, 6I, 7G, 8E, 9F, 10B) Sources: Litrejections.com & Authors.me

About Bryan Hutchinson

I'm a positive writer and when that doesn't work, I eat chocolate. I help fellow writers overcome doubt and thrive! In my free time, I love visiting castles with my wife, Joan. Join me on Twitter and Facebook.

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Like a good friend, Bryan guides you through the process of facing your inner demons, conquering the craft, and creating work that matters. ―Jeff Goins



  • Katharine

    Never been insulted. Thankful for that.
    However, I did receive a second rejection letter from the same house, for the same book, about a year later, although I only submitted it once, and it was accepted the first time, then later rejected.
    Idk. They were in the process of creating a second office, in a big city…maybe a goof. We all make ’em, right?

    • Karen Sargent

      Wow, Katharine. What a heartbreak! Did you continue to submit the ms? Like Paul Harvey used to say…I’m curious about “the rest of the story.”

      • Katharine

        No, I’ve consulted with an editor from Tor, who advised I resubmit after waiting awhile. I really like the house I sent to, and really don’t want any other to publish for me. So, I am preparing it, now, for resubmission Can’t hurt.
        It has taken me awhile to recover, though! The first rejection was a shock, since it was like a form letter, after I’d been accepted. When the second arrived, I should have opened it right away, but (silly me!) I thought and dreamed about what it might be saying, such as, “Now that we’re all moved over to the new place, we realize we goofed.”
        Ah, well!

        • Karen Sargent

          I’m so glad the story continues! Best wishes as you are preparing to resubmit! And YAY YOU for not giving up!

          • Katharine

            Thanks! Not givin’ up now, no!

    • Dian

      Wow. Ultimate Ouch.

      • Katharine

        Thanks for your sympathy, Dian! 😉

  • Keith D Guernsey
    • Karen Sargent

      Congrats, Keith!

  • Cecelia Lester (Quiet Spirit)

    I once submitted a Christmas play to a regional publisher. The market guide said, “Response in six months.” I waited and waited. At the nine month mark, I received a letter that said, “I have no place for your play.” And another time I sent something to a devotional magazine and they sent me a rejection letter that crushed me. I have just begun to search for a market will accept my Christian work. I recently sent something to a devotional publication are received a response back that the publication will not be published after March of next year. The first one frosted me-nine months. The second one made me call it quits in submitting. The third one upset me because they had already made their choices for who would be writing for them for 2017. I considered this one a kiss of death type of letter.

    • Karen Sargent

      Ouch, Cecelia! I feel your pain! I’m actually at a writers’ conference right now, and many of the 550 authors here are unpublished. We’ve been sharing rejection stories around the table during meals. But there is one recurring theme in all our conversations: resilience! So don’t give up! I’ve tried to submit a couple devotionals myself…rejected. Then I discovered there is actually a formula for writing devotionals! Do you know about the formula? If not, Google it. Maybe that could help??? Just don’t give up!