Kathryn Stockett’s “The Help” has been hugely successful both as a novel and as a film. In an article on Shine (part of Yahoo), she talks about the rejections she got along the way.
The first rejection came from an agent who said “the manuscript did not sustain my interest.” Instead of despairing, Stockett went back to editing to make the story more riveting.
A few months later she sent it out to agents again. Fifteen more rejections. By eighteen months the number of rejections totalled 40. She says the one that finally made her cry said, “There is no market for this kind of tired writing.” Talk about a slap in the face!
She continued rewriting. She even started “cheating” on her husband: “I started lying to my husband. It was as if I were having an affair—with 10 black maids and a skinny white girl. After my daughter was born, I began sneaking off to hotels on the weekends to get in a few hours of writing. I’m off to the Poconos! Off on a girls’ weekend! I’d say. Meanwhile, I’d be at the Comfort Inn around the corner. It was an awful way to act, but—for God’s sake—I could not make myself give up.”
The rejections continued. Sixty in all.
Submission number 61 was to agent Susan Ramer.
She took on the book.
Three weeks later she sold it to Amy Einhorn books.
Here’s what Stockett says about the moral of the story: “The point is, I can’t tell you how to succeed. But I can tell you how not to: Give in to the shame of being rejected and put your manuscript—or painting, song, voice, dance moves, [insert passion here]—in the coffin that is your bedside drawer and close it for good. I guarantee you that it won’t take you anywhere. Or you could do what this writer did: Give in to your obsession instead.”
Don’t kid yourself—the rejections will hurt. I’ve been a full-time writer for a long time. I know that rejections come with the territory. You know what? That doesn’t make it any easier.
My last rejection came at the tail end of a lot of encouraging correspondence from the publisher in question. It all looked like it was going to happen—but it didn’t. I was depressed about it for weeks.
It’s taken a bit of time, but now I’m going to start submitting the project again. As Stockett says, “What if I had given up at 15? Or 40? Or even 60?”
If your work has been rejected, join me.
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(If you have lost focus with your writing or your work habits in general, you'll find friendly guidance and a wealth of practical tips in my book, "Focus: Use the power of targeted thinking to get more done." It's published by Pearson and you can order it now from Amazon or another bookseller.)