The Rejection Letters: How Publishers Snubbed 11 Great Authors

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After nine years of rejection from publishers, Eimear McBride’s debut, A Girl is a Half Formed Thing, won the 2014 Bailey’s Prize. But the Irish writer won’t be the last to laugh in the face of those publishing houses who won’t take a punt on an experimental or challenging novel.

From Gertude Stein and William Burroughs to recent rags-to-riches writers such as J.K. Rowling and Cassandra Clare, there have been brutal rejection letters to accompany most bestselling novels. Here are extracts from some of them:

1. “Overwhelmingly nauseating, even to an enlightened Freudian…the whole thing is an unsure cross between hideous reality and improbable fantasy. It often becomes a wild neurotic daydream… I recommend that it be buried under a stone for a thousand years.”

Thankfully, for both Vladimir Nabokov and literature as a whole, Lolita wasn’t buried, but published in France after two years of rejections by New York publishers such as Viking, Simon & Schuster, New Directions, Farrar, Straus, and Doubleday. When Graham Greene got hold of it, shortly after its French publication, he reviewed it in The Sunday Times, describing it as “one of the three best books of 1955”.

Despite this, the novel still wasn’t published in the UK until 1957, because the Home Office seized all imported copies and France banned it. When British publishing house Weidenfeld & Nicolson took it on, it was at the cost of Nigel Nicolson’s political career.

2. “The girl doesn’t, it seems to me, have a special perception or feeling which would lift that book above the ‘curiosity’ level.”

One of the 15 publishers who didn’t think The Diary of Anne Frank was worth reading.

3. “First, we must ask, does it have to be a whale?

“While this is a rather delightful, if somewhat esoteric, plot device, we recommend an antagonist with a more popular visage among the younger readers. For instance, could not the Captain be struggling with a depravity towards young, perhaps voluptuous, maidens?”

Herman Melville’s leviathan novel was rejected, as above, by Peter J Bentley. However, Richard Bentley, of the same London publishing house, eventually offered him a contract in 1851. Moby Dick was published 18 months later than Melville expected and at great personal expense, as he arranged for the typesetting and plating of his book himself to speed up the process. Young, voluptuous maidens never made the final edit.

4. “For your own sake, do not publish this book.”

One publisher turned down DH Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover, first published in 1928. Perhaps they had predicted the furore that was unleashed when the full novel did hit the British bookshelves in 1960.

5. “Do you realise, young woman, that you’re the first American writer ever to poke fun at sex”

This was what Anita Loos received before her novel, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, was successfully published in 1925. It was part of a rejection note, although by today’s standards it sounds quite the accolade.

6. “Miss Play has a way with words and a sharp eye for unusual and vivid detail. But maybe now that this book is out of her system she will use her talent more effectively next time. I doubt if anyone over here will pick this novel up, so we might well have a second chance.”

An editor at Knopf in 1963 rejected Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar when it was submitted under the pseudonym Victoria Lucas. After realising it had been written by Plath, who had already published a couple of poetry collections, the same editor read and rejected it again – and managed to spell her real name three different incorrect ways in the process. His assertion that “she will use her talent more effectively next time” is poignant, as Plath had committed suicide six weeks earlier.

7. “You’re welcome to le Carré – he hasn’t got any future.”

A fantastically incorrect prediction by one publisher, sent to his colleague, upon turning down The Spy Who Came in from the Cold

8. “Your pigs are far more intelligent than the other animals, and therefore the best qualified to run the farm – in fact, there couldn’t have been an Animal Farm at all without them: so that what was needed, (someone might argue), was not more communism but more public-spirited pigs.”

The poet TS Eliot, editor of Faber & Faber, was one of the many publishers, including George Orwell’s own, Victor Gollancz, who rejected Animal Farm. When it was published, in 1946, Orwell’s original title, Animal Farm: A Fairy Story was amended.

9. “We are not interested in science fiction which deals with negative utopias. They do not sell.”

Stephen King received this letter about Carrie. His first published novel was rejected so many times that King collected the accompanying notes on a spike in his bedroom. It was finally published in 1974 with a print run of 30,000 copies. When the paperback version was released a year later, it sold over a million copies in 12 months.

10. “I am only one, only one, only one. Only one being, one at the same time. Not two, not three, only one. Only one life to live, only sixty minutes in one hour. Only one pair of eyes. Only one brain. Only one being. Being only one, having only one pair of eyes, having only one time, having only one life, I cannot read your M.S. three or four times. Not even one time. Only one look, only one look is enough. Hardly one copy would sell here. Hardly one. Hardly one.”

So Arthur Fifield, founder of the British publishing house AC Fifield, wrote to Gertrude Stein after receiving one of her manuscripts in 1912.

11. “If I may be frank, Mr. Hemingway — you certainly are in your prose — I found your efforts to be both tedious and offensive. You really are a man’s man, aren’t you? I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that you had penned this entire story locked up at the club, ink in one hand, brandy in the other.”

Mrs Moberley Luger, of Peacock & Peacock, didn’t realise how accurate she was in her 1925 rejection letter of Ernest Heminway’s The Sun Also Rises.

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So if you’ve been rejected don’t be disheartened, it might be you one day who is able to look back and laugh at the publisher who didn’t want your bestseller!

Happy writing x

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Via http://www.telegraph.co.uk/The-rejection-letters-how-publishers-snubbed-11-great-authors

How To Plan Your Novel Using The Three-Act Structure

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Writing a novel is hard, especially if you’ve never done it before. You’ve spent hours researching, building your world and becoming an expert on your characters. Now you’re ready for the next step: planning (also known as plotting).

While some people like to write organically (letting the story take you in whatever direction feels right), having a detailed outline can help make the novel-writing process a lot less daunting and overwhelming. But how exactly do you plan a novel?

Essentially, there is no right or wrong way to outline your novel. Each story is different and needs to be told in a different way.

However, if you need a bit more guidance on how to plot out the next bestseller you know you have inside you, the three-act structure might be for you.

Defining The Three-Act Structure

The three-act structure is a popular screenwriting technique that revolves around constantly creating set-ups, conflicts and resolutions. With this structure, a novel is divided into three acts: a beginning, a middle and an end.

There are many versions of the three-act structure. In some, the middle is the same size as the beginning and end put together.

However, when you’re first starting out, it’s much easier to plan each act to be the same length. In this version of the three-act structure, each act is divided into nine chapters for 27 chapters in total. The nine chapters in each act are also split into three blocks of three chapters each.

This version creates a fast-paced novel that invites readers to keep turning your pages. If you’re still unconvinced, for an example Suzanne Collins’ bestselling young adult Hunger Games trilogy follows this structure almost perfectly.

Throughout this article, we’ll take a look at what each section of the three-act structure involves, using examples from The Hunger Games to demonstrate each element. (SPOILER ALERT: If you haven’t read or seen The Hunger Games and don’t want key plot points spoiled, read on at your own risk!)

Act One (set-up)

The first act is used to introduce the reader to the world your characters live in and to set up the coming conflict.

Block One – Introduce Hero in Ordinary World

  • Chapter 1: Introduction (set up)
  • Chapter 2: Inciting incident (conflict)
  • Chapter 3: Immediate reaction (resolution)

In the first chapter, you need to set up your hero in their ordinary world. Introduce us to your characters and the relationships and conflicts between them. In The Hunger Games, the first chapter introduces the dystopian world and the Reaping.

The inciting incident in Chapter Two is the event or decision that sets your hero along the path of your narrative. The inciting incident is really important – without it, your story would not occur. The inciting incident in The Hunger Games is Katniss volunteering herself for the Hunger Games to save her sister; if Katniss didn’t volunteer, the rest of the novel would not have happened.

In the third chapter, the hero reacts to the inciting incident. The immediate reaction in The Hunger Games is when Katniss’ family and friends come to say goodbye to her before she leaves for the Games.

Block Two – Problem Disrupts Hero’s Life

  • Chapter 4: Reaction (set-up)
  • Chapter 5: Action (conflict)
  • Chapter 6: Consequence (resolution)

Chapter Four is where the hero reacts to and reflects on the long-term impacts of the inciting incident. In Chapter Four, Katniss reflects on the impact her death would have on her community, especially her mother and sister. Katniss also starts to discuss strategy with Haymitch, her mentor.

As a result of their reflection, the hero decides to take action and do something to change their situation in Chapter Five. In The Hunger Games, Katniss takes her first step towards winning the Games in the parade of tributes. Her fiery dress and attitude win over the crowd.

Chapter Six details the immediate consequences of the action the hero took in Chapter Five. In The Hunger Games, Katniss discusses the success of the parade with Haymitch. She also reflects on her past and the difficulty of rebellion.

Block Three – Hero’s Life Changes Direction

  • Chapter 7: Pressure (set-up)
  • Chapter 8: Pinch (conflict)
  • Chapter 9: Push (resolution)

The hero’s life has changed as a result of the action they took in Chapter Five, and this creates a lot of pressure and stress in Chapter Seven. The pressure is obvious in Chapter Seven of The Hunger Games. Here, Katniss has her demonstration where she shows the Gamemakers her archery skills by shooting an arrow towards them in frustration.

In Chapter Eight, the first pinch – or plot twist – occurs. A good plot twist is something completely unexpected for the reader. The first pinch in The Hunger Games is Katniss receiving a score of 11, something completely unexpected.

As a result of the pinch, the hero is pushed into a new world in Chapter Nine. The majority of this chapter in The Hunger Games centres around the television interviews with Caesar, the last formality before the tributes are sent into the Games. Here, Peeta declares his love for Katniss.

Act Two (conflict)

The second act is full of conflict. Character development is crucial in the second act; the hero at the end of Act One does not yet have the tools (whether those tools be emotional, physical or literal items the hero must retrieve) to succeed in the third act, so Act Two is all about the journey.

Block Four – Hero Explores New World

  • Chapter 10: New world (set-up)
  • Chapter 11: Fun and games (event/conflict)
  • Chapter 12: Old world contrast (resolution)

Chapter 10 allows you to introduce the reader to the new world. What has changed, and how does the hero feel about it? In Chapter 10, Katniss finally enters the Hunger Games.

In Chapter 11, the hero can take a break and have a little fun. Maybe they have a date with their new lover, or maybe they do something they’ve never done before. Here, Katniss travels through the arena looking for water, and while she is still in an intense environment, she has a bit of a break.

Chapter 12 is time for the hero to compare their current world to how things were at the novel’s beginning. After realising Peeta has teamed up with her enemies, Katniss reflects on their relationship and compares this Peeta to the person she was friends with.

Block Five – Crisis of New World

  • Chapter 13: Build-up (set-up)
  • Chapter 14: Midpoint (conflict)
  • Chapter 15: Reversal (resolution)

The fifth block is all about the midpoint, or the main crisis or conflict of your novel.

Chapter 13 is the build-up to the midpoint and Chapter 14 is the midpoint itself. A good midpoint will dramatically change the hero or impact their life in a negative way. In The Hunger Games, Katniss is pushed towards the Career tributes in Chapter 13, and escapes from them after Peeta saves her in Chapter 14.

Chapter 15 is the immediate reaction or consequence of the midpoint. Here, Katniss makes an alliance with Rue and they formulate a plan to take down the Career tributes.

Block Six – Finding a Solution

  • Chapter 16: Reaction (set-up)
  • Chapter 17: Action (conflict)
  • Chapter 18: Dedication (resolution)

In Chapter 16, the hero reflects on the long-term impacts of the midpoint. In The Hunger Games, Katniss realises that to take down the Careers, they need to stop their food supply.

In Chapter 17, the hero decides to take action to resolve the problem created by the midpoint; however, they realise the enormity of their task when things don’t necessarily go to plan. In Chapter 17, Katniss blows up the Career’s food supply, but before she and Rue can celebrate, Rue is attacked by another tribute.

Despite the set-backs, in Chapter 18 the hero decides that they will succeed no matter what. Rue dies in Chapter 18, and Katniss promises to win for her.

Act Three (resolution)

The final act is all about resolutions. In the third act, the hero needs to find solutions to the conflict created by the midpoint, and you as the author need to make sure you tie up all the loose ends.

Block Seven – Victory Seems Impossible

  • Chapter 19: Trials (set-up)
  • Chapter 20: Pinch (event/conflict)
  • Chapter 21: Darkest moment (resolution)

In Chapter 19, the hero faces significant trials. These trials are extremely difficult for the hero and is something the hero has never experienced before. Here, Katniss races to find Peeta and struggles to help save his injured leg.

Chapter 20 is the second pinch, where the hero experiences something completely unexpected that makes everything even worse. In Chapter 20, Peeta’s injury leads to blood poisoning.

This plot twist leads to the darkest moment in Chapter 21 where the thought of success is incomprehensible. Here, Katniss risks everything to get medicine for Peeta, and the chapter ends with her passing out from her own injuries.

Block Eight – Hero Finds Power

  • Chapter 22: Power within (set-up)
  • Chapter 23: Action (conflict)
  • Chapter 24: Converge (resolution)

Having hit rock-bottom, the hero remembers their desire to succeed in Chapter 18 and finds the power within to continue on. In Chapter 22, Katniss and Peeta both start to recover from their injuries.

After deciding they can do it, the hero takes action in Chapter 23, and this action causes the plotlines to converge and come together in Chapter 24. In Chapter 23, Peeta and Katniss realise how close they are to winning, and in Chapter 24 all of the tributes are pushed towards the lake by the Gamemakers for the final battle.

Block Nine – Hero Fights and Wins

  • Chapter 25: Battle (set-up)
  • Chapter 26: Climax (conflict)
  • Chapter 27: Resolution (resolution)

Block nine is the finale. In Chapter 25, the character has one last battle. This doesn’t have to be a physical battle – it could be a fight between friends or lovers, or a mental battle your hero has with themselves. Here, Peeta and Katniss try to survive the freezing night and kill Cato.

Chapter 26 is the final climax. The decisions the hero makes here will impact the rest of their life; it is the point of no return. In The Hunger Games, Katniss and Peeta pretend to eat the poisonous berries, which leads to President Snow stopping them by declaring them both winners. However, Katniss realises that despite winning the Games, she’s now in even more danger.

Chapter 27 is the resolution or the immediate reaction to the hero’s decision in the last chapter. Here, Katniss and Peeta finally get to go home.

The way you end your novel is up to you. You might choose to explain everything, or leave some things (or a lot of things) up to your reader’s imagination. It could be a happy heroic ending, or it could be a tragedy where everyone dies.

Either way, congratulations! You’ve planned a novel.

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One last thing to note: When you start to plan your novel using this structure it’s important to remember it’s just a guideline. You don’t have to change your story to suit the structure; you can change the structure to suit your story. If your plot twist would make more sense earlier or later, move it. These aren’t hard rules. Do what is right for your story.  So take a deep breath, set yourself up in your favourite place to write and start planning!

Via: https://writersedit.com/plan-novel-using-three-act-structure/

How to Work Through Difficulty: Lewis Carroll’s Three Tips for Overcoming Creative Block

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When you have made a thorough and reasonably long effort, to understand a thing, and still feel puzzled by it, stop, you will only hurt yourself by going on.”

In addition to having authored one of my all-time favourite books, Alice’s Adventures in WonderlandLewis Carroll (January 27, 1832 – January 14, 1898) was a man of extraordinary and frequently prescient wisdom on matters of everyday life — his nine commandments of letter-writing offer timely insight into how we can make modern digital communication more civil, and his four rules for digesting information are a saving grace for our age of information overload. In The Life and Letters of Lewis Carroll, this blend of timelessness and timelines so characteristic of Carroll’s thinking comes vibrantly ablaze, but nowhere more so than in an 1885 letter to one of his child-friends, a young lady named Edith Rix.

Carroll addresses the age-old question of how to overcome creative block. More than a century before psychologists identified the essential role of taking breaks in any intense creative endeavor, and long before our earliest formal theories about the stages of the creative process, Carroll offers spectacularly prescient counsel on how to work through creative difficulty and seemingly unsolvable problems — a testament to the fact that in the study of creativity, psychology often simply names and formalizes the intuitive insights artists have had for centuries, if not millennia.

Carroll offers young Edith three tips:

When you have made a thorough and reasonably long effort, to understand a thing, and still feel puzzled by it, stop, you will only hurt yourself by going on. Put it aside till the next morning; and if then you can’t make it out, and have no one to explain it to you, put it aside entirely, and go back to that part of the subject which you do understand. When I was reading Mathematics for University honors, I would sometimes, after working a week or two at some new book, and mastering ten or twenty pages, get into a hopeless muddle, and find it just as bad the next morning. My rule was to begin the book again. And perhaps in another fortnight I had come to the old difficulty with impetus enough to get over it. Or perhaps not. I have several books that I have begun over and over again.”

His second tip is particularly noteworthy for the way it compares and contrasts Carroll’s two domains of genius, writing and mathematics — for, lest we forget, behind the pen name Lewis Carroll always remained the brilliant mathematician and logician Charles Dodgson. He writes:

My second hint shall be — Never leave an unsolved difficulty behind. I mean, don’t go any further in that book till the difficulty is conquered. In this point, Mathematics differs entirely from most other subjects. Suppose you are reading an Italian book, and come to a hopelessly obscure sentence — don’t waste too much time on it, skip it, and go on; you will do very well without it. But if you skip a mathematical difficulty, it is sure to crop up again: you will find some other proof depending on it, and you will only get deeper and deeper into the mud.”

In a way, this dichotomy also illuminates the difference between reading and writing. Writing is almost mathematical, in the sense that it requires a clarity of logic in order for the writer to carry the plot forward. A reader may be able to read over a muddled sentence and still follow the plot — but only if that sentence was unmuddled for the writer in carrying the plot forward. In that sense, while Carroll’s advice to Edith considers her experience as a reader, his advice to a writer regarding creative block would be more closely aligned with the mathematician’s experience — if a writer were to skip over a difficulty in the construction of a story, which is essentially a logical difficulty, it too “is sure to crop up again.”

Carroll’s third tip is at once remarkably simple and remarkably challenging to apply for anyone who has ever tussled with the mentally draining but spiritually sticky process of creative problem-solving:

My third hint is, only go on working so long as the brain is quite clear. The moment you feel the ideas getting confused leave off and rest, or your penalty will be that you will never learn Mathematics at all!”

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Via: https://www.brainpickings.org/lewis-carroll-creative-block-letter/