Monday, 14 June 2021

If at first you don't succeed... by Lynne Benton


All writers get rejections, right?  They are never nice, but we just have to get used to them.  But does getting a rejection from a publisher mean our work is no good?

Not necessarily.

I recently came across a list of famous books which had originally been rejected by publishers, and found it quite fascinating.  For example, how could anyone have decided that Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows wasn’t good enough?

Originally Grahame made up stories of Mole, Ratty, Badger and Toad for his four-year-old son as bedtime stories, but when he took early retirement from his job at the Bank of England, he used these bedtime stories as a basis for The Wind in the Willows.  However, a number of publishers rejected the manuscript before it was finally accepted and published in 1908. 

The public, of course, loved it, and The Wind in the Willows was subsequently listed as one of the Top Ten Books of All Time!

Another book which nearly didn’t make it was Agatha Christie’s The Mysterious Affair at Styles.  This was the first of her many crime novels featuring the indomitable Hercule Poirot, inspired by an influx of Belgian refugees into the UK after the First World War.  The manuscript was rejected by two publishers before being accepted by a third, after she’d agreed to making slight changes to the ending.  It was finally published in the US in October 1920, and in the UK in 1921, and this and many of her subsequent Poirot novels have been filmed and televised numerous times.  In fact, David Suchet has filmed every one of the Poirot stories for television.  Imagine if Agatha Christie hadn’t persisted with her first book in the series, maybe  nobody would have ever heard of Hercule Poirot!

Given the difficulties faced by women doing anything outside the home in the early 19th century, it is good to know that at least Jane Austen’s family believed in her work.  In 1793 her father thought enough of Pride and Prejudice, which she’d read aloud to the family, to ask a publisher if he would like to publish it.  It was, however, firmly rejected by return, and was only published in 1813, after the success of Sense and Sensibility

Later, in 1803, her brother Henry offered the ms of Northanger Abbey to Crosby & Company, a London publisher, who paid £10 for the copyright and promised early publication, but did nothing more with it.  In 1809 Jane wrote an angry letter to Richard Crosby, offering him a rewritten version of the novel if needed to secure its immediate publication.  If he didn’t want it, she requested the return of the original so she could find another publisher. Crosby loftily replied that he had not agreed to publish the book by any particular time, or at all, and that she could repurchase the manuscript for the £10 he had paid her brother, and then she could find another publisher. Sadly she couldn’t afford to buy it back until 1816, so it wasn’t finally published, along with Persuasion, until after her death in 1817.

And these are not the only examples of famous books initially rejected.  Who can forget the story of a young orphaned wizard at boarding school, which was rejected several times before a brave publisher took a chance on it…

All of which I find immensely cheering.  The main message seems to be, “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try again!”  So good luck to all writers out there, keep sending your work out, and just remember those best-sellers which were initially rejected!

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Hansel and Gretel, published Hachette

1 comment:

Penny Dolan said...

There's definitely a satisfaction in hearing tales of rejection, Lynne. Thank you.

Inspiration too - let's hope - and a dollop of good luck too, please.