It’s always hard to say goodbye to a dear friend.
Even when you know it’s time for them to go.
I first had the idea for what became WD's Reject a Hit column back in 2010. We’d been combing through the crumbly, leather-bound Writer’s Digest magazine archives, which date back to 1920, in preparation for a retrospective in our 90th anniversary issue. And in those wonderful dusty pages, I kept stumbling upon random rejection letters—some addressed to household-name authors—that were printed in unadulterated form right there in WD.
Some of them seemed so ridiculous that I actually briefly wondered if they were real, though there was no indication otherwise. I remember one letter to Lois Duncan (a favorite author of mine in my teen years) seemed particularly harsh. That editor really missed the mark—he’s probably kicking himself now, I thought.
And that got me thinking.
The magazine’s former managing editor, Zac Petit, and I collaborated to write the first Reject a Hit, in which we posed as a gatekeeper grumbling about the overpowering garlic smell on the original Dracula manuscript. We ran it in our up-front November/December 2010 issue's Inkwell section with a call for submissions. Our hope was that it would draw enough interest that we could move it to the back page.
Boy, did it ever! We were up and running. Here is the complete list of the hits that you, our clever readers, saw fit to reject in the pages of Writer’s Digest as the years went on:
- Dracula by Bram Stoker
- Harry Potter by JK Rowling
- Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
- Elements of Style by Strunk & White
- Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss
- Fun With Dick & Jane by Gray and Sharp
- Marley & Me by John Grogan
- A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
- Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
- Romeo & Juliet by Shakespeare
- Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
- Crime & Punishment by Dostoyevsky
- Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton
- Moby-Dick by Herman Melville
- The Odyssey by Homer
- Charlotte's Web by EB White
- Breakfast at Tiffany's by Truman Capote
- The Godfather by Mario Puzo
- War & Peace by Leo Tolstoy
- How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss
- Charlie & the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl
- Rip Van Winkle by Washington Irving
- Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
- My Life at the New York Times by Jayson Blair
- The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty
- The Lorax by Dr. Seuss
- Animal Farm by George Orwell
- The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien
- The Road by Cormac McCarthy
- Old Man & The Sea by Ernest Hemingway
- Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown
- Tulips & Chimneys by e. e. cummings
- The Shining by Stephen King
- Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
- Runny Babbit by Shel Silverstein
- Dictionary of the English Language by Merriam-Webster
- Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens
- Middlemarch by George Eliot
- A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket
- First Blood by David Morrell
- The Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe
- Inferno by Dante Alighieri
- Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A. Milne
- The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
- Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
Just looking at this list makes me happy. To come up with a concept for something and have so many writers run with it for five whole years is a wonderful feeling. And oh, how some of these letters filled our office with laughter.
One of the smartest letters we ever published was only a single word long. Submitted by Wayne Mattox, his rejection for William Strunk. Jr. and E.B. White’s The Elements of Style, which emphasizes the virtues of writing concisely, read simply:
Dear Professor Strunk,
With that brilliant entry Wayne Mattox became the highest paid writer ever on our payroll, at $150/word.
It might surprise you to learn that we also had favorite moments from letters we didn’t publish. We got a lot of rejections submitted for books that we’d already spotlighted in the column, so duplicates were an automatic and sometimes wistful no. But I’ll always have a soft spot for a submitted rejection for Hemingway’s The Old Man & The Sea that contained a classic line calling out the old man’s unrealistic expectations. Something along the lines of:
Everyone knows that sharks cannot differentiate ownership!
Five years, I think we can all agree, is a pretty good run.
Those duplicate submissions grew more and more common in our inbox as the roster of books we’d already rejected grew. Finally, with lack of sufficient fresh fodder to choose from, we had no choice but to say goodbye. We regretfully discontinued the column as of the March/April 2016 Writer’s Digest, and are experimenting with a new, crowd-sourced humor column in its place. (Learn more about the column and how you can Write for Platforms of Yore.)
With the March/April issue hot off the press, we’ve already received a few letters expressing regret about the end of Reject a Hit, and so I wanted to write this post to let you all know that we’ll miss it too.
And to sincerely thank everyone who submitted—even if we weren't able to publish your letter—for five great years of making rejection fun.