Talent isn’t always obvious. Many of the world’s most successful people have had to overcome the sting of rejection. If there’s anything that these five famous letters prove, it’s that you should never take any single person’s rejection as a definitive no. The following five famous letters of rejection prove that the path to success really is paved with stones of failure.
1. Andy Warhol
In 1956, Andy Warhol gifted one of his drawings, called “Shoe,” to the Museum of Modern Art. What a blow it must have been when they responded back that same year in October. They wrote that their Committee on the Museum Collections had decided that they didn’t want it. Ouch. The usual excuses followed; they didn’t have the storage space, the gallery space was limited, and so on. Basically, it was “thanks, but no thanks.” Now that Warhol has achieved world acclaim, the MoMA “suddenly” has plenty o’space for 168 pieces of Warhol’s art.
When Bono (Paul Hewson), The Edge (Dave Evans), Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen, Jr. formed their band in Dublin, Ireland back in 1976, they were eager to get signed by a record label. After all, clubs were packed everywhere they played. But famous letters show that their sound wasn’t appreciated by everyone. RSO Records, a label based out of London, rejected their submission, “11 O’Clock Tick Tock,” with a succinct written response to Bono that it wasn’t suitable for them at present. Yet, within a year, the band known the world over as U2 went on to sign with Island Records and “11 O’Clock Tick Tock” became an international hit.
3. Jim Lee
Jim Lee is now the world’s most famous artist in the comic book world. He is co-publisher of DC Comics, a writer and an illustrator. But when he first tried to bring his art to national attention, he was shot down in the roughest way by none other than Marvel Comics and others. Howard Mackie, the Submissions Editor of Marvel back then, didn’t even bother to address his rejection letter to Jim Lee by name. Instead, he just wrote “Hi there,” atop a standard rejection form letter. Worse, Editor Eliot Brown rejected Lee with a line that said Lee needed to learn how to draw hands. This is “hands down” one of the worst kinds of rejection letters to a creative artist!
4. Tim Burton
Tim Burton is the creative artist behind some of the most famous fantasy and horror films known today. If you’ve seen Beetljuice, Edward Scissorhands, Slepy Hollow, Ed Wood, Corpse Bride, or Nightmare Before Christmas, you’ve seen Tim Burton’s work. Obviously, he’s captured the public’s imagination with his body of work. But when Burton sent a submission of a children’s book to Walt Disney Productions, “The Giant Zlig,” it was quickly rejected by Editor T. Jeanette Kroger. Kroger cited it as being too derivative of Dr. Seuss and declared it unmarketable. Considering the consecutive box office successes of Burton’s future work, maybe rejection’s not such a bad thing after all.
5. Stieg Larson
Sometimes rejection comes along as a way of gently steering us toward our true path, as famous letters of rejection often demonstrate. This seems to be the case with writer Stieg Larson, who was told in a letter from the Joint Committee of Colleges of Journalism, that he was not good enough to be a journalist. Stieg Larson subsequently found his niche in the journalism world, writing passionately about the burgeoning trend of right wing extremism that was occurring in Sweden at the time. Stieg is of course, the world famous author of “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and its sequels.”