“A Wrinkle in Time was almost never published. You can’t name a major publisher who didn’t reject it. And there were many reasons. One was that it was supposedly too hard for children. Well, my children were 7, 10, and 12 while I was writing it. I’d read to them at night what I’d written during the day, and they’d say, “Ooh, mother, go back to the typewriter!” A Wrinkle in Time had a female protagonist in a science fiction book, and that wasn’t done. And it dealt with evil and things that you don’t find, or didn’t at that time, in children’s books. When we’d run through forty-odd publishers, my agent sent it back. We gave up.”
A Special Message from Madeleine L’Engle
Rejected by some 40 publishers — one of the classic children’s books in recent history — think about it! Inspired by an online article my dear friend and gifted writer Linda sent me, I dipped into cyberspace to find out that A Wrinkle in Time, the book no one wanted, has gone on to sell more than 14 million copies. Luckily John Farrar at Farrar, Straus and Giroux trusted his intuition. He had a hunch about it and took a chance, even though his firm had never published a children’s book. The rest is history, or rather, mystery.
Yes, mystery. Who can explain why publishers decided that readers wouldn’t take enjoy L’Engle’s time-traveling morality tale? That they wouldn’t take it to their hearts, share it with friends, and read it together? There were all kinds of reasons given for passing on the
book: it was too complicated, too adult, kids wouldn’t read books with young female protagonists. The list goes on. And now, 55 years later, a live-action adaptation of the book by Disney is on the way. Just imagine what a block-buster that’s going to be. So go figure!
My friend and mentor Dr. Rob Gilbert* is fond of saying that, “you can count the number of seeds in an apple, but you can’t count the number of apples in a seed.” How true this is!
Right now, like me, you may be working on a project that’s running into resistance, just as A Wrinkle in Time did. People around you may be giving you all sorts of reasons why it won’t fly with readers, why you need to change this or fix that. I’m sure publishers had a boatload
of suggestions for what L’Engle should change in their turn-down letters.
But L’Engle wrote the story bubbling up inside her — the one she had to write. She believed in it and somehow, her wonderful tale found its way into the world. In the end, A Wrinkle in Time isn’t about other worlds, it’s about family and love — universal themes that touch us all. L’Engle once said, “Inspiration usually comes during work, not before it.” Wise words for us to remember.
Bravo, Linda! And bravo, Madeleine: With her story to guide us, let’s all write on!
* Check out Dr. Rob Gilbert’s wonderful Success Hotline (973.743.4690).