By Colleen Kane, CNBC.com
It's Business 101.
Anyone who has ever tried to achieve a goal knows rejection and failure are a normal and healthy part of the process. It's more prevalent in some occupations, especially in the arts (and particularly among, ahem, writers).
The following examples show a pattern: Persistence pays off. Woody Allen said, "Ninety percent of life is just showing up." But judging from the tales ahead, perhaps an amendment to this quote is in order: "Ninety percent of success is showing up, and showing up and showing up."
See the Slideshow: Successes That Almost Weren't
As for the parties doing the rejecting, for those who shy from the new and different, refusal to look ahead can mean being left in the dust. When a struggling Bell Telephone offered the sale of its patents to Western Union, the famous reply rejecting the offer makes for an entertaining read today: "Why would any person want to use this ungainly and impractical device when he can send a messenger to the telegraph office and have a clear written message sent to any large city in the United States?…We see no reason why a group of outsiders, with extravagant and impractical ideas, should be entertained." Bell Telephone (as AT&T) later acquired Western Union and the wire service's final telegram was sent in 2006.
Discover many examples of successes that almost weren't, spanning over varying categories: culture, advertising, architecture, business, invention and sports. Chances are you'll discover that for something (or more than one something) you've used or enjoyed, someone has had to fight for it to exist.
J.K. Rowling, author of Harry PotterA Library's Worth of Bestselling and Beloved Books
It's probably best for aspiring writers to just think of rejections as a rite of passage, even a badge of honor. The more rejection letters one amasses before publication, the more of a triumph it seems once the book makes the bestseller list.
A famous example is Stephen King's "Carrie," an early version of which - after 30 rejections - was fished out of the trash can by his wife and went on to become a bestselling novel and source of a successful movie. Stephen King went on to become STEPHEN KING, the all-caps name on book covers around the globe. Another uplifting tale of note is that of a destitute, depressed single mom who was fired from a secretarial job for daydreaming. She wrote a book about young wizards that was rejected by 12 publishers. The book's main character became the media juggernaut now known to all on the planet as Harry Potter, and the author, who is probably feeling a lot less depressed, is J.K. Rowling.
The revered New Orleans-set novel "A Confederacy of Dunces" didn't see the light of day until after its author, John Kennedy Toole, had committed suicide. His mother found a carbon copy of the manuscript and tried sending it to several publishers before consulting a professor at Loyola University. Because of her efforts, LSU Press published the book and it soon became a cult classic. It won the Pulitzer for Fiction in 1981 and achieved mainstream success. Despite decades of efforts , however, attempts to bring this story to the silver screen, possibly starring Will Ferrell, might never succeed.
Ben & Jerry's Ice CreamBen & Jerry's Ice Cream
The popular ice cream brand began humbly in 1978 with $12,000 after founders Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield took a $5 correspondence course on ice cream making and set up shop in a former gas station. By 1980, they began selling their product in pints. The burgeoning business could easily have gone the other way, however, and consumers today would never know the joys of Chubby Hubby, Cherry Garcia or Schweddy Balls because in 1984 someone tried to hold back Ben & Jerry's.
It seems Häagen-Dazs wanted to limit distribution of its rising-star competitor in the Boston market, so the brand threatened to pull its pints from distributors that didn't ditch Ben & Jerry's. Ben & Jerry's didn't have the income to fight Häagen-Dazs' parent company, Pillsbury, in court so they kicked off a "What's the Doughboy Afraid Of?" campaign. The write-in kits brought protest letters to the Federal Trade Commission and Pillsbury, and was successful in convincing Pillsbury not to urge distributors to drop Ben & Jerry's.
KFC, the fast-food eatery formerly known as Kentucky Fried Chicken, nearly didn't make it beyond its origins as a roadside eatery owned by Harland Sanders called the Sanders Court and Café. When a new interstate was built in 1955, it bypassed the café, causing the property value to plummet by more than half.
At that low point, Sanders was 65. He had a few Kentucky Fried Chicken franchises but was broke. However, fueled by determination and fried protein, Sanders went on the road selling his secret recipe and kept at it. Within a few years the number of KFC franchises had expanded into the hundreds. In 1964, he sold the company for $2 million and became famous as its spokesman, Colonel Sanders.
Walt Disney and DisneylandWalt Disney and Disneyland
One story has the Kansas City Star firing a young Walt Disney because, according to his editor, he lacked imagination and had no good ideas. Another one says he delivered the newspaper as a boy and applied multiple times to work for the Star for jobs as cartoonist, office boy and driver but was turned down each time. As a young man, Disney went on to file for bankruptcy protection several times and overcame numerous obstacles while creating the Disney empire beloved by children and adults today.
When he was seeking funding for Disneyland in Anaheim, California, it's said that Disney was turned down by 302 bankers before he got the funding he needed. He prevailed, and Disneyland opened in 1955. Although Walt Disney did not live to see the 1971 opening day of Disney World in Florida, he would likely be pleased with the Disney company's continuing accomplishments, which included buying ABC, which in turn owned the Kansas City Star.
Sydney Opera HouseThe Sydney Opera House
The unmistakable cast concrete "shells" design of the Sydney Opera House in Australia make it iconic to its home city, but it's also one of the most recognized midcentury modern buildings in the world.
The multi-use performance space was built after architect Danish architect Jørn Utzon won the design competition in 1957, beating out 232 other entries from around the globe. Legend has it that Utzon's winning design had already been rejected; the story goes that architect Eero Saarinen rescued it from a slush pile of 30 rejects. Once it was selected, Utzon had more work to do on his plan as his grand design went beyond the engineering capabilities of the day, and there were other speed bumps as well. But in 1973, construction of Utzon's unique vision was completed.
Breakfast at Tiffany'sLots of Other Famous Cultural Works
"Breakfast at Tiffany's" is an undisputed classic of American cinema, no? Well, it almost didn't get made when Paramount expressed many reservations. Among the issues: It had a gay protagonist, no love story, no central conflict and the ending wasn't happy enough. The movie ending was rewritten to diverge from the ambiguous but not very optimistic ending of Truman Capote's novel. The film also nearly didn't have Audrey Hepburn cast in her signature role. Marilyn Monroe was the hoped-for actress to play Holly Golightly, but she was advised against playing a lady of the night.
There are plenty of other near-casualties of popular culture. Movies that encountered trouble getting made include "The Princess Bride" , "The Empire Strikes Back" , "Toy Story" , "Halloween" , and more recently, "Moneyball" and "J. Edgar." From the music industry, the Beatles were rejected by numerous recording labels including Decca and Columbia. Other musical works to get resistance were the video for Michael Jackson's "Thriller" and R.E.M.'s hit "Man on the Moon." Television near-misses include "A Charlie Brown Christmas" and "I Love Lucy" .
See the Slideshow: Successes That Almost Weren't
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By Colleen Kane, CNBC.com