Louisa May Alcott: Most people are familiar with Alcott’s most famous work, Little Women. Yet, Alcott faced a tremendous battle to get her work published. She was even encouraged by her family to find work as a servant to make ends meet. It was her letters back home during her experience as a nurse in the Civil War that gave her the first real opportunity she needed as a writer.
Emily Dickinson: Recluse and poet Emily Dickinson is a commonly read and loved writer. Yet in her lifetime she was all but ignored, having fewer than a dozen poems published out of her almost 1,800 completed works.
Tim Ferris: The man behind The 4 Hour Workweek, Ferris changed how many people view work and life, yet was originally rejected by 26 publishers before one gave him an opportunity. The book has been on the bestseller’s list for years, has sold all over the world, and last year Ferris published The 4 Hour Body that went to #1 on the New York Times bestsellers list.
Theodor Seuss Giesel: Today nearly every child has read The Cat in the Hat or Green Eggs and Ham, yet 27 different publishers rejected Dr. Seuss’s first book, To Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street.
John Grisham: The American author first was a lawyer who was passionate about his hobby of writing. His first book A Time to Kill took three years to write. The book was rejected 28 times until he got one approval for a 5,000-copy print. Today, he’s sold over 250 million total copies of his books.
Vincent Van Gogh: During his lifetime, Van Gogh sold only one painting, which was sold to a friend and for a very small amount of money. While Van Gogh was never a success during his life, he diligently continued with his painting, sometimes facing starvation himself to complete his over 800 known works. Today, they bring in hundreds of millions of dollars. His most expensive painting is valued at more than $140 million.
“Even the knowledge of my own fallibility cannot keep me from making mistakes. Only when I fall do I get up again.” – Vincent van Gogh
Zane Grey: Incredibly popular in the early 20th century, this adventure book writer began his career as a dentist, something he quickly began to detest. So, he began to write, only to see rejection after rejection for his works, being told eventually that he had “no business being a writer” and should give up. It took him years, but at 40, Zane finally got his first work published, leaving him today with almost 90 books to his name and selling over 50 million copies worldwide.
Stephen King: The first book by this author, the iconic thriller Carrie, received 30 rejections, finally causing King to give up and throw the drafts in the garbage. His wife fished it out and encouraged him to resubmit it, and the rest is history, with King now having hundreds of books published, he has the distinction of being one of the best-selling authors of all time. He has sold more than 350 million copies of his books.
Jack London: This well-known American author hadn’t always been a success. While he would go on to publish popular novels like White Fang and The Call of the Wild, his first story received six hundred rejection slips before finally being accepted.
Stephenie Meyer:The author of the wildly successful Twilight series said the inspiration from the book came from a dream. She finished it in three months but never intended to publish it until a friend suggested she should.
She wrote 15 letters to literary agencies. Five didn’t reply. Nine rejected. Only one gave her a chance. Eventually eight publishers auctioned for the right to publish Twilight. She received a three-book deal worth $750,000. In 2010, however, Forbes reported she earned around $40 million.
Monet: Today Monet’s work sells for millions of dollars and hangs in some of the most prestigious institutions in the world. Yet during his own time, his work was mocked and rejected by the Paris salon, the artistic elite of the era. Monet continued his impressionist style, which eventually gained popularity, and in many ways was a starting point for some major changes to art that ushered in the modern era.
J. K. Rowling: Rowling is the author of the wildly successful ‘Harry Potter’ series, yet before she published the series of novels she was nearly penniless, severely depressed, divorced, and attempting to raise a child on her own while attending school and writing a novel simultaneously. Rowling progressed from depending on welfare to survive, to being one of the richest women in the world in a span of only five years through her hard work and determination.
In June of 2008, Rowling spoke to the graduating class of Harvard University. She didn’t speak about success; she spoke about failures- her own in particular. “You might never fail on the scale I did,” Rowling told the audience. “But it is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all-in which case, you fail by default.”
Charles Schultz: Schultz’s Peanuts comic strip has had enduring fame, yet this cartoonist had every cartoon he submitted rejected by his high school yearbook staff. Even after high school, Schultz had an arduous path, applying and later facing rejection for a position working with Walt Disney.
Oscar Wilde: Wilde, the British play-write and satirist was homosexual during a time when being homosexual resulted in a prison sentence. And it did. Unlike our examples above, Wilde started out privileged, and with successful parents. He ended up being quite famous in his own life, but he died an early death as a direct result of his imprisonment. What is instructive is that he was willing to lose everything, and did, rather than pretend to be someone that he wasn’t. He also never lost his wit:
“Life is too important a thing ever to talk seriously about.”
– Oscar Wilde