Encouraging Stories of (Delayed but) Successful Writers

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When you see a book on the shelf, or click on an online novel, you’re seeing the fruit of a long journey. It looks effortless. You can’t imagine many of the classics being anything but classics. They must have always been obviously wonderful, so their authors must not struggle like you do. Wrong. Oh, so wrong. Many of the greatest writers in history faced rejection, failure, and delays. Many started their writing careers much later than you imagine, too.

Agatha Christie

One of the best-selling authors of all time never saw her first book published. After rounds of rejection, a friend-of-a-friend in the publishing industry – having been forced to read the novel by the middle friend – told her to write another book instead. This would be enough to crush many writers. But instead of giving up, Christie wrote a second book. It, too, bounced from rejection to rejection. Then, the right publisher snatched it up. And 72 more novels (all published) followed.

Stephen King

Stephen King’s fight for publication is well-documented in quasi-autobiography/writing advice book, On Writing. Long before Carrie, his break-out success, he wrote plenty of short stories, and he filled a nail on the wall with his rejection letters. Paper is pretty thin. It took a lot to fill that first nail. Now he’s one of the most prolific, popular, and financially successful authors of our time.

Toni Morrison

She’s won a Pulitzer Prize. She’s won a Nobel Prize, too. But she didn’t start submitting manuscripts in her twenties. She wasn’t published in her thirties, either. Toni Morrison’s first book, The Bluest Eye went to print when she was 40. Sometimes great ideas take a while to percolate into great words. She’s lauded as one of the greatest writers of all time, so take as much as you need.

J.R.R. Tolkien

Although he’s widely regarded as the father of modern fantasy, Tolkien didn’t exactly set out to be an author at all. He had a day job. He had a family. This makes him, on top of an amazing author in general, a glowing example for all those who feel it’s too late to start, that they missed the boat, or that they’re just too old to pen anything for the current market. He didn’t publish The Hobbit – his first novel – until he was 45.

Louisa May Alcott

You might have been assigned Little Women in school. You’ve certainly heard of it, or seen one of the multiple film/television adaptations. It’s funny if you read it in school since, as one publisher told Alcott, “Stick to your teaching, Miss Alcott. You can’t write.” Needless to say, she put the haters in their place by persevering.

What makes you anxious as a writer? Do you fear rejection from publishers? Do you worry you won’t click with younger audiences? Maybe you think you’ll never launch your book because your shorter work hasn’t been accepted (yet). Authors you admire have walked in your shoes. Share your thoughts, stories, and encouragements with other writers below!

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