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Hurts, doesn’t it?
Whether it’s a publisher rejecting your first novel, a record label saying your demo stinks, or a university deeming you unqualified, rejection stings. Even a petty rejection from a guy or girl you like hurts.
Everyone’s been rejected at least once in their life, including famous people you admire.
Before they got the big book deals, fans, movies, and worldwide fame, they faced rejection… just like you. Maybe even worse because some of them got rejected hundreds of times! Instead of giving up though, they used rejection to fuel their desire to succeed.
Don’t believe me? I’ve got the letters to prove it!
1. Todd McFarlane
Todd McFarlane has drawn Batman, Spawn, Hulk and many notable characters for Marvel. Before that, he braved the long, harsh world of pitching comics. He sent more than 700 submissions and got 350 rejection letters.
Yes, he got rejected about 50% of the time. But he didn’t lose hope.
“I was always flattered when anyone would take the time to look at what I had sent them… It’s kind of funny that the Marvel envelopes and letterhead had Spider-Man on them, because in a few short years after getting some of these rejection letters, I would actually be drawing the Spidey comic itself,” McFarlane says of the rejection he got from Marvel.
2. Tim Burton
Before his whimsical characters at The Night before Christmas became famous, Disney rejected The Giant Zlig, Burton’s illustrated children’s book.
As far as rejections go, Burton was let off easy. He was given detailed feedback by Disney’s editor, not a template rejection letter. “Considering that you suffer from a lack of the proper tools and materials, the art is very good,” reads the letter. Unfortunately, his work was deemed “too derivative of the Seuss works to be marketable.”
This early rejection didn’t faze him. After graduating with a major in animation, Disney accepted him as an apprentice animator in 1980. He eventually set up his own studio and went on to direct hits like Batman and Edward Scissorhands.
3. Jason Segel
Okay, this one isn’t like the typical rejections listed here. But it’s a rejection nonetheless. Jason Segel, aka Marshall Eriksen of How I Met Your Mother, got this note from Hillary Clinton.
This was after Clinton found out Segel felt she’d be good at comedy, and could possibly play the role of the mysterious woman in the yellow umbrella.
4. Julia Child
The video is Marylene Altiere of Radcliffe Institute’s Schlesinger Library showing the letter Child received from Houghton Mifflin in 1959.
Before gaining recognition as the woman who taught America how to cook, Julia Child endured many challenges in her cooking career. She was criticized by the headmistress of Le Cordon Bleu for wanting a diploma, and later on by book publishers.
An early manuscript of Mastering the Art of French Cooking was rejected by Houghton Mifflin because it was too long, almost encyclopedic. Child revised the book over a period of ten years with co-authors Loisette Bertholle and Simca Beck, until it was picked up by Knopf Publishing.
5. Jim Lee
Jim Lee, co-publisher of DC Comics had a rough start. He remembers snail mailing pages of his work every month, getting rejected left and right by major publishers like DC and Marvel.
He didn’t take the rejections too hard, choosing instead to see the positive side of things.
“His line at the end meant the world to me. Still does,” he says of the rejection he got from then Executive Editor of DC Comics, Dick Giordano.
“A lot of people are afraid to say what they want. That’s why they don’t get what they want.”
Before her first self-titled album sold millions of copies, she was rejected by Millennium Records. Lenner rejected Madonna saying “she’s not ready” after hearing four of her songs. But he concedes she has the “basis of a strong artist.”
7. Steven Spielberg
Being a famous director doesn’t exempt you from rejection. When the person rejecting you is a famous actor, the power dynamics change.
Steven Spielberg was rejected by Daniel Day Lewis after he offered him the part of Abe in the movie Lincoln. There’s no picture of the letter, but here’s an excerpt from Rolling Stone. Note the part in bold.
“I can’t account for how at any given moment I feel the need to explore life as opposed to another, but I do know that I can only do this work if I feel almost as if there is no choice; that a subject coincides inexplicably with a very personal need and a very specific moment in time. In this case, as fascinated as I was by Abe, it was the fascination of a grateful spectator who longed to see a story told, rather than that of a participant. That’s how I feel now in spite of myself, and though I can’t be sure that this won’t change, I couldn’t dream of encouraging you to keep it open on a mere possibility.”
8. Andy Warhol
“They always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.”
It’s safe to say Warhol lived by this quote. In 1956, he donated a drawing to the Museum of Modern Art’s (MoMA) fall collection, only to receive a nondescript rejection letter.
But his success and hard work changed MoMA committee’s opinion of his art. They rejected his gift before but they now own 168 pieces of his work.
Now this is a rejection letter! It’s clearly not a template — at least I hope it isn’t. EMI Records sent this to Venom, the band that pioneered extreme metal in the 80s.
10. Alice Munro
Alice Munro’s Dance of the Happy Shades was rejected by an editor from Knopf. “As a collection I suppose there is nothing particularly new and exciting here,” writes Editor Judith Jones.
She’s now a Nobel laureate for her work in literature and recipient of the Governor General’s Award, the highest literary honor in Canada.
11. Kurt Vonnegut
After sending three samples of his work to The Atlantic, Vonnegut received a long-overdue, almost rude rejection from then editor Edward Weeks.
Weeks wrote that he found Vonnegut’s submissions during their “usual summer house-cleaning,” almost to say that his work was trashed. He continues, “‘What’s a Fair Price for Golden Eggs?’ have drawn commendation although neither one is quite compelling enough for final acceptance.”
U2’s first single was released in Dublin back in 1979 but was swiftly rejected by RSO Records May of that year. Like majority of the rejection letters rising artists receive, it didn’t have any specific feedback. Just the generic “it is not suitable for us at present.”
In a year, Bono, The Ledge, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen Jr. released their first international single, “11 O’Clock” under Island Records.
13. Stieg Larsson
At age 18, Larsson received a disheartening letter after applying for the Joint Colleges of Journalism in Stockholm. According to sources, the letter states Larsson’s score was too low to be accepted in the journalism school.
He may be unqualified for J-school, but his Millennium trilogy are definitely qualified best-sellers.
14. William Golding
Golding’s Lord of the Flies was rejected by 21 publishers. It was originally called Strangers from Within until one publisher decided to print it under the more intriguing name, Lord of the Flies.
Here’s a rejection letter Golding posted on Twitter stating his work is “an absurd and uninteresting fantasy which was rubbish and dull.”
15. Edgar Rice Burroughs
Burroughs created the fictional jungle hero, Tarzan. Before the character became a Disney classic, Burroughs’ idea was rejected by The All-Story magazine back in 1913.
But he persisted so the magazine eventually agreed to print its first installment. It took two years more for Tarzan of the Apes to be published as a novel and become a hit.
What’s the lesson in all this? Are reading the rejection letters of now famous personalities supposed to make you feel good?
Yes, but not just that.
The main lesson for me is to persist. A hundred rejections, three hundred rejections – it doesn’t matter as long as you learn from it.
If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, rejection is in the eye of the reviewer.
Have you been rejected before? What did you learn from it?