Any list of the world's most famous, successful authors is bound to include Stephen King. With upwards of 50 novels, over half of which have been in the top spot of the New York Times Bestseller list over the years, it's safe to say he is indeed the king. Yet when a young Stephen King began submitting his writing for publication, he received so many rejection slips that a nail in the wall would no longer support their weight. His solution was to swap the nail for a big spike, and keep writing.
The book business can be a cruel and fickle one, and for the vast, vast majority of authors, it's a difficult way to make a living. While it's daunting and discouraging to receive rejection after rejection, and tempting to take those rejections as gospel and become an accountant instead, would-be writers who persevere and keep on are often the ones recognized and rewarded. Many authors have stated in interviews that their rejection letters fuel them, and stoke the fires of their passion to publish.
Another point to consider is that publishing houses are peopled by...well, people. And people are notorious for being creatures of bias, and not particularly skilled at being open and subjective. So when a publisher receives a manuscript, chances are, whether or not s/he's heard of the author before is going to have their mind partially made up before they even turn the page. An example, though the methodology of the study has received criticism, is the experiment undertaken by freelance writer Chuck Ross in 1975 and again in 1977. Ross, determined to prove the difficulty of breaking into publication as an unknown, sent first excerpts, then the entire text of Jerzy Kosinki's well-received collection of short stories, Steps. He sent it, using a different name, to several publishers, including Random House, who had in fact already published the book. The book was universally rejected by all he approached. In short, if a book is rejected for publication, there is much evidence to support the theory that rejection alone is not indicative of a book's quality.
To bolster the spirits of the downtrodden, whose rejection piles teeter precariously, stacked four feet and higher - here are some tales from the slush pile. The following is a list of books - perhaps you'll have heard of one or two - initially rejected by publishers, some countless times. Some rejections were scathing, some were disinterested, some were mocking. Some even dismissed the possibility of the book's author having any future in writing (have you heard of John le Carré?). Besides rejection, the other commonalities shared by these titles are that their authors didn't give up, but kept pounding the pavement and submitting, and that they eventually went on to become enormous successes, and perhaps even household names.
Enjoy this list of tremendously successful books which were passed over by publishers - who probably haven't stopped cringing since.
The Diary of Anne Frank
by Anne Frank
Dutch historians Jan Romein and Annie Romein-Verschoor are given a copy of the edited and compiled manuscript of Anne's diary. Their attempts to publish the book are fruitless for close to a year, with over a dozen publishers passing, one with comments that nobody would be interested in such adolescent emotions.
by Stephen King
King's first-published novel wasn't just rejected by publishers initially, but by the author himself. King disliked Carrie
's beginnings so much that he threw the pages in the trash, to be later rescued by King's wife, and published by Doubleday editor William Thompson.
Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone
by JK Rowling
Believe it or not, when JK Rowling initially sent the manuscript for the first Harry Potter
book to 12 publishing houses, she was rejected by the full dozen. It was finally the eight-year-old daughter of an employee of London's publishing house Bloomsbury, who convinced her father the book must be published.
The Spy Who Came in From the Cold
by John le Carré
When iconic English author John le Carré submitted his third spy novel, he was not only rejected, but told he had no future in writing. It went on to win the 1963 Gold Dagger Award. He published his 23rd successful novel in 2013 at age 81. No word whether his future is in writing, though.
The Sun Also Rises
by Ernest Hemingway
classic novel was so intensely loathed by a publisher named Moberley Luger that she sent quite an extensive rejection letter, which ended with the phrase "Certainly, what is not needed are treatises about bullfights and underemployed men who drink too much." Oops.
Lord of the Flies
by William Golding
Before Faber & Fabe
r's Charles Monteith championed The Lord of the Flies
in 1954, the book had been rejected by 21 publishers. It has since gone on to enjoy four film adaptations, translation into 30+ languages, and much popularity on the curriculae of many high schools in North America and overseas.
by James Joyce
Joyce went through tremendous struggle to get Dubliners
published. It took nine long years of fighting, writing, compromise, censorship, standing up and backing down before it saw the light of day. In its first year, it sold just 499 copies - Joyce's contract stipulated no royalties until 500 had sold.
Anne of Green Gables
by L.M. Montgomery
Canada's most beloved redheaded orphan found her place fairly quickly, but L.M. Montgomery's first Anne
book was rejected by five publishers before L.C. Page & Co. published it in 1908. It has since sold over 50 million copies and forever changed the tourism of Prince Edward Island.
by Stephenie Meyer
It's hard to imagine a bigger smash hit than Meyer's Twilight
saga (especially if you've been to Forks
). Twilight-mania swept through the book industry with dizzying ferocity. Still, the saga's first novel was summarily rejected 14 times in a row before Little, Brown & Co. smelled blood and sunk their teeth into it.
by Kathryn Stockett
Some authors need real tenacity and persistence to not give up - and some publishers need to give their heads a shake. The Help
, which was on the New York Times's Bestseller list for over two years, was rejected by over 60 publishers before Penguin represented it.
The Tale of Peter Rabbit
by Beatrix Potter
When Beatrix Potter
first began submitting her book, publishers were interested, but responded with so many requests for big changes both in story and art, that Potter, who loved her vision and knew how she wanted it to be, grew frustrated and published a run of 250 copies herself in 1901.
Gone With The Wind
by Margaret Mitchell
A whopping 38 publishers said "My dear...I don't give a damn" to Margaret Mitchell's epic Southern classic while she was trying to get it published. Macmillan wisely grabbed it in 1936, and watched it win a Pulitzer Prize in 1937 and go on to sell over 30 million copies across the globe.
A Wrinkle in Time
by Madeleine L'Engle
Proving that many publishers underestimate young audiences, L'Engle's classic, which combines philosophy, science fiction, quantum physics and family life (and a family headed by a female scientist, no less!), was rejected by over two dozen publishes before Farrar, Straus and Giroux took a wise chance on it.
by Frank Herbert
The Dune-iverse has garnered a huge, loyal following of fans, with devotees found muttering "the spice must flow" under their breath in every corner of the world. Yet when Herbert was shopping for a publisher, 23 of them said no. Chilton Book Co., best known for hobby magazines and car manuals, said yes.
by Richard Hooker (pseudonym of Richard Hornberger)
M*A*S*H: A Novel About Three Army Doctors
the brainchild of American surgeon Richard Hornberger. It was loosely based on his own experiences during the Korean War, and was passed over by 17 publishers before William Morrow & Company took it on in 1968.
The Color Purple
by Alice Walker
Little, Brown & Co. apparently didn't see much worth writing home about in Walker's Pulitzer Prize-winning, epistolary novel
, and passed on it, much to the probable delight of Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, who snapped it up in 1982.
by William Faulkner
Faulkner's sixth novel, Sanctuary
was submitted complete with a foreword by the author himself, proclaiming it sensationalist tripe written just for money. At least one publisher believed him, rejecting it outright, with part of his rejection letter reading "Good God, I can't publish this!". Jonathan Cape-Harrison Smith could, and did.
The Bell Jar
by Victoria Lucas (pseudonym of Sylvia Plath)
The Bell Jar
is the only novel Sylvia Plath wrote, as her main form of expression was poetry. Critical reception was complicated, as Plath's suicide a month after its publication left most reviews tainted by that knowledge. There is no denying, however, the popularity of the book among readers. It, too, was rejected early on, by a branch of Harper & Row.
by George Orwell
According to The Telegraph, poet T.S. Eliot himself, who worked for Faber & Faber
at the time, rejected Orwell's political allegory on the basis of concern as to whether the political climate at the time would support it, as well as a critique that the narrative was not convincing. Three other publishers passed, as well. Secker & Warburg published it in 1945.
The One in the Middle is the Green Kangaroo
by Judy Blume
On Judy Blume's own web site, she says "For two years I received nothing but rejections...[I]
I would go to sleep at night feeling that I'd never be published. But I'd wake up in the morning convinced I would be." Morning Judy was correct - Blume has now won over 90 literary awards, and her books are beloved by readers worldwide, particularly children and teenagers.
A Time to Kill
by John Grisham
American lawyer (oh, and blockbuster bestselling author) Grisham's first novel was rejected by over two dozen publishers before Wynwood Press cautiously agreed to publish a 5,000-copy print run. Seven years later, the novel was adapted into a film starring Matthew McConaughey and Samuel L. Jackson. Grisham's books have now been translated into 42 languages.
The Jungle Book
by Rudyard Kipling
's career masterpiece was rejected by countless publishers. One allegedly commented that Kipling did not know how to properly use the English language, while another was purported to claim seeing "no genuine talent" in the work. Fortunately for Macmillan Publishers, one of their people knew a good thing when s/he saw it.
The Wind in the Willows
by Kenneth Grahame
It's hard to imagine a more universally beloved children's classic than Grahame's The Wind in the Willows
, and yet it too was initially rejected by publishers. It was eventually published by Methuen in 1908, and found fast fans, including Teddy Roosevelt who wrote to Grahame to express his admiration.
by Herman Melville
Yes, even the great white whale was not exempt. Often called the greatest American novel, Moby-Dick was rejected by Richard Bentley publishing house, in a letter which according to rumor even asked Melville whether the main struggle had to be with a whale. Eventually, a different reader at Richard Bentley wisely chose to accept the manuscript after all.