Apparently, the internet believes C.S. Lewis was rejected 800 times before being published (or “selling a single piece of writing,” depending on the website).
But it’s not true and it would almost be impossible for it to be true.
Lewis first piece of published work wasn’t The Chronicles of Narnia or any other piece of Christian fiction. In fact, it wasn’t Christian at all.
The man who would become a great Christian apologist published a collection of atheistic poems as a 20 year old, most of which were written between 1915 and 1918.
Heinemann in London published Spirits in Bondage in 1919 under the pseudonym of Clive Hamilton (Lewis’ first name, which no one called him, and his mother’s maiden name).
Now, it is true that this book was rejected. Macmillan turned Lewis down, but Heinemann accepted it a month later.
It is also true that Spirits in Bondage (the Kindle edition is free) was not a raging success, but it would be entirely false to say no one bought the book.
Lewis’ second work was also poetry, Dymer (available in the recent collection “Narrative Poems”) – also written prior to his conversion to Christianity and published rather quickly after its completion.
He began the work as early as 1916, though that version did not survive. The work that we have today began in 1922 completed in 1925.
Dymer, which was an epic poem styled in the manner of Homer’s The Iliad, was published by J.M. Dent in 1926 – just one year after completion. It too was not much of a commercial hit.
Even if the internet myth of 800 rejections was referencing his first Christian work, it would still be false.
As a matter of fact, Pilgrim’s Regress was written and published in an astonishingly quick manner.
On January 17, 1932, Lewis wrote a letter to his older brother telling them that he was going to write an allegorical poem about his journey to Christianity.
The work didn’t get very far until August when, during a two week stay with his childhood friend Arthur Greeves, Lewis wrote the entire book.
J.M. Dent accepted the work later in 1932 and published it in 1933. While it did not sell well initially, later editions picked up.
One of his fiction books was initially rejected. J.M. Dent sent back the manuscript of Out of the Silent Planet, the first book of the space trilogy, because of the initial disappointment of Pilgrim’s Regress. But, obviously, it was not rejected 800 times either.
The lesson in all this? Don’t merely repeat things you read on the internet because they sound good or even inspiring.
A fellow writer at work, Bob Smietana, wrote an excellent piece for Facts & Trends called False Facts: Why We Love Bad Stats on Christians picking up and repeating statistics that are compelling, but wrong. People, Christians, including do this all the time.
He tackles the myths that Christians divorce at the same rate as non-Christians (they don’t), Christians are the worst tippers (they aren’t), most teenagers leave the church and never come back (many leave, but most come back), and other stats people constantly toss around without actually knowing if they are true.
Being in the myth-busting mood and knowing my appreciation for C.S. Lewis, Bob asked me if there was any truth to claim Lewis had been rejected 800 times. He was skeptical as was I.
The number seemed incredibly high. Lewis didn’t seem like the person to have been that concerned with being published. Also, I didn’t remember reading that anywhere in any of the Lewis biographies and articles I’ve read.
Lewis was published at an extremely early age and usually found publishers for his work rather quickly.
That doesn’t negate the fact that many successful authors had the exact opposite story or that it takes tireless work and dedication to be a successful author.
Inspiration can be readily drawn from real facts of Lewis’ life and writings. There’s no need to make any up.