Thomas Lee, Jr.

The rejection letter on Doubleday letterhead dated June 29th, 1977, was warm and funny – no surprise, since it came from a warm and funny friend, Whit Stillman ‘73, who would later leave Doubleday to write and direct his own films (Metropolitan, Barcelona, and The Last Days of Disco).  Whit had overlapped with me at The Crimson for just one year, but that was enough for me to claim that “I have a friend in publishing” when I started to think about a book on health care policy a few years later.

I was just a medical student at the time, but full of visionary thoughts that I thought everyone else should read.  I drafted a Table of Contents and a first chapter, and sent them “over the transom” (i.e., unsolicited by the publishers or proposed by an agent) to people I knew or were friends-of-friends in about a dozen publishing houses.  And then I waited.

I didn’t have to wait long.  The houses that responded did so within a couple of weeks; the others never responded at all.  They were all rejections.  Whit’s was the kindest (with the gentle praise running up the left margin).

I never did write that book – I can’t even find the proposal today, only the rejection letters.  Looking back, I can see now that I did the right thing.  I swallowed my disappointment, and settled down to the real work I was supposed to do – i.e., learn medicine.  I became an internist/cardiologist, did some research, started working at The New England Journal of Medicine, and became a Professor and part of the senior management at Partners HealthCare System.

I actually have a health policy book coming out this fall [2009] (Chaos and Organization in Health Care, MIT Press) – my first one.  It’s not bad, and I’m kind of proud of it.  Something tells me that if I hadn’t been rejected by everyone back in 1977, I might not have been able to write this one.

Thomas Lee rejection letter