Writers on Writing: Kathryn Stockett’s tale of never giving up, despite rejection

book cover The Help by Kathryn StockettMore Magazine features an essay by Kathryn Stockett, author of the wildly successful novel The Help, now a wildly successful film. It’s an old story, but worth repeating: novelist gets a zillion rejections, or 60, to be more precise, before finally landing an agent, a publisher, and a long-running spot at the top of just about every bestseller list you can imagine.

Stockett’s advice for writers and anyone else who keeps hitting a brick wall? “Give in to your obsession.”

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In the end, I received 60 rejections for The Help. But letter number 61 was the one that accepted me. After my five years of writing and three and a half years of rejection, an agent named Susan Ramer took pity on me. What if I had given up at 15? Or 40? Or even 60? Three weeks later, Susan sold The Help to Amy Einhorn Books.

For Stockett, 61 was the magic number. With The Year of Fog, my magic number wasn’t far behind. I like to believe that every good book has a magic number, that books will find their way into the hands of a receptive agent and editor given enough time and persistence. For me, the agent was Valerie Borchardt, and the editor was Caitlin Alexander, and I consider my book very fortunate to have fallen into their hands.

So if you have a book that keeps coming back with a form letter that says, “Unfortunately, this book is not quite right for us,” don’t give up. Envision in your mind a magic number. You don’t know it yet. No one does. It could be twenty rejections from now, or forty. Or it could be just one.

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