Monday’s New York Times story on the Dan Brown trial, “‘Da Vinci Code’ Author Testifies in London,” covered the author’s testimony, which happened to focus mainly on his background and his writing process. The bestselling author also revealed his earlier struggles as a newly published writer. Brown said “he felt that Simon & Schuster, which published his earlier books, did a terrible job of promoting them.” He also wrote in a statement that his wife had to handle the marketing, that they had to pay for his book tour out of their own pockets, and that they literally sold his books out of their car — all of which, he contends, was enough to make him consider giving up writing.
I’m sure he is very glad he didn’t.
This reminded me of all the stories I’ve read and heard about the myriad struggles of now-successful writers — which I am so glad they share with us. If we didn’t know better, we might think that it’s easy to write a bestseller or a work of literary genius. But fortunately, we do know better. We know, for example, thanks to his book On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, that Stephen King was living in a trailer and working in a laundry when he tossed his novel-in-progress, Carrie, into the garbage. His wife discovered it there, encouraged him to keep working on it, and he later sold it for a modest advance, with the paperback rights selling for $400,000.
Rumor also has it that an editor once told Vladimir Nabokov that the manuscript for Lolita should be “buried under a large stone,” and that F. Scott Fitzgerald was told, “You’d have a decent book if you’d get rid of that Gatsby character.”
These writers were wise to stick with their ideas and to stand by their works, and they have proven that while it’s not easy for anyone, success is only possible if you keep trying. So when you get that next short-story rejection slip, remember that Jack London was rejected more than 600 times before he published his first story. When your agent sends you another stack of publishers’ rejects, remember that Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind was rejected by 20 publishers before finding a home, and that Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 was rejected 21 times. And don’t forget that John Grisham was turned down by more than 30 publishers before selling The Firm — and that J.K. Rowling, once unemployed and on welfare, is now a bestselling author and a billionnaire.
All of these writers have one thing in common: not giving up. Remember that next time you think of giving up your story or poem or novel or memoir — and keep going instead.