Two Years of Rejection: The Story of “A Wrinkle In Time”

I want to be a successful writer, whatever that means. I want to be read by at least a moderate amount of people. I would like to make a decent living by arranging words on a page – strange, if you think about it, this way of conveying ideas and stories, and perhaps even stranger, this desire to profit by it.

But most days I don’t want to pay the piper. I resist the years of practice it takes to get there. Years of Ramen Noodles and driving a vehicle without hubcaps and paying tolls with change I find under the mat.

* * * * *

In 1959, Madeleine L’Engle had the idea to write A Wrinkle in Time while on a cross-country trip with her husband and children. They were in a time of transition, and she was finding herself. Or attempting to. This sounds oddly familiar.

The book “poured from (her) fingers” when they got back from the trip. She fell in love with it. Her children loved it. Her agent loved it. She wrote that she had hoped that its publication “would end a decade during which I had received countless rejection slips for more traditional books.”

But A Wrinkle in Time went unnoticed. For two years, she received rejection after rejection. She began to doubt herself. When she finally found a publisher, they took her book on reluctantly, as a personal favor and a pet project.

“Now, dear, we don’t want you to be disappointed,” her new publisher said, “but this book is not going to sell. It’s much too difficult for children. We’re publishing it as a self-indulgence because we love it, and we don’t want you to be hurt.”

* * * * *

I always want to be at the mountain top, but often I shy away from the path that leads there.

* * * * *

We’re driving out of Chicago through a drifting rain, under skies the color of wet cement. But to the west of us, a thin red band outlines the edge of the world.

“It’s funny,” Maile says from the driver’s seat. “I’ve seen a lot of sunsets, but I’ve never thought about what was out there.”

She’s right, as usual – there is a strangeness to knowing firsthand the landscapes along the way from here to the sunset: the flat plains of Iowa and South Dakota, the bison-covered slopes of Yellowstone, the forbidding Teton Pass, the wilderness of Utah and Nevada, and the intense, sobering beauty of Carmel.

The sunset is there in the western sky and it is amazing. But the path that takes me there is greater still, and it is completely worth the journey. I can vouch for that.

To read Madeleine L’Engle’s entire essay regarding the publication of A Wrinkle in Time, check out this article in the Wheaton College archives.

19 Replies to “Two Years of Rejection: The Story of “A Wrinkle In Time””

  1. I remember reading A Wrinkle In Time at a very young age. The memories.

    We all want to be on the mountaintop. The thing is we have to go through the valley to get there. I literally work in the Tennessee Valley. But when I go home each night, I get to live in the mountains. The drive in everyday is ehhh. The drive home is wonderful.

  2. Listening to an audio course on classic literature during the commute to work, I was blown away by how many authors we now consider to be brilliant who had slow starts. Melville wasn’t famous until after his death. Henry David Thoreau self-published. It really put “success” in perspective!

    1. I recently heard that about Melville and found it very sad. I think he sold a few thousand copies of Moby Dick during his lifetime. Sheesh.

  3. Hi Shawn,
    Thanks for the shout-out. My sister, Jill Kane, has mentioned your travels across the U.S.A. with the fam. Looks like you’re going to be in Chicago soon. If you’re in the western suburbs make sure you check out Wheaton College’s Wade Center and Billy Graham Center museum. Blessings!

    1. Yes, we saw your name on the blog and couldn’t believe it! Thanks for posting such a wonderful essay. Mai had a chance to see the Oxford Writer exhibit and loved it.

  4. Wouldn’t it be lovely to have a publisher be so interested in author’s feelings? That statement from them make me laugh and cry at once. Keep on trucking, homey.

  5. Madeleine tells that story in a number of her non-fiction books – and it always, ALWAYS amazes me. How could so many reputable publishing houses have missed this classic book?? You just never know. And the timing turned out to be perfect for her. She was just entering her 40’s – and that publication began an extraordinarily prolific FORTY YEARS of publishing. Amazing, right?

  6. all publishing is a gamble. they never really know what will hit. so you are also a gambler. : )

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