No Thanks…

Hi Writers,

Every writer who’s ever received a rejection (isn’t this redundant?) will get a shot of adrenaline from reading this essay in The New York Times, No Thanks Mr. Nabokov by David Oshinsky. It’s about the process of going through the Knopf file archives and some of the rejection that were discovered. You will be shocked and amazed at some of the writers Knopf rejected over the years.

Here’s a passage from the essay:

For almost a century, Knopf has been the gold standard in the book trade, publishing the works of 17 Nobel Prize-winning authors as well as 47 Pulitzer Prize-winning
volumes of fiction, nonfiction, biography and history. Recently,
however, scholars trolling through the Knopf archive have been struck
by the number of reader’s reports that badly missed the mark,
especially where new talent was concerned. The rejection files, which
run from the 1940s through the 1970s, include dismissive verdicts on
the likes of Jorge Luis Borges (“utterly untranslatable”), Isaac
Bashevis Singer (“It’s Poland and the rich Jews again”), Anaïs Nin
(“There is no commercial advantage in acquiring her, and, in my
opinion, no artistic”), Sylvia Plath (“There certainly isn’t enough
genuine talent for us to take notice”) and Jack Kerouac
(“His frenetic and scrambling prose perfectly express the feverish
travels of the Beat Generation. But is that enough? I don’t think so”).
In a two-year stretch beginning in 1955, Knopf turned down manuscripts
by Jean-Paul Sartre, Mordecai Richler, and the historians A. J. P.
Taylor and Barbara Tuchman, not to mention  Vladimir Nabokov’s “Lolita” (too racy) and James Baldwin’s “Giovanni’s Room” (“hopelessly bad”).

Here’s my question for you. I’m almost afraid to ask but here it is: What’s the worst rejection you’ve ever received for your writing?

Keep Writing,

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8 thoughts on “No Thanks…

  1. Brenda

    Most of my rejections have been courteous, kind, and encouraging; however, when one of my short stories was rejected by a college literary journal for all the wrong reasons, I took issue.

    The editor mailed me the rejection letter, along with copies of the “juror” check sheets. All of the jurors checked “accept,” with the exception of one juror who checked the following categories:

    -Not believable (“Who carves roast beef with a paring knife?” the juror wrote.)

    My first thought was to forget it, but after mulling it over for a few days, and wondering how many other writers they might reject because of one juror’s closed mind and lack of understanding, I wrote the following letter to the chief editor:

    "Dear Ms. ________,

    This is in regard to your rejection of my short story, "____________." Although I have no problem with rejections, and the story has since been published in another literary magazine, I would like to make some suggestions.

    One item checked on my comment sheet was "spelling incorrect." I checked it thoroughly, and found that the misspelled words the juror referred to were in the dialogue, i.e., "How’re y’all?" "Yeah, how’re all them hillbillies down thar in Kaintuck?" (Normally, I don’t misspell dialogue, but since the brothers were making fun of Wanda, I assumed readers would know that particular dialogue was overdone and intentionally misspelled.)

    The same juror wrote, "Who uses a paring knife to carve roast beef?" Many southerners carve roast beef with a paring knife, so please do not assume everyone in the world uses a carving knife. Some people don’t even own a carving knife. When I was growing up on the farm, my mother chopped chickens’ heads off with an ax, but my grandmother placed a long stick across their necks, put one foot on either side, and pulled their poor little heads off. (In that case, the juror might have written, "Who pulls chickens’ heads off?")

    As you critique stories, please be aware of the differences in people in all parts of the country; they all have their ways of speaking, of doing things, of going about their daily lives. Stories should reveal those differences, which makes for a much more diverse and interesting literary magazine."

    (Incidentally, the editor replied, saying she would have published the story had it been left up to her, but their decision had to be unanimous. “Congratulations on getting the story published,” she wrote, “I knew you would.”)

  2. Deborah Bouziden

    When I first decided to become a writer, I took a private writing class from a multi-publsihed writer. She also had her Masters in English and knew her stuff. After we studied ‘writing the short story’, she gave us the assignment to write one. The following is what happened to my assignment.

    My fellow classmates received their manuscripts back, flipped through the pages, and read their comments. I was handed mine and on the first page, there was an X through the copy. An X marked through the second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh pages.

    At first, my classmates had leaned over to see what the instructor had written on my pages, but by the fourth and fifth pages, they decided it wasn’t worth the effort and leaned away.

    As I turned to the last page of my manuscript, I had written THE END at the end of my story. My instructor had circled those words, written GOOD and drew an arrow to them.

    To be honest, at first I was stunned and hurt. I ‘thought’ I had followed aaaalllll the short story rules and gotten this assignment right. I was wrong.

    Years later, as I look back on that experience (and the manuscript) I am so glad she was that rough on me. I would hate for an editor to ever have had to suffer through that piece.

    I asked her some time later why she was so tough on me. She told me, she thought I had talent, but I needed to toughen up. Since then I’ve received hundreds of rejections. I guess I have pretty thick skin. Never received anything to match that though.

  3. Elizabeth

    I once got a form rejection that said something like, "most stories are rejected because they contain errors or simply fail to stand out from the crowd." Someone highlighted "fail to stand out from the crowd." Would you call that a personalized rejection or not?

  4. Kirby

    I got a personal rejection from a big-name magazine editor. Great, right? It came on a Post-it note. Exact words: "There’s some good writing here, but the story just didn’t hold my interest." The same could be said about his rejection note.


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