There's life (and a living) after rejection

Bestselling authors are among those who struggled to get their first book accepted

Sunday 06 January 2008 01:00 GMT

Catherine O'Flynn had her novel What Was Lost turned down by 20 agents and publishers before it was accepted by the small Birmingham firm Tindal Street Press. It has since been shortlisted for the Orange and the Man Booker prizes and last week won the Costa First Novel Award. If your first magnum opus is still waiting to be propelled to Booker-winning glory, take heart from these rejectees.

G P Taylor, a Yorkshire vicar, self-published Shadowmancer before getting a deal with Faber. He now commands six-figure advances.

Doris Lessing was rejected by her publisher when she sent in a manuscript under a pseudonym.

Lionel Shriver's seventh novel, We Need to Talk About Kevin, was so controversial that it was rejected by several agents and publishers. It became a small underground hit before taking off and winning the 2005 Orange Prize.

Stephen King's first novel was rejected by Doubleday, prompting him to take a teaching job. He began a short story called Carrie but threw the manuscript in the bin. His wife retrieved it. Doubleday bought the hardback rights for $2,400 (1,200), and New American Library paid $400,000 for the paperback rights.

Claire Morrall's Astonishing Splashes of Colour was shortlisted for the 2003 Booker prize after being rejected by the major publishing houses and taken on by Tindal Street Press. She still has four rejected novels in a cupboard at home.

Jill Paton Walsh was an established author, but publishers were afraid to take on her religious allegory, Knowledge of Angels. She self-published, and it was shortlisted for the Booker prize.

Richard Adams's Watership Down was rejected by 13 publishers and several agents. It was taken on by Rex Collings, a small publisher who printed 2,500 copies. It has since sold about 15 million copies worldwide.

Alasdair Gray's Lanark, begun in the 1950s, was rejected by everybody. Gray finally signed up with the Scottish publisher Canongate and is credited with changing the face of Scottish literature.

John Grisham's first novel, A Time To Kill, was rejected by 16 agents and a dozen publishers before being taken up by the small Wynwood Press. He became one of the best-selling novelists of all time.

William Golding's Lord of the Flies was first touted as Strangers from Within and rejected by 20 publishers. Faber and Faber saw some potential and asked for substantial revisions before publishing it in 1954. Golding went on to win the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Norman Mailer's The Naked and the Dead was rejected by six or seven British publishers on grounds of obscenity. Andre Deutsch dared to publish it and has since been named as one of the 100 best novels in the English language by just about everyone.

Marina Lewycka's father wrote a history of the tractor, which he failed to sell to publishers. She then named her debut novel A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian. It was snapped up by Viking for 25,000 and won the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize for comic writing.

And finally... J K Rowling's first Harry Potter novel was taken on by the prestigious Christopher Little agency but still rejected by a dozen publishers, including Penguin, Transworld and HarperCollins. The small London publishers Bloomsbury eventually took it on, apparently on the advice of the CEO's eight-year-old daughter.

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