Rejection Letters: ‘Perhaps we’re being dense…’


On finally completing that manuscript, crafting one sublime essay, mastering a poetic masterpiece, achieving your greatest photographic composition…now what?

Since writing here last week about deciding to collate my short stories into book form, aside from finishing the novel currently hogging my hard-drive, I’ve been considering rejection letters that surely will one day clog my inbox.

It undeniably takes guts to distribute one’s work to discerning literary and visual top-brass in hopes of securing their approval, leading to both professional validation and an increase in bank balance. Yes, yes, we all know that casting a net wide in this Writers & Artists pool will inevitably bait rejection but, parking our realism aside, each of us creatives hope for snagging that big break, to arise to the top of murky slush pile, be discovered, not adrift in sea of aspirational uncertainty.

So, this Monday morning, I approach the week with three rejection letters to lift my spirits. I laugh at all three–not just because creative brilliance was overlooked only to be inevitably discovered and produced, but the wording of said letters is quite hilarious.


Plath Rejection Letter

I love that The New Yorker admits to perhaps ‘being dense’ in not understanding the correlation between sections of Sylvia’s Amnesiac submission; however, this is a fine example when the crux of a rejection encourages improvement to the writer’s work. Plath heeded their advice, crossed out the section TNY refers to and that deleted poem subsequently became ‘Lyonnesse.’

Plath reads the published Amnesiac here.


Stein Rejection Letter

Gertrude Stein is a genius and ‘a trickster,’ says The New York Times in 2012. But Stein received this rejection letter in 1912.  The rejection letter is rather ranting and odd, with Alfred C. Fifield mirroring Stein’s repetition in her submitted manuscript. Fiefield writes:

Only one look, one look is enough. Hardly one copy would sell here. Hardly one. Hardly one.

Hardly one copy? Stein did publish this manuscript, The Making of Americans: Being a History of a Family’s Progress, in 1925. But would you recover from receiving such a rejection letter? Would it pack a hefty blow to your ego, to your confidence? Or, would your skin be thick enough to plough forward until publication? Stein certainly maintained a mighty determined focus throughout her career.


This year, a survey of comedians and comedy writers/actors cited Fawlty Towers as ‘the best British sitcom of all time’ but its rejection letter sent to BBC’s Head of Comedy and Light Entertainment demonstrates that comedy genius can be overlooked. I wonder if Ian Main, the author of the rejection letter at top, later sat through all twelve of Cleese and Booth’s episodes, tossed back a few whiskeys and reconsidered his perhaps rash assessment that Fawlty Towers was anything other than ‘a collection of cliches’ that would ultimately prove ‘a disaster.’ Fawlty Towers can be marmite—some absolutely love it, some are not massive fans—but it’s survived many decades and Manuel still evokes guffaws worldwide.

A toast today to rejection letters!

Receiving one may punch the air temporarily from one’s gut but clearly, from the above and countless other examples (say hello JK Rowling), one agent’s mud pie is another agent’s scrumptious gateau.

Keep submitting your work. Success may just be one letter away.

30 thoughts on “Rejection Letters: ‘Perhaps we’re being dense…’”

  1. I wonder if those consacrated writers improved the manuscripts —- Otherwise the editorials should have lacked many thing… Literary common sense, among them 😉 Those rejection letters are “gems” (maybe in a quite twisted way, I know: not that I find enjoyment in other´s failure, ha!). Anyway, loved reading them!.Have a great week! 🌟★

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Brilliant comments, much appreciated. They are indeed “gems” and yes, I understand Plath did amend her original submission to suit their criticism so her poem was then published. Much to learn in scanning oft curious and pithy rejections.

      Your blog is a luscious space of art and words. Each post is a rich, comprehensive piece of learning for art and history. Must take you ages to compile all the words/facts/images…well done!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Your lead letter about Fawlty Towers really sucked me in. It makes you wonder how many TV shows, books, plays, and poems never saw the light of day because of letters like these. There should be a place where the rejected pieces can be found by others who are more enlightened. Yes, a rejection database! A writer doesn’t always know who to pitch to. People looking for creative talent don’t always find it on their doorstep.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. A rejection database sounds a brilliant resource!

      In a (writing) world–where the message is that nailing a publishing deal for novel/poetry/screenplays et al. can simply be down to luck of who reads the submission–it feels crucial that those with creative talent band together to support each other…even if that means sharing a collective chuckle of bafflement at fine work that once got rejected, only to later triumph.

      I appreciate you reading my post and commenting. Cheers!


  3. I’d never seen the Fawlty Towers rejection before… It makes me feel better knowing one of my favourite shows was originally rejected. Thanks 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Thank you for posting this!!! I’m about to embark on this part of the process so I will just think back on this when I get down! To be at this point is something to be amazed by isn’t it? As far as your submissions go: break a pencil!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you–I shall no doubt be breaking many pencils in the months ahead.

      Wishing you much luck as you embark on that next stage of your writing. Rejections may come but success shall surely ultimately be yours.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I think if you’re lucky enough to get any feedback take the time to consider it…and then make the decision you think is best! Your final conclusion seems to sum it up perfectly: ‘ one agent’s mud pie is another agent’s scrumptious gateau.’ An interesting and original post!

    Liked by 2 people

  6. During the 1980s I wrote a whole bunch of short stories and received a whole bunch of rejection letters. That was it. I felt terminally rejected and moved on. Thirty years later I am re-visiting, re-typing, re-writing these same stories and I like them all over again! I’m think of self-publishing so I don’t have to endure those rejections again!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Such a hopeful, positive reply–thank you for commenting!

      I enjoy hearing other writers’ stories of pushing through what can sometimes prove to be damning rejection, only to revive and enjoy their words again. Best of luck with self-publishing or whatever route you take to share your writing with a wider audience. I’ll follow your blog to track your progress!

      Liked by 2 people

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