Rejection Doesn't Stop Successful Authors

Nov 17, 2011
Originally published on November 17, 2011 10:40 am
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While the few are honored, for most authors, high praise is less familiar than rejection – even authors who are now legendary.



JOHN HURT: (As Mr. Ollivander) I think it is clear that we can expect great things from you.

MONTAGNE: That wasn't clear when author J.K. Rowling started shopping around her first book about a boy wizard. "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" was turned down by a dozen publishers. Eventually, the children's division of Bloomsbury paid the modest sum of about $ 2,400 for the book and ended up making hundreds of millions from the magic at Hogwarts.

Fellow blockbuster authors, such as John Grisham and crime novelist Patricia Cornwell, collected their own stacks of rejection slips. One publisher turned down a Cornwell manuscript with the words: it's too monochromatic. Patricia Cornwell spent years working at a morgue in Richmond, Virginia to gather material for her writing, and to earn a living.

PATRICIA CORNWELL: First year went by - first rejection. Second year - second rejection. Third year - third rejection. And then I finally wrote ¨Postmortem.¨ And even when that finally got published I couldn't afford to leave there. I couldn't support myself as an author. And then I wrote ¨Body of Evidence¨ and the next thing you know, in no time at all, I was a millionaire.

MONTAGNE: Patricia Cornwell's "Dr. Kay Scarpetta" crime novels have sold more than one hundred million copies worldwide, in languages from Afrikaans to Vietnamese. Her 29th book, "Red Mist," will be published next month.

George Anders says discovering great writers is a challenge.

GEORGE ANDERS: There's probably nothing harder than picking tomorrow's bestseller. Particularly, if you are going to authors who haven't had a big book before.

MONTAGNE: Anders is the author of "The Rare Find: Spotting Exceptional Talent Before Everyone Else."

ANDERS: Editors like to believe they can guess America's taste, that they can figure out what kind of book we'll want to read. And again and again, they get proven cruelly wrong.

MONTAGNE: But of course, there are times they get it right. More than two dozen literary agents had turned Erin Morgenstern down, when Richard Pine received her manuscript. He worked with her to revise her novel, "The Night Circus." Now, it's been on the New York Times bestseller list for eight weeks. Pine says through all the rejections, the chance to discover and share new talent is still what it's all about.

RICHARD PINE: This business is about that jolt of discovery. And everyone in publishing is in the business for those moments.

MONTAGNE: Something to give hope if you are typing away on your great novel.


MONTAGNE: It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.