Kathryn Stockett’s ‘The Help’ Turned Down 60 Times Before Becoming a Best Seller
How do you keep going when it seems the world, not to mention 60 literary agents, wants you to fail? Kathryn Stockett, author of the best seller “The Help”, started keeping secrets, even from her husband: “It was as if I were having an affair.”
By Kathryn Stockett
Photograph: Ben Hoffman
By rejection number 45, I was truly neurotic. It was all I could think about—revising the book, making it better, getting an agent, getting it published. I insisted on rewriting the last chapter an hour before I was due at the hospital to give birth to my daughter. I would not go to the hospital until I’d typed The End. I was still poring over my research in my hospital room when the nurse looked at me like I wasn’t human and said in a New Jersey accent, “Put the book down, you nut job—you’re crowning.”
It got worse. I started lying to my husband. It was as if I were having an affair—with 10 black maids and a skinny white girl. After my daughter was born, I began sneaking off to hotels on the weekends to get in a few hours of writing. I’m off to the Poconos! Off on a girls’ weekend! I’d say. Meanwhile, I’d be at the Comfort Inn around the corner. It was an awful way to act, but—for God’s sake—I could not make myself give up.
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.
The point is, I can’t tell you how to succeed. But I can tell you how not to: Give in to the shame of being rejected and put your manuscript—or painting, song, voice, dance moves, [insert passion here]—in the coffin that is your bedside drawer and close it for good. I guarantee you that it won’t take you anywhere. Or you could do what this writer did: Give in to your obsession instead.
And if your friends make fun of you for chasing your dream, remember—just lie.
This essay appears in the anthology The Best Advice I Ever Got: Lessons from Extraordinary Lives, edited by Katie Couric and published by Random House in April. The Help has just come out in paperback, and a movie adaptation is scheduled for release in August.