Sunday, August 31, 2008

September 1: Author Rejection Day

Today is the birthday of Robert M. Pirsig, the author of the philosophical novel Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, and holder of the world record for literary rejection.

Pirsing wrote Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance in 1968, but it was not published until 1974. Pirsig received a record 121 rejections from publishing houses. Since its publication, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance has achieved cult status and sold more than 4 million copies.

The book is based on a motorcycle trip that Pirsig took from Minnesota to San Francisco with his 11-year-old son Chris (1).

Here are some other examples of authors who did not let publisher rejections discourage them:

-Richard Bach's book Jonathan Livingston Seagull was rejected by 26 publishers before it was finally accepted. It sold 30 million copies worldwide.

-J.K. Rowling received 14 rejections for her first Harry Potter book.

-Stephen King received more than 30 rejections for his first novel Carrie.

-Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time received over 30 rejections.

Today's Challenge: Authors' Last Laughs

The book titles and authors below all received rejection slips along with uncomplimentary words about their writing. See if you can match up the rejection with the author/title.

Carrie by Stephen King

The Diary of Anne Frank

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

Crash by J G Ballard

Animal Farm by George Orwell

Lust for Life by Irving Stone

1. ‘The author of this book is beyond psychiatric help.'

2. ‘The girl doesn’t, it seems to me, have a special perception or feeling which would lift that book above the “curiosity” level.’

3. ‘ A long, dull novel about an artist.’

4. 'We are not interested in science fiction which deals with negative utopias. They do not sell.'

5. ‘I haven’t really the foggiest idea about what the man is trying to say… Apparently the author intends it to be funny – possibly even satire – but it is really not funny on any intellectual level … From your long publishing experience you will know that it is less disastrous to turn down a work of genius than to turn down talented mediocrities.’

6. ‘It is impossible to sell animal stories in the USA.’

Word of the Day: Ostracize

A synonym for the word rejection, this word means specifically to banish or to send into exile. The word comes from the Greek ostrakon, meaning potsherd – a broken shard of pottery. The story behind the word relates to a practice in ancient Athens where citizens would vote to remove a person from the community by casting their ballots on a potsherd. Anyone receiving the requisite number of votes was then banished for a period of ten years (4).

Quote of the Day: Metaphysics is a restaurant where they give you a thirty thousand page menu, and no food. --Robert Pirsig


1. Crash by J G Ballard
2. The Diary of Anne Frank
3. Lust for Life by Irving Stone
4. Carrie by Stephen King
5. Catch – 22 by Joseph Heller
6. Animal Farm by George Orwell

1- This Day in History - September 1 - Literary - The History Channel

2 - Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Online version

3- Rotten Rejections

4 -