The number of times such and such iconic book was rejected has long been a favorite parlor game. The latest iteration in the genre is making the Internet rounds this week: 50 Iconic Writers Who Were Repeatedly Rejected (many of them quite rudely).
To which I say: Really? Only 50?
As agent Michael Bourret pointed out: everyone gets rejected. Everyone. Show me a writer and I’ll show you someone who has been rejected. Repeatedly. By agents. By editors. By reviewers. Everyone.
The funny thing about these lists is that they’re often used as evidence the publishing system is broken, especially among those who have received one too many rejection. People start shaking their fist about how the industry is stupid because INSERT NUMBER number of agents/publishers passed on INSERT ICONIC BOOK and then that book went on to become a RAGING SUCCESS. The raging success, of course, is meant show that the system is broken. Because, um, it was eventually so successful. Stupid home run hitter, you should have hit it a grand slam ON THE FIRST PITCH!
It always bears repeating: publishing is a human institution. Not everyone is going to see what others love in a book, even one that goes on to big success. Fit and enthusiasm are everything. And of course: Miss Cleo notwithstanding, humans are only so good at predicting the future.
Ergo: all writers are going to receive rejections. Even the best ones.
Still, these lists do have a purpose: they remind us that all writers have to go through their share of rejection.
There is definitely some comfort in knowing that the road isn’t easy. Even for the best.