In 1949, Kurt Vonnegut sent three writing samples to Atlantic Monthly — hoping for publication or a writing assignment. Instead, he received the following letter:

Dear Mr. Vonnegut,

We have been carrying out our usual summer house-cleaning of the manuscripts on our anxious bench and in the file, and among them I find the three papers which you have shown me as samples of your work. I am sincerely sorry that no one of them seems to us well adapted for our purpose. Both the account of the bombing of Dresden and your article, “What’s a Fair Price for Golden Eggs?” have drawn commendation although neither one is quite compelling enough for final acceptance.

Our staff continues fully manned so I cannot hold out the hope of an editorial assignment, but I shall be glad to know that you have found a promising opening elsewhere.

Faithfully yours,
Edward Weeks

From one of the rejected writing samples (‘account of the bombing in Dresden”), Vonnegut developed his masterwork Slaughterhouse-Five. Toiling away at a variety of jobs (newspaper bureau, General Electric public relations department, Saab dealership) to support his large (and extended) family (six children), 20 years transpired between the Atlantic Monthly rejection and the publication of Slaughterhouse-Five (Delacorte, 1969). Modern Library has ranked the book as the18th greatest novel of the 20th century.

Photo: A first edition of Slaughterhouse-Five issued in 1969, when Vonnegut was still using “Jr.” Signed first editions of the novel currently sell for around $8,000. See this link.