I’m sorry, Mr. Kipling, but you just don’t know how to use the English language.
Editor of the San Francisco Examiner
Rejection letter to Rudyard Kipling
No, you may not send us your verses, and we will not give you the name of another publisher. We hate no rival publisher sufficiently to ask you to inflict them on him. The specimen poem is simply awful. In fact, we have never seen worse.
Angus & Robertson Ltd.
Rejection letter to F. C. Meyer
10th April 1928
[Y]our 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.
T. S. Eliot at Faber & Faber
Rejection letter to George Orwell
13th July 1944
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.
Arthur Fifield, Publisher
Rejection letter to Gertrude Stein
19th April 1912
We are not interested in science fiction which deals with negative utopias. They do not sell.
Donald A. Wollheim at Ace Books
Rejection letter to Stephen King
The book is so endlessly complicated by details of reference and information, the interim legends become so much of a nuisance despite their relevance, that the very action of the story seems to be to become hopelessly bogged down and the book, eventually, unreadable. The whole is so dry and airless, so lacking in pace, that whatever drama and excitement the novel might have had is entirely dissipated by what does seem, a great deal of the time, to be extraneous material. My thanks nonetheless for having thought of us. The manuscript of The Left Hand of Darkness is returned herewith.
An unnamed editor
Rejection letter to Ursula K. Le Guin
21st June 1968
Thank you for your lovely and thoughtful submission to the magazine, which we are afraid we are going to have to decline, for all sorts of reasons. The weather is dreary, our backs hurt, we have seen too many cats today and as you know cats are why God invented handguns, there is a sweet incoherence and self-absorption in your piece that we find alluring but we have published far too many of same in recent years mostly authored by the undersigned, did we mention the moist melancholy of the weather, our marriages are unkempt and disgruntled, our children surly and crammed to the gills with a sense of entitlement that you wonder how they will ever make their way in the world, we spent far too much money recently on silly graphic design and now must slash the storytelling budget, our insurance bills have gone up precipitously, the women’s basketball team has no rebounders, an aunt of ours needs a seventh new hip, the shimmer of hope that was the national zeitgeist looks to be nursing a whopper of a black eye, and someone left the toilet roll thing empty again, without the slightest consideration for who pays for things like that. And there were wet towels on the floor. And the parakeet has a goiter. And the dog barfed up crayons. Please feel free to send us anything you think would fit these pages, and thank you for considering our magazine for your work. It’s an honor.
Brian Doyle, Editor of Portland Magazine
Form rejection letter to various
What kind of lame, half-mad bullshit are you trying to sneak over on us? When Rolling Stone asks for “a thinkpiece,” goddamnit, we want a fucking Thinkpiece ... and don’t try to weasel out with any of your limey bullshit about a “50,000 word novella about the condition humaine, etc....”
Do you take us for a gang of brainless lizards? Rich hoodlums? Dilettante thugs?
Hunter S. Thompson at Rolling Stone magazine
Rejection letter to Anthony Burgess
17th August 1973
In 1981, when Paul Devlin was in high school applying for a university place, he received a rejection letter from Harvard which, to his great satisfaction, contained a grammatical error. Never one to miss an opportunity, Paul quickly decided that he must reject Harvard’s rejection letter for that very reason, by letter—a process so therapeutic that Paul then decided to respond to all subsequent rejections, of which there were a few, with the following form letter. It became so popular that in May of 1981 it was reprinted in the New York Times…
Office of Admissions
Having now reviewed the many rejection letters received in the last few weeks, it is with great regret that I must inform you I am unable to accept your rejection at this time.
This year, I applied to a great number of fine colleges and universities and, of course, received many rejection letters. Unfortunately, the number of rejections that I can accept is very limited. It is for that reason that I was forced to reject the rejection letters of many qualified institutions.
This was not an easy task. Each rejection was reviewed carefully and on an individual basis. Many factors were taken into account, such as the size of the institution, student-faculty ratio, location, reputation, cost and social atmosphere.
I am certain that most of the colleges I applied to are more than qualified to reject me. I am also sure that some mistakes were made, but I hope they were few in number.
I am aware of the disappointment this decision may bring, for these were not easy judgements. Throughout my deliberations, I have kept in mind the importance to you of this decision. I wish it were possible to cite specific reasons for each of the determinations I have made but, frankly, it is not.
It was even necessary for me to reject some letters that were clearly qualified as rejections. This is surely my loss.
I appreciate your having enough interest in me to reject me, and, although it may seem inappropriate to you at this time, let me take the opportunity to wish you well in what I am sure will be a highly successful academic year.
See you all in the fall!
Sincerely, Paul Devlin Applicant at Large
Meyer didn’t give up. His poetry was eventually published.
The rejected novel was The Running Man.
Even though rejection is common, it is not something that we associate with successful people. This collection of letters is gold! It certainly restores faith in trying people.
So happy I found our Substack. No idea how I did, but it's gold. I've signed up to a few others just so I don't look uninterested, but on the whole I am very much uninterested.