Vanity Presses and Rejections

Fifty to a hundred years ago, self-publishing was called vanity press as a slight to those who deemed their book worthy of printing after being rejected. The implication was that the the “gatekeepers” (editors with impeccable judgment) knew best, but the authors were too vain to believe that their manuscripts were bad. In their vanity, the authors hired a press to print their books. It was very expensive since they were required to buy hundreds of books, which then sat in your garage until you started throwing them away.

A lot has changed. It’s not expensive to hire a company. In fact, Createspace lets you publish for free. You upload your interior as a PDF, choose from one of the templates for a cover (or upload your own image), and then buy the books. Thanks to print-on-demand printing, a machine can print a book in the matter of minutes. This allows an author to buy one or one thousand copies.

These vain presses (or self-publishing) has brought us incredible authors. Look at this list of self-published authors…both from long ago and now.

Benjamin Franklin, William Blake, Virginia Woolf, Thomas Paine, Alexandre Dumas, Walt Whitman, James Joyce, E.E. Cummings, Oscar Wilde, Tom Peters (In Search of Excellence), D.H. Lawrence, Thomas Paine, Christopher Paolini, Edgar Allen Poe, George Bernard Shaw, E. B. White, Upton Sinclair, G.P. Taylor, Mark Twain, Henry David Thoreau, Zane Grey, Rudyard Kipling, Carl Sandburg, Gertrude Stein, John Grisham, and Stephen King. And the list goes on!

Editors didn’t always make the best call. Many people believe that a novel that has been rejected isn’t good. We tend to think that editors are looking for great writing, and if our writing is great, the editor will accept it. That idea is wrong! Editors are also looking for profit, especially today where the houses are losing money. And remember…editors are humans and sometimes they make bad judgment calls. Don’t believe me? Look at this…

  • Pearl S. Buck. The Good Earth – 14 times.
  • Joseph Heller. Catch-22 – 22 times.
  • Anne Frank. Diary of Anne Frank – 16 rejections. One publisher said, “The girl doesn’t, it seems to me, have a special perception or feeling which would lift that book above the ‘curiosity’ level.
  • Stephen King. His first four novels were rejected. On his fifth book, King received 30 rejections, and then he threw it in the trash. His wife fished it out. King sent it out again. One of the publishers said, “We are not interested in science fiction which deals with negative utopias. They do not sell.” It was finally bought, with little enthusiasm, for $2,500. It’s called Carrie.
  • Frank Herbert. Dune – 23 rejections. It won the Hugo Award for Best Novel. Dune was followed by five sequels and a film version of the book.
  • William Golding. Lord of the Flies – 20 rejections. One publisher said: “An absurd and uninteresting fantasy which was rubbish and dull.”
  • Richard Doddridge Blackmore. Lorna Doone – 18 rejections. Today Blackmore is considered one of the greatest British authors of the 19th century.
  • Richard Hooker. M*A*S*H – 21 times. Before the series, and the film, there was the novel.
  • Margaret Mitchell. Gone With the Wind – 38 rejections. It won a Pulitzer Prize in 1937.
  • Madeleine L’Engle. A Wrinkle in Time – 26 rejections.
  • J.K. Rowling. Harry Potter –12 times. A small London publisher took it on because the CEO’s eight-year-old daughter begged her father to print it.
  • George Orwell. Animal Farm – at least once. One publisher rejected it because “It is impossible to sell animal stories in the USA.”
  • Richard Adams. Watership Down – at least once. The publisher said “Older children wouldn’t like it because its language was too difficult.”
  • John Grisham. A Time to Kill – 15 publishers, 30 agents.
  • Chicken Soup for the Soul.140 rejections. Today, the 65-title series has sold more than 80 million copies in 37 languages.
  • Dr. Seuss. To Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street – 29 rejections.
  • Louis L’Amour. 200 rejections.
  • Jack London.  600 rejections.

You don’t have to pay thousands of dollars to see your book in print. You don’t even have to be rejected. Do you want to follow Jack London’s example and collect 600? Why not skip this step and get your book into print today?

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