7 Best Rejection Letters Of All Time

By Vivian Giang and Lynne Guey

Sub Pop Records addresses its letter "Dear Loser."

The New York Times does not like the use of the word "asshole."

This literary quarterly couldn't describe how bad a manuscript was.

Author Gertrude Stein was probably fuming when she got this letter from publisher Arthur C. Fifield mocking her manuscript of "Three Lives."

An editor offered about the harshest criticism you can give a freelancer.‚Äč

Before he became famous for masterpieces such as "Beetlejuice" and "The Nightmare before Christmas," Tim Burton was rejected by Disney.

In 1938, Disney wouldn't even consider women in the creative department.

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People sure have a lot of time on their hands...

July 02 2013 at 3:46 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I've always liked this succinct conclusion on an employee's evaluation:

"The woman has delusions of adequacy"...

Wes Mix

July 02 2013 at 10:59 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

As an occasional editor and long-time writer, it discouraged me to find several of these letters on a “Top Seven Rejection” list. The NYT note returning a ms. for including “*******”; the Disney comments to Tim Burton; and the allegedly “harshest criticism” to a freelancer: these Editors believed they were doing the wannabe authors a favor.

They were. Odds are they will be less likely to try again. Writers who submit not-quite-right material in the future should expect standard forms from which they will learn nothing. Many will whine, “Yeah, well they only want stuff from big names. The whole game is rigged.”

Right. Why? Because while every Ed is eager to find new talent, pros often get preference because they take criticism without soiling themselves over the loss of a prepositional phrase. (Believe me, I’ve lived through these fits, first as an earnest author who threw them, then as an impatient Ed.)

Here’s the hard truth: if you want to play in major leagues, learn the rules, and why these rules are in place; then make damn sure the Editor knows you understand his or her constraints. That’s especially true for writers who will—as I have— twist, bend and occasionally shatter standards in ways an Editor will need to defend. If you’re too much the “artiste” for that, blog into the ether and hope to an audience that appreciates you. You just might.


By my lights, smart responses from writers who received the letters identified above would sound like those below.

• “Next time I’ll try to consider the guidelines and expectations of the publication to which I’m submitting”;
• “Thanks Ms. Kroger for taking time to assess my script and offer encouragement. I’ll think this over, work on my skills, and astonish you soon”;
• “Your letter inspired me to re-draft this as third person reportage. I will hope it fits, and appreciate your time.”

Last note: if these come across too conciliatory, fine. Find your own words. Just keep in mind that ever good Ed is committed to his or her publication’s readers; and the great ones—the mentors, now too few—can help you reach those readers in ways that will help you make a mark.

July 01 2013 at 3:12 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Been there. Done that. Drowned sorrows in Xanax and video games.

June 27 2013 at 3:28 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I didn't think Tim Burton's letter was that bad. She was constructive with her criticisms, and pointed out specifics of what she liked. Finally she encouraged him to continue working. They rest were lacking this.

June 27 2013 at 1:29 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Editors should to respond to submissions in the same manner they would want to be treated if they were the submitter.

June 27 2013 at 12:48 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Years ago I worked as a junior literary agent in NYC. Although our agency handled some of the biggest names in publishing, we also ran a scam where we charged unpublished authors a fee to "consider their work for representation." One author of a rejected children's book penned all of her correspondence in rhyme. Finally, I replied in kind:

Dear Ms. Q-:
Thank you for your letter,
To hear from you again
Always is a pleasure,
Despite your rhymed disdain.
There is (your pardon) one last thing
That I would like to say,
Before I slap a postage stamp
First, we hoped your story
Would be one that we could sell,
Sadly, that was not to be,
So through our report we had to tell
Exactly what was wrong
And also what was right,
So that the next time you sit down,
A salable story you might write.
You know we spend a lot of time
And energy on submissions,
In hopes of finding those that fly,
From which we earn commissions.
But every script stands on its own,
And one may fly, another sink.
To find out which, we charge a fee
To cover costs. That's fair, I think.
In any case, you've made your choice,
So here's to you your script returned,
But if your mind should ever change,
I promise you, you won't be spurned.
All best wishes,

June 26 2013 at 9:10 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

OMG! People actually write this kind of crap to other people? How about being a little more tactful in choice of words?

June 26 2013 at 8:34 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

First one says "Dear Loner" not loser. Definitely an "N"

June 26 2013 at 7:03 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to Bella's comment

The two "dots" which constitute the bottom of the two sides of the letter "n" are parallel to each other, but the two "dots" that constitute the bottom of the two sides of the letter "s" are not, with the dot on the right side of the s being higher than the dot on the left side. If you look at the n's and s's in the first paragraph you will see that the letter is an s, not an n. Definitely an "S."

June 26 2013 at 11:46 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

It clearly states 'loser'.

June 27 2013 at 12:40 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Gary G.

Elli - If you look closely with a magnifying glass, it is definitely an "n". It is open in the middle and not crossed through the middle like an "s" would be. It is also open on the bottom. So I would have to agree with Keith that it is an N.

June 26 2013 at 5:01 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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