Quotations

The following are observations wise or caustic (or both) made by close observers of the human variety show. This page will be frequently modified and added to as more such aphorisms cross my desk. My own American/European background, ironic inclinations and cultural-Catholic values are, inevitably, inherent in my choices of quotation. 

Below the quotations, scroll down and read a list of famous-author rejections; a bit corny and familiar, I know, but a sometimes much-needed reminder to those of us who aren't getting awards all the time that the mighty weren't always, either. Note that the list includes wordsmiths I wouldn't dignify with the name of "writer" but who have become bestsellers since their rejection days; hence the irony.

The fewer novels or plays you write–because of other parasitic interests–the fewer you will have the ability to write. The law ruling the arts is that they must be pursued to excess.

V. S. Pritchett<

If somebody writes a book and doesn’t care for the survival of that book, he’s an imbecile.     

Umberto Eco<

The only end of writing is to enable the readers better to enjoy life, or better to endure it.   

Samuel Johnson<

<

Proximity lent him the lineaments of art, but never supplied a set of his own.  

Frederic Raphael< on Ken Tynan<

How can one better magnify the Almighty than by sniggering with Him at His little jokes, particularly the poorer ones?

Samuel Beckett<

Kitsch causes two tears to flow in quick succession. The first tear says: How nice to see children running on the grass! The second tear says: How nice to be moved, together with all mankind, by children running on the grass! It is the second tear that makes kitsch kitsch.       

Milan Kundera<

[I]mages ..., for all their delightful mobility and individuality, are unequipped by their very nature for the kind of mimetic inwardness that constitutes literature.              

Adam Kirsch<

To be stupid, and selfish, and to have good health are the three requirements for happiness; though if stupidity is lacking, the others are useless.               

Gustave Flaubert<

Kipling believed civilization to be something laboriously achieved which was only precariously defended. He wanted to see the defenses fully manned and he hated the liberals because he thought them gullible and feeble, believing in the easy perfectibility of man and ready to abandon the work of centuries for sentimental qualms.                     

Evelyn Waugh<

I am too firm in consciousness of the marvelous to be ever fascinated by the mere supernatural.  

Joseph Conrad<

Ars est celare artem: It is art to conceal art.           

Ovid<, Metamorphoses

If you write truthfully and completely about anything, you write at the same time about everything.  

Russell Hoban<

Think wrongly, if you please, but in all cases think for yourself.          

Doris Lessing<

A tense and peculiar family, the Oedipuses, were they not?            

Max Beerbohm<

Islamism’s intellectual resources are so slight as to be negligible, and its pretensions ridiculous. 

Theodore Dalrymple<

My great ambition is to write a funny book; but, as you know, it’s the most difficult thing of all.

Alberto Moravia<

Barbarism is not the prehistory of humanity but the faithful shadow that accompanies its every step.

 

Alain Finkielkraut<     

If Cortez, or Shakespeare, or Gauss, or Mozart, or the Founding Fathers, or the prairie settlers, could have got nice cushy cube-jockey jobs as Administrative Assistants in the Department of Administrative Affairs, and gone home at night to watch American Idol from the comfort of a Barcalounger—well, they probably would have.  

John Derbyshire<

Writers and poets are only noticed in totalitarian regimes. They are either imprisoned and shot, or they become highly-privileged flunkies of the regime. In democracies, they are marginal figures without any influence.

Charles Simic

These two Irishmen had Irish faces...by Irish faces I mean that they were more content when looking at the ground or the far horizon; they were good at seeming stubborn and sore, bad at looking arrogant and in possession, they were good at silence, keeping their strongest feelings to themselves, sharing their deepest secrets with no one, good at masking themselves in layers of irony or self-deprecation or coiled brutality or pathetic vulnerability.                 

Colm Toibin< on Jack MacGowran< and Patrick Magee<

You don't inquire what is selling those days. You don't worry about what editors or reviewers may like or not like….You don't read chapters to friends or to a long-suffering husband or wife in order to get an independent judgment. Your own judgment is independent. You don't accept any suggested change except where you made a factual or grammatical mistake. My motto has been through all those years: Not a comma. 

Hans Koning<

If you don't have self-belief, you're fucked as a writer.

Peter Ackroyd<

…that practised and hard geniality, that velvety aggression, which makes the Irish such hard work for outsiders. 

Hilary Mantel<

I've always admired stylists. I put the writers of bumphable, ready-to-wear prose, calculated to sell, guaranteed not to shock, in the same category as artists who can't draw. There is a lack of bravery and a lot of fraud in them. I have tried never to write a book that didn't attempt something new in the way of narrative technique. Writing is an assault on cliché. I find little to admire in writers who make no attempt at originality. . . . It's death commercially, of course, but I knew from the beginning that I was too opinionated, literate, and unconventional to enjoy a widespread reputation. It doesn't bother me in the least. I've always been too busy to make money. I'm among the freest people I know. 

Alexander Theroux<

Storytelling, some say, provides escape from reality. It does no such thing. Fiction, by externalizing the hidden lives of those around us, brings us as close as we ever get to reality.         

Robert Stewart<, The Spectator

 

Literature always deals with the same things: love, death, the passage of time, hope, disillusion, man's sorrows.

 

Claude Simon< 

 

[I write] because this is my path into life. I don't know what I am without it. It's inconceivable for me to picture myself without it. I don't have a full explanation for it, any more than birds do for bird song.

Saul Bellow< <        

Rejection

You have to know how to accept rejection and reject acceptance.   

Ray Bradbury (who collected 700+ rejections before selling a word)

My work, like that of most writers, usually ends up being recycled by editors. All 12 of my short stories were turned down by the great and the small alike, from The New Yorker to the East Kilbride Busker; 4 ended up getting published, after sporadic efforts lasting many years. Of my novels, Killoyle was rejected 7 times before Dalkey Archive Press accepted it–pretty good going, considering that The Great Pint-Pulling Olympiad had made the rounds of 15 publishers before getting accepted by Grove/Atlantic. I've had less luck with The Maladjusted Terrorist (except in German, in which it has already been published twice): 6 thumbs down and counting. As for The Adorations, only my agent knows the exact number to date, but 30 may well be a conservative estimate, before my agent at Trident Media opted for the e-book route. And now Ohiowa Impromptu's making the same long, weary pilgrimage. Some day I may run out of publishers. Then I'll go back to the first one and start all over again, because that's all I can do. Other than chug a can of Drano.

So on this page I'm compiling a list of authenticated rich-and-famous author rejections for the amusement and encouragement of other hardworking authors toiling in the shadows who grind their teeth at the news of the latest publishing wunderkind or yet another award for you-know-who–and wonder if the steady influx of rejections is ever going to end.

John Banville said it best when, after years in the literary wilderness, he copped the Booker in '05: "I do say to my colleagues, just hang around, it will come. I hung around for many years and it did come." Remember that: It will come.

Maybe. 

Anyway, here's the list, as it stands, or falls.

Jason Wallace's novel Out of Shadows was rejected 100 times before winning the Costa Children's Book award.

James Joyce: Dubliners rejected 22 times

Vladimir Nabokov: Lolita rejected 7 times

J. K. Rowling: Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone rejected 14 times

Stephen King: Carrie rejected 30 times

Richard Bach: Jonathan Livingston Seagull rejected 140 times

Madeleine L'Engle: A Wrinkle in Time rejected 30 times

Anne Frank (posthumous): Diary of a Young Girl rejected 15 times

James Patterson: The Thomas Berryman Number rejected 26 times

Samuel Beckett: Murphy rejected 40 times, Waiting for Godot 35 times

William Golding: Lord of the Flies rejected 20 times

Frank Herbert: Dune rejected 13 times

Patrick Dennis: Auntie Mame rejected 17 times

Margaret Mitchell: Gone With the Wind rejected 38 times

Gavin Pretor-Pinney: The Cloudspotter's Guide rejected 28 times

John Grisham: A Time to Kill rejected 45 times 

Dr. Seuss: And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street rejected 27 times

Agatha Christie: The Mysterious Affair at Styles rejected more than 20 times

Jasper Fforde: The Eyre Affair rejected 76 times

Richard Adams: Watership Down rejected 26 times

Grace Metalious: Peyton Place rejected 14 times

Irving Stone: Lust for Life rejected 17 times

Robert W. Pirsig: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance rejected 121 times

William Kennedy: Ironweed rejected 13 times

Thor Heyerdahl: Kon-Tiki rejected 20 times

Richard Hooker: M*A*S*H rejected 17 times

Laurence Peter: The Peter Principle rejected 16 times

Meg Cabot: The Princess Diaries rejected 17 times

James Lee Burke: Pulitzer nominee The Lost Get-Back Boogie rejected 111 times 


Jack London received at least 600 rejections before selling his first story.

 

Rejection, allegedly from a Chinese economic journal (different versions of this have been around for ages):

 “We have read your manuscript with boundless delight. If we were to publish your paper, it would be impossible for us to publish any work of lower standard. And as it is unthinkable that in the next thousand years we shall see its equal, we are, to our regret, compelled to return your divine composition, and to beg you a thousand times to overlook our short sight and timidity.”