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Try, Try Again: Rejection Letters Received by Bestselling Authors

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For writers, getting rejected can seem like a pastime. But don’t take my word for it, even though I’ve gotten my share of no-thank-yous. These best-selling authors were rejected, too, and some not very kindly. Editors, publishers and agents have made big errors in judgment, as evidenced by the list of unkind (and sometimes needlessly rude) rejections received by these famous writers.

1. George Orwell

It seems Alfred Knopf didn’t always understand satire. Animal Farm, the famed dystopian allegory that later became an AP Reader standard and Retrospective Hugo Award winner, was turned down because it was “impossible to sell animal stories in the U.S.A.” A British publishing firm initially accepted and later rejected the work as well, arguing that “…the choice of pigs as the ruling caste will no doubt give offense to many people, and particularly to anyone who is a bit touchy, as undoubtedly the Russians are.”

2. Gertrude Stein

Not much burns worse than mockery, and I would imagine Gertrude Stein was probably fuming when she received this letter from Arthur C. Fifield with her manuscript for Three Lives: “Being only one, having only one pair of eyes, having only one time, having only one life, I cannot read your MS 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.” Twenty years later, Stein’s The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas became her one and only best-seller.

3. Stephen King

Most fans know that King’s big break came with Carrie, the story of a friendless, abused girl with secret telekinetic powers. Though one publishing house told him they were “not interested in science fiction which deals with negative utopias.  They do not sell,” Doubleday picked up the paperback rights to the novel and sold more than a million copies in its first year.

4. William Golding

Though Lord of the Flies was one of my favorite books from high school, it seems some publishers disagreed. One unimpressed agent called the classic “an absurd and uninteresting fantasy which was rubbish and dull.” To date, the book has been required reading in high schools for nearly fifty years, 14.5 million copies have been sold, and Golding’s work has been adapted for film twice.

5. Jack Kerouac


It’s not incredibly surprising that Kerouac’s work was considered unpublishable in his time. After all, the guy wrote about drugs, sex, and the kind of general lawlessness that many people in the 1950s considered obscene. When shopping out his ubiquitous On the Road, Kerouac’s agent’s mail contained gems like, “His frenetic and scrambling prose perfectly express the feverish travels of the Beat Generation. But is that enough? I don’t think so” and even worse, “I don’t dig this one at all.”

6. Mary Higgins Clark

Back in 1966, the young romance author was trying to sell a story she called “Journey Back to Love.” It didn’t go well, however; her submission to Redbook came back with a rejection from the editors, stating "We found the heroine as boring as her husband had." Ouch! The piece was eventually run as a two-part serial in an English magazine, and Mary Higgins Clark currently boasts forty-two bestselling novels.

7. Ayn Rand

When Rand sent her manuscript out for The Fountainhead, a request from Bobbs-Merrill for her next work-in-progress came back with a curt “Unsaleable and unpublishable.” Not to be deterred, the author called upon Hiram Haydn, newly appointed editor-in-chief of Random House. After an “infinite number” of questions and an assurance that Ms. Rand would not be censored, she signed on with Random House and, to date, has sold over 7 million copies in the U.S.

8. Ernest Hemingway

In a bid to remove himself from a contract with publishers Boni & Liveright, Hemingway penned The Torrents of Spring with the sole intention of being rejected. Horace Liveright turned it down, Hemingway’s contract was broken, and he moved on to find a new publisher. Of course, it didn’t go smoothly; one queried editor told the author that “It would be extremely rotten taste, to say nothing of being horribly cruel, should we want to publish this.” It all ended well, however. Papa Hemingway moved on to Scribner, who published all of his books from then on—each of which became a bestseller.

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11 Scrumdiddlyumptious Roald Dahl Facts
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A world without Roald Dahl would be a world without Oompa Loompas, Snozzcumbers, or Muggle-Wumps. And who would ever want to live in a world like that? So today, on what would have been the author and adventurer’s 101st birthday, we celebrate Roald Dahl Day with these 11 gloriumptious facts about the master of edgy kids' books.

1. WRITING WAS NEVER ROALD DAHL’S BEST SUBJECT.

Dahl held onto a school report he had written as a kid, on which his teacher noted: “I have never met anybody who so persistently writes words meaning the exact opposite of what is intended.”

2. MAKING UP NONSENSICAL WORDS WAS PART OF WHAT DAHL DID BEST.

When writing 1982’s The BFG, Dahl created 238 new words for the book’s protagonist, which he dubbed Gobblefunk.

3. HIS FIRST PROFESSION WAS A PILOT.

And not just any pilot: Dahl was a fighter pilot with the Royal Air Force during World War II. And it was a plane crash near Alexandria, Egypt that actually inspired him to begin writing.

4. HE GOT INTO SOME 007 KIND OF STUFF, TOO.

Alongside fellow officers Ian Fleming and David Ogilvy, Dahl supplied intelligence to an MI6 organization known as the British Security Coordination.

5. DAHL’S FIRST PUBLISHED PIECE WAS ACCIDENTAL.

Upon recovering from that plane crash, Dahl was reassigned to Washington, D.C., where he worked as an assistant air attaché. He was approached by author C.S. Forester, who was writing a piece for The Saturday Evening Post and looking to interview someone who had been on the frontlines of the war. Dahl offered to write some notes on his experiences, but when Forester received them he didn’t want to change a word. He submitted Dahl’s notes—originally titled “A Piece of Cake”—to his editor and on August 1, 1942, Roald Dahl officially became a published author. He was paid $1000 for the story, which had been retitled “Shot Down Over Libya” for dramatic effect.

6. HIS FIRST CHILDREN’S BOOK WAS INSPIRED BY THE ROYAL AIR FORCE.

Published in 1942, The Gremlins was about a group of mischievous creatures who tinkered with the RAF’s planes. Though the movie rights were purchased by Walt Disney, a film version never materialized. Dahl would go on to become one of the world’s bestselling fiction authors, with more than 100 million copies of his books published in nearly 50 languages.

7. DAHL READ PLAYBOY FOR THE ARTICLES.

Or at least his own articles. While he’s best known as a children’s author, Dahl was just as prolific in the adult short story sphere. His stories were published in a range of outlets, including Collier’s, Ladies Home Journal, Harper’s, The New Yorker, and Playboy, where his topics of choice included wife-swapping, promiscuity, suicide, and adultery. Several of these stories were published as part of Dahl’s Switch Bitch anthology.

8. QUENTIN TARANTINO ADAPTED DAHL TO THE BIG SCREEN.

One of Dahl’s best-known adult short stories, “Man from the South” (a.k.a. “The Smoker”) was adapted to celluloid three times, twice as part of Alfred Hitchock Presents (once in 1960 with Steve McQueen and Peter Lorre, and again in 1985) and a third time as the final segment in 1995’s film anthology Four Rooms, which Quentin Tarantino directed.

9. DAHL’S OWN ATTEMPTS AT SCREENWRITING WERE NOT AS SUCCESSFUL.

One would think that, with his intriguing background and talent for words, Dahl’s transition from novelist to screenwriter would be an easy one ... but you would be wrong. Dahl was hired to adapt two of Ian Fleming’s novels, the James Bond novel You Only Live Once and the kid-friendly Chitty Chitty Bang Bang; both scripts were completely rewritten. Dahl was also hired to adapt Charlie and the Chocolate Factory for the big screen, but was replaced by David Seltzer when he couldn’t make his deadlines. Dahl was not shy about his criticisms of the finished product, noting his “disappointment” that the film (and its changed title) shifted the story’s emphasis from Charlie to Willy Wonka.

10. DAHL MADE AN IMPORTANT CONTRIBUTION TO THE FIELD OF NEUROSURGERY.

In 1960, Dahl’s four-month-old son Theo’s carriage was struck by a cab driver in New York City, leaving the child suffering from hydrocephalus, a condition that increases fluid in the brain. Dahl became very actively involved in his son’s recovery, and contacted toymaker Stanley Wade for help. Together with Theo’s neurosurgeon, Kenneth Till, the trio developed a shunt that helped to alleviate the condition. It became known as the Wade-Dahl-Till valve.

11. EVEN IN DEATH, DAHL’S SENSE OF HUMOR WAS APPARENT.

Roald Dahl passed away from a blood disease on November 23, 1990 at the age of 74. Per his request, he was buried with all of his favorite things: snooker cues, a bottle of Burgundy, chocolate, HB pencils, and a power saw.

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15 Memorable D.H. Lawrence Quotes
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Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Yale University [1], Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Though he courted controversy throughout most of his life and career, particularly following the publishing of 1928’s Lady Chatterley's Lover—which, due to its erotic content, was banned in America until 1959—today, D.H. Lawrence is widely considered one of the 20th century’s most influential writers.

But Lawrence was much more than a novelist: He was also a prolific playwright, poet, literary critic, and painter. In honor of what would have been his 132nd birthday (he was born in Eastwood, Nottinghamshire, England on September 11, 1885), here are 15 memorable quotes from the famously controversial author.

1. ON THE ROOT OF ALL THINGS

"The fairest thing in nature, a flower, still has its roots in earth and manure."

2. ON THE FLEETING NATURE OF LOVE 

"Love is the flower of life, and blossoms unexpectedly and without law, and must be plucked where it is found, and enjoyed for the brief hour of its duration."

3. ON ACCEPTING ONE’S FLAWS 

"The cruelest thing a man can do to a woman is to portray her as perfection."

4. ON TAKING CHANCES

"When one jumps over the edge, one is bound to land somewhere."

5. ON READING BETWEEN THE LINES 

"I hold that the parentheses are by far the most important parts of a non-business letter."

6. ON DREAMS

"I can never decide whether my dreams are the result of my thoughts, or my thoughts the result of my dreams."

7. ON CHALLENGING AUTHORITY

"We have to hate our immediate predecessors to get free from their authority."

8. ON THE JOY OF LIVING

"For man, as for flower and beast and bird, the supreme triumph is to be most vividly, most perfectly alive."

9. ON SEPARATING AN ARTIST FROM HIS OR HER ART

"Never trust the artist. Trust the tale. The proper function of a critic is to save the tale from the artist who created it."

10. ON MAKING THE MOST OF LIFE

"Life is ours to be spent, not to be saved."

11. ON TRUSTING YOUR INSTINCTS

"Be a good animal, true to your animal instincts."

12. ON FINDING LOVE

"Those that go searching for love only make manifest their own lovelessness, and the loveless never find love, only the loving find love, and they never have to seek for it."

13. ON EMBRACING PASSION

"Be still when you have nothing to say; when genuine passion moves you, say what you've got to say, and say it hot."

14. ON MONEY

"Money poisons you when you've got it, and starves you when you haven't."

15. ON FIGHTING FOR FREEDOMS

"Do not allow to slip away from you freedoms the people who came before you won with such hard knocks."

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