By John Green
For anyone paying attention to the recent headlines, the media's been making a big to-do of John McCain's editorial getting rejected by the folks at the New York Times. We don't know just how amazing his editorial was, or whether there was talk of optioning the film rights, but we do know rejection. Here are a couple stories to give John McCain hope for the next draft.
Proust Gets Dissed:
After submitting his magnum opus Remembrance of Things Past to an important publisher, Marcel Proust received the following response from an editor: "I may be dead from the neck up, but rack my brains as I may I can't see why a chap should need thirty pages to describe how he turns over in bed before going to sleep." English lit majors everywhere have been asking themselves that same question ever since Proust did get his entire masterwork published, at his own expense, in 1927.
e. e. cummings' Mom steps in:
By the early 1930s, e. e. cummings had established his literary credibility with a novelized memoir called Th e Enormous Room and several books of experimental poetry. Having fi nished 71 new poems, he decided to submit them for publication. Th e book was rejected by 14 diff erent publishers. Finally, in 1935, cummings's mom subsidized the book's publication. He called it No Thanks, and where the title page would have been, he wrote TO and then the names of every publisher who'd rejected him, typed out in the shape of an urn.
Fitzgerald's Rush Job:
In 1917, F. Scott Fitzgerald dropped out of Princeton to enlist in World War I. Already committed to becoming a writer, Fitzgerald worried he'd die in battle and the world would never know about his talent, so during his military training stateside, he dashed off a novel called The Romantic Egotist. It was well-received, although ultimately rejected, by an editor at Scribner's. As it happened, the war ended before Fitzgerald could be sent to Europe—allowing him to write plenty of other classics.
Toole dies, wins Pulitzer:
When John Kennedy Toole (1937"“1969) finished his first novel, A Confederacy of Dunces, he was convinced it was a comic masterpiece. He sent it away to Simon & Schuster, who eventually rejected the book on the grounds that it "isn't really about anything." Toole became despondent after that single rejection (if only he'd seen the sidebar above) and ended up committing suicide. But the novel was eventually published thanks to his mom, who got the writer Walker Percy to read Dunces. Percy loved it—and 22 years after Toole's death, his masterpiece won the Pulitzer Prize.
And a few people who were rejected multiple times:
- Garnering rejections is a badge of honor in some corners of the publishing world, but few will match the purple hearts won by these brave souls:
- Richard Bach's Jonathan Livingston Seagull was rejected by 26 publishers.
- Richard Hooker's M*A*S*H was turned down 21 times.
- James Joyce's modernist classic Dubliners was rejected by 22 publishers.
- Dr. Seuss' To Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street was rejected by 27 publishers.
- Between magazine pitches, short stories, and books, Jack London claimed to have received 600 rejections.
- British mystery novelist John Creasey (1908"“1973) garnered a staggering 743 rejection slips—all for books! What's more remarkable is that Creasey went on to write and publish at least 562 novels (he lost count) in his 40-year career, making him one of the most prolific novelists in history.
Ed. Note: This is an excerpt from mental_floss' Genius Instruction Manual by our friend (and YA superstar) John Green. His much-anticipated 3rd novel Paper Towns comes out this Fall.