Monday, 28 March 2016

Rowling's Rejections

On 25th March, JK Rowling tweeted a photo of two rejections she received , when writing as Robert Galbraith. She’d already had her Harry Potter success, so this was her starting again from scratch, in a completely different market. (As she mentions in her tweet, she’s removed the names from the letters to save embarrassment, and because she’s not publishing them for revenge, but to answer a request from a writer asking to see some of her rejection letters

Did she give up after those rejections? No. She could have done. Let’s face it, financially she did not to need to write any more. But she continued submitting. And eventually, she was published as Robert Galbraith. (It wasn’t until after it was published that news broke who Robert Galbraith really was.)

I know from my own chats with agents and editors, that it can be immensely frustrating being a writer. It might seem such a straightforward question a writer can ask: “What, exactly, are you looking for at the moment?” To which most editors and agents reply, “I don’t know, but I’ll know when I see it.”

As someone who enjoys photography, I do understand this concept. I frequently stare at a landscape view and think there’s a nice photograph there somewhere, but I can’t quite see it at the moment. My mind’s eye is surveying the whole scene, trying to identify what it is that will make me get my camera out and take the photo. Often, I’ll stand there for a while, looking. I’m hopeful there’s a decent image there somewhere, but I can’t quite determine it. If anyone were to ask me what exactly I’m looking for from that image I couldn’t tell them. But, when I do eventually find it, I know it!

The rejection letters Rowling/Galbraith received show that her books were not what those particular publishers were looking for. (Or perhaps they didn’t realise that that was what they were supposed to be looking for, and that in itself is an interesting point.) When it comes to fiction, and in some cases non-fiction too, nobody knows what’s going to be the next Big Thing. (Yes, it is frustrating that whatever happens next, it has to be Big, as far as publishers are concerned. But then, it is the Big stuff that generates the profits that enables publishers to take a risk on debut writers.)

Last week, I had my royalty statement from Hodder & Stoughton for my book One Hundred Ways For A Dog To Train Its Human. First published in September 2003, lifetime sales (to 31st December 2015) now stand at 250,996, with an additional 5,000 copies for a special print run, and Hodder are currently processing another order for 3,000 copies for another specialist supplier. (And those figures don’t include eBook sales, either.) It’s times like this I appreciate not giving up when I received my rejections for this book. I certainly never dreamt it will still be selling as it does nearly 13 years later. 

So don’t let rejection get you down. Be proud that you have something to offer publishers in the first place. And keep plugging away. JK Rowling has proved not once, but twice, that writers should never give up.

Good luck. 



  1. Never got into the Potter thing, but love her writing as Galbraith...

    And yes, we should never ever give up!

  2. ... Which is what one of the rejecting publishers now says ��

    1. I'm glad they responded, actually, but was an 'investigation' really necessary? :)

      Congrats on those amazing sales, Simon - most of us can only dream ...

    2. No, but they're probably working on the principle that there's no such thing as bad publicity, and perhaps they're hoping to attract writers who dislike Galbraith's writing and think their's is much better ;-)

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  4. On the subject of Rowling ... I'm not sure I was entirely keen about what she did. If it's embarrassing for an editor to reject a book (is it? why?) then surely it's also embarrassing for the publisher? Not sure her reasoning entirely holds water, and something doesn't quite sit right with me ... And not sure it really helps aspiring writers either.

    But I'm a grump, so who knows.

    1. One thing I will say is that I don't keep rejection letters. The ones she's pictured are standard rejection letters from these publishers (I've had exactly the same letter from one of them - is that good or bad, then?). I don't keep those standard rejections (why keep such negativity?), but I do keep those that offer some help and feedback.

      I interpreted this action as an attempt to show novice writers that everyone gets rejected, no matter what their track record is. I've had writers say to me that because I've had a bestseller, they assume everything else I write is automatically accepted (I wish!).

      However, what it might do is make others think it's all about the name. Had she submitted that novel under the name of JK Rowling, I doubt very much she'd have had those two standard rejection letters!