Rejection letters sent to famous people

Posted by
Sejal Kapadia Pocha

"I love my rejection slips," wrote Sylvia Plath. "They show me I try.” It's not always easy to adopt Plath's words of wisdom when a crisp white rejection letter lands on your doormat (or, more likely, inbox).

But we can take consolation in the fact that some of the most successful stars have received rejection letters of their own at some point in their careers, before going on to find success.

From Madonna to Tim Burton, here are ten rejection letters sent to some of the biggest talents.

Andy Warhol

In 1956, Andy Warhol tried to give his work away for free and he couldn't. The artist received a letter from the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) declining a drawing "which you so generously offered as a gift to the Museum". Today, MoMA owns 168 of Warhol’s pieces.


This letter was written by the president of Millennium Records president Jimmy Lenner, to Madonna's team who felt the singer was not "ready yet". He continued, "I will pass for now, but I will wait for more". The date of the letter is unknown, but the star signed with Sire Records in 1982, a year before she released her first self-titled album, which has sold more than 10 million copies worldwide.

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Tim Burton

While still in secondary school, Burton sent a copy of his children’s book, The Giant Zlig, to Walt Disney Productions to be considered for publication. Editor at Walt Disney Productions was impressed with Burton's work, saying he demonstrated "a grasp of the English language better than I would expect from today's high school students". He was ultimately rejected for being “too derivative of the Seuss works to be marketable”. Of course, there's a happy ending. A few years later, the company took Burton on as an animator’s apprentice.

Sylvia Plath

The writer collected scores of rejection letters, even after the considerable success of her 1960’s The Colossus and Other Poems. In 1960, poetry editor of The New Yorker magazine, Howard Moss, wrote to Plath, politely dismissing her poem Amnesiac. He recommended she cut the entire first section of the poem and resubmit "the second section alone under that title."

(Image credit: Open Culture)

George Orwell

Even great writers like George Orwell suffered setbacks, such as when his novel Animal Farm was rejected as a “stupid and pointless fable” by Knopf Publishers in 1945. Several publishers refused the work, particularly because it was an attack on Britain’s wartime ally, the Soviet Union. When English published Frederic Warburg printed the book, 4,500 first edition copies sold within a few days. By 1973, the book had sold approximately nine million copies.

(Image credit: Instagram)

Alice Munro

Short-stories author, Alice Munro, won a Nobel Prize in Literature and is praised for having revolutionised the architecture of short stories. Her first collection of stories, Dance of the Happy Shades (1968) and won the Governor General’s Award, Canada’s highest literary prize. But the collection was first rejected by Knopf, where editor Judith Jones wrote: "As a collection I suppose there is nothing particularly new and exciting here".

(Image credit: Univeristy of Texas at Austin)


In 1979, Bono, The Edge, Larry Mullen, Jr., and Adam Clayton released their first single in Dublin. But London-based RSO Records dismissed the band’s submission in May of the same year. They were sent a generic rejection letter, which read: "it is not suitable for us at present".

(Image credit: Mental Floss)

Vladimir Nabokov

Lolita is one of the best-selling novels of all time, with over 50 million copies sold since its debut in 1955, but Vladimir Nabokov had a hard time of finding someone who would agree to publish it. One rejection letter read: "It is overwhelmingly nauseating, even to an enlightened Freudian. To the public, it will be revolting. It will not sell... I recommend that it be buried under a stone for a thousand years."

A letter written by Mrs Blanche Knopf of Alfred A. Knopf, Inc publishing house, thankfully, wasn't as harsh:

(Image credit: from the Knopf archives)

Gertrude Stein

The novelist Gertrude Stein is one of the most prominent voices of American Literature. She inspired experimental artists and had literary friends by the likes of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway. In fact, it was to Hemingway that Stein coined the phrase "the lost generation" to describe the expatriate writers living abroad between the wars. However, her writing was too dense for Arthur C. Fifield who didn't bother reading the full manuscript for The Making of Americans, sending her the most poetic rejection letter we've seen yet.

(Image credit: Mental Floss)

Jason Segel

Writer and actor Jason Segel revealed to the press that he'd love to work on-screen with Hillary Clinton, saying he felt she had a knack for comedy and claiming she could be the mysterious, titular mother in How I Met Your Mother. Clinton caught wind of Segel's messages and penned him this sweet yet crushing rejection letter:

(Image credit: Politico)

(Words: Sejal Kapadia)

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Sejal Kapadia Pocha

Sejal Kapadia Pocha covers stories about everything from women’s issues to cult foods. She describes herself as a balance between Hermione and Luna Lovegood.

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