The Most Comprehensive Collection Of Famous Books Rejected By Publishers 2017-01-28T16:47:08+00:00

Famous Books Rejected By Publishers

Publishing is one of the few industries that systematically rejects its most talented people. The examples are so outrageous–and so frequent–we decided to create an altar to the ridiculous: The largest collection of infamous literary rejections in the world. With almost 100 entries including summaries, behind-the-scenes gossip and corroborating links it’s your one-stop shopping for literary outrages. Enjoy your soup!

literary rejection letters

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Most Likely To Make You Lactate With Rage

great rejected books

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stoneby K. Rowling was rejected 12 times before editor Barry Cunningham of Bloomsbury agreed to publish it. Cunningham advised J.K. Rowling to get a day job since she has little chance of making money in children’s books.

great rejected books

J.D. Salinger rewrote The Catcher In The Rye when he was told, “We feel that we don’t know the central character well enough.” He goes on to sell 65 million copies.

famous books rejected by publishers

Even though Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With The Wind was rejected 38 times it won the Pulitzer Prize in 1937 and sold 30 million copies.

famous rejections

The founder of Grove Press, Barney Rosset, hated J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. The New York Times quoted him as saying it ”was not credible. I thought I recognized Nordic figures from mythology, but it seemed a mishmash to me. I couldn’t follow it, literally couldn’t finish reading it.”

literary rejections

Alice Walker’s The Color Purple was rejected by Little, Brown & Company. Later the novel sold 10 million copies and won The Pulitzer Prize.

famous rejections

A small company finally published Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein in 1818 after many rejections. Its first print was limited to 500 copies and Shelley’s name was not on the cover. She had to wait 13 years for a 3rd edition to be published in order to enjoy commercial success of her book.

famous books rejected by publishers

William Golding’s Lord of the Flies was rejected 20 times. One editor wrote that his book was, “an absurd and uninteresting fantasy which was rubbish and dull.”  Since then it has been adapted to four films, translated into over 30 languages, and been read in quite a few high schools.

famous books rejected by publishers

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance was rejected 121 times. The editor who finally gave Robert Pirsig a chance said, “It forced me to decide what I was in publishing for.”

famous books rejected by publishers

Alfred A. Knopf rejected Mario Puzo’s The Godfather. G.P. Putnam’s Sons later published it in 1969. The 1972 film adaptation of the novel was released starring Marlon Brando.

literary rejections

The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein is one of my favorite children’s books of all time. Silverstein was told that the book would never sell.

great rejected books

An editor who said, “I don’t dig this one at all”, rejected On The Road by Jack Kerouac.

literary rejection letters

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Most Likely To Make You Pronounce All 4 “e’s” in SHIT!

famous rejections

Catch 22 by Joseph Heller received 21 rejections. One rejection letter said, “I haven’t the foggiest idea about what the man is trying to say. Apparently the author intends it to be funny.”

famous books rejected by publishers

Stephen King’s first published novel Carrie was rejected 30 times. One rejection letter said, “We are not interested in science fiction which deals with negative utopias. They do not sell.” He proved them wrong by selling approximately 30,000 copies of the first print.

literary rejections

Poet T.S. Eliot rejected George Orwell’s Animal Farm. A satire that reflects events leading up to the Russian Revolution of 1917. Eliot said, “We have no conviction that this is the right point of view from which to criticize the political situation at the current time.” Your loss, T.S. Eliot!

famous books rejected by publishers

Astonishingly, one publisher wrote about The Diary of Anne Frank: “The girl doesn’t, it seems to me, have a special perception or feeling which would lift that book above the ‘curiosity’ level.”

famous rejections

25 literary agents rejected one of my all time favorite novels, The Time Traveler’s Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger. MacAdam/Cage, a small publisher in San Francisco publishes it and sells 7 million copies.

great rejected books

An editor who believed John le Carre had no future rejected The Spy Who Came In From The Cold. His novel received critical acclaim and was chosen as one of the All-Time 100 Novels by Time magazine.

great rejected books

Richard Hornberger’s M*A*S*H: A Novel About Three Army Doctors was based on the author’s experiences during the Korean War. It was passed over by 17 publishers until William Morrow & Company printed it in 1968.

great rejected books

Auntie Mame was rejected by 15 publishers before Vanguard Press discovered it. Patrick Dennis became a millionaire from his book and film sales.

famous books rejected by publishers

Dune by Frank Herbert received 23 rejections yet it went on to become one of the best selling science fiction novels of all time.

literary rejections

The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells was published in 1898 after one editor predicted, “I think the verdict would be, ‘Oh, don’t read that horrid book.’”

literary rejections

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is every child’s favorite book. It became one of the best selling movies of all time:  The Wizard of Oz. It’s also been adapted into musicals and miniseries. L. Frank Baum kept a journal called ‘A Record of Failure’ that included all of the rejection letters he received.

Better Than A Rope And A Stool

writer tools

 
 

Master The Greatest Challenge You Face As A Writer: Constant Rejection

This book shows newbies, midlisters, self-published and best selling authors how to transcend painful obstacles like rejected manuscripts, bad reviews, insulting advances and poor sales. Using the latest studies in building grit and resiliency you’ll cultivate the inner strength needed to push through adversity and thrive under pressure. And hopefully, land a coveted spot on this page.

Click here for information.

literary rejection letters

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How Drunk Were You When You Turned Down These Literary Lions?

great rejected books

The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway was loathed by publisher Moberley Luger. She sent a rejection letter that ended with, “Certainly, what is not needed are treatises about bullfighting and underemployed men who drink too much.”

great rejected books

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby received this advice in his rejection letter, “You’d have a decent book if you’d get rid of that Gatsby Character.”

literary rejections

Herman Melville’s Moby Dick was rejected for being long and old fashioned. Editor Peter J. Bentley wrote, “We were wondering if changing certain of the story’s elements might not buoy its purchases at the shop, as it were? First, we must ask, does it have to be a whale?”

famous books rejected by publishers

One editor wrote to William Faulkner about his book Sanctuary, “Good God, I can’t publish this. We’d both be in jail.” Publishers Jonathan Cape and Harrison Smith disagreed and published Faulkner’s book in 1931. He is now one of the most celebrated writers in American literature.

literary rejections

Louisa May Alcott was told to “stick to teaching” when she tried to publish Little Women. Her book sold millions and is still in print 140 years later.

great rejected books

The Bell Jar by Victoria Lucas (Silvia Plath’s pseudonym) was rejected once under the author’s reall name and then a second time under her pseudonym by Knopf saying “it is still not much of a novel.”

great rejected books

Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D. H. Lawrence: “For your own good do not publish this book.”

famous rejections

James Joyce’s Ulysses was judged obscene and rejected by several publishers.

famous rejections

Nan Talese, Houghton Mifflin’s executive editor, rejected Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children. Midnight’s Children ended up winning the prestigious Booker Prize.

famous rejections

James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room was called “hopelessly bad.”

great rejected books

One publisher rejected Oscar Wilde’s play Lady Windermere’s Fan by stating, “My dear sir, I have read your manuscript. Oh, my dear sir.”

famous books rejected by publishers

Author James Joyce was rejected 22 times. He had to battle the threat of obscenity charges in order to get his books published. Joyce wrote one editor about his obscenity issues with Dubliners, “I have written my book with considerable care, in spite of a hundred difficulties, and in accordance with what I understand to be the classical tradition of my art.” He is now regarded as one of the most influential writers of the 20th century.

great rejected books

Slaughter-House Five by Kurt Vonnegut was rejected for not being compelling enough for acceptance.

literary rejection letters

Editors Who Gargled But Did Not Drink From The Fountain Of Prestigious Prizes

literary rejections

Alice Walker’s The Color Purple was rejected by Little, Brown & Company. Later the novel sold 10 million copies and won The Pulitzer Prize.

famous books rejected by publishers

Even though Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With The Wind was rejected 38 times it won the Pulitzer Prize in 1937 and sold 30 million copies.

literary rejections

Yann Martel’s Life of Pi received a number of rejections, but was finally published in Canada. It won the Man Booker Prize and sold over 10 million copies.

famous rejections

Nan Talese, Houghton Mifflin’s executive editor, rejected Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children. Midnight’s Children ended up winning the prestigious Booker Prize.

literary rejections

James Patterson’s The Thomas Berryman Number was turned down by 31 publishers. Little did they know that it would become a bestseller and win the Edgar for Best Novel.

literary rejections

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle was passed over by more than 25 publishers. Later it won a Newberry Medal.

literary rejection letters

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Editors Who Knew 8 Languages But Couldn’t Say “Franchise” In Any Of Them

great rejected books

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stoneby K. Rowling was rejected 12 times before editor Barry Cunningham of Bloomsbury agreed to publish it. Cunningham advised J.K. Rowling to get a day job since she has little chance of making money in children’s books.

famous rejections

Louis L’Amour was rejected 200 times before Bantam published Hondo in 1953. It was later made into a movie starring John Wayne. Now L’Amour is recognized as the bestselling author of 101 books that recount life on the American frontier.

great rejected books

Agatha Christie was rejected for five years before getting The Mysterious Affair at Styles published.  The story was adapted for television in 1990. Her website states that Christie “is the best-selling novelist in history, outsold only by the Bible and Shakespeare. She is known throughout the world as the Queen of Crime.”

great rejected books

C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia was rejected for years. The series has sold over 100 million copies in 47 languages and is regarded as a children’s literature classic.

great rejected books

Zane Grey was told, “You have no business being a writer and should give up.” Yet he persevered and Harper published The Heritage of the Desert. He has sold an estimated at 250 million books and his books have been made into 112 films.

literary rejections

Twilight by Stephanie Meyers has become a hugely successful novel, series, and film franchise. 14 literary agents rejected it before being accepted.

great rejected books

And to Think I saw It on Mulberry Street by Dr. Seuss: “. . . too different from other juveniles on the market to warrant its selling.”

great rejected books

Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen received 140 rejections for their Chicken Soup for the Soul.  They were told that anthologies don’t sell. They proved them wrong by selling 125 million copies.

great rejected books

Judy Blume, one of my ten-year-old daughter’s favorite authors, was told for two years that her fiction would have no readership. Reilly and Lee agreed to publish The One in the Middle is the Green Kangaroo, which started Judy Blume’s career as a best selling author.

literary rejection letters

Category:  

Editors Who Said NO To Some Of The Best Selling Authors Of All Time 

 

famous rejections

The founder of Grove Press, Barney Rosset, hated J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. The New York Times quoted him as saying it ”was not credible. I thought I recognized Nordic figures from mythology, but it seemed a mishmash to me. I couldn’t follow it, literally couldn’t finish reading it.”

great rejected books

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stoneby K. Rowling was rejected 12 times before editor Barry Cunningham of Bloomsbury agreed to publish it. Cunningham advised J.K. Rowling to get a day job since she has little chance of making money in children’s books.

great rejected books

J.D. Salinger rewrote The Catcher In The Rye when he was told, “We feel that we don’t know the central character well enough.” He goes on to sell 65 million copies.

great rejected books

Agatha Christie was rejected for five years before getting The Mysterious Affair at Styles published.  The story was adapted for television in 1990. Her website states that Christie “is the best-selling novelist in history, outsold only by the Bible and Shakespeare. She is known throughout the world as the Queen of Crime.”

great rejected books

Doubleday told Dan Brown of The Da Vinci Code that his book was so badly written. He then goes on to sell 80 million copies.

great rejected books

C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia was rejected for years. The series has sold over 100 million copies in 47 languages and is regarded as a children’s literature classic.

great rejected books

Watership Down was rejected 17 times. Richard Adams got a break when Rex Collings hesitantly agreed to publish it. Collings was apprehensive about publishing the novel and wrote to a friend, “Do you think I’m mad?”

great rejected books

The Alchemist only sold 800 copies when it was first released until Paulo Coelho found a new publisher that sold 75 million books.

famous books rejected by publishers

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov was passed over five times. His work had difficulty finding a publisher because many believed the book too obscene for public consumption.  He was told “I recommend that it be buried under a stone for a thousand years.”

literary rejection letters

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Editors Who Reek Of Gin & Regret

literary rejections

Irving Stone was told that Lust For Life was, “A long, dull novel about an artist.”  Stone persevered and sold 25 million copies.

literary rejections

Five publishers rejected Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery until L.C. Page & Company published it and her debut novel sold 50 million copies.

literary rejections

Beatrix Potter decided to self-publish 250 copies of The Tale of Peter Rabbit because it was rejected so many times. It has now sold 45 million.

literary rejections

Richard Bach’s Jonathan Livingston Seagull has sold 44 million copies even though he was told, “Nobody will want to read a book about a seagull.”

great rejected books

A few London publishers rejected Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe because they argued that books from African writers wouldn’t sell. Heinemann finally published it and it has sold more than 8 million copies.

literary rejections

The Art Of Racing In The Rain by Garth Stein was rejected by his agent because it is narrated by a dog.

literary rejections

The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks was rejected by 24 literary agencies. Today, the author has sold well over 100 million copies and has seen 11 of his novels adapted into movies.

famous rejections

William Saroyan received an astonishing 7,000 rejection slips before selling The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze.

literary rejections

The Help by Kathryn Stockett was rejected 60 times before she found a publisher. The Help spent 100 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list.

famous books rejected by publishers

The Shack by William Paul Young was passed over 20 times. He decided to self publish it in 2007 and it has now sold 15 million copies.

great rejected books

The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand: “It is badly written and the hero is unsympathetic.”

famous books rejected by publishers

A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James. James told the BBC he almost gave up writing after his first novel was rejected nearly 80 times. “I did give it up. I actually destroyed the manuscript, I even went on my friends computers and erased it.” He was able to recover the text by searching through his e-mails on an old computer.

famous rejections

Jasper Fforde racked up 76 rejections before getting The Eyre Affair published.

great rejected books

Jack London kept all of his rejection letters from the first five years of his writing career impaled on a spindle. The impaled letters (600 of them) eventually reached a height of four feet. The Call of the Wild sold 1 million copies and made London the most popular American writer of his generation.

famous rejections

Pearl Buck’s first novel, East Wind: West Wind received rejections from all but one publisher in New York.

famous rejections

The Roots author, Alex Haley, wrote every day for 8 years before finding success.

famous rejections

 One publisher rejected Tony Hillerman’s The Blessing Way and told him “If you insist on rewriting this, get rid of the Indian stuff.”

famous rejections

Ursula K. Le Guin was told that The Left Hand of Darkness was “endlessly complicated.

great rejected books

Jean M. Auel’s novel The Clan of the Cave Bear got one rejection letter that stated, “We are very impressed with the depth and scope of your research and the quality of your prose. Nevertheless … we don’t think we could distribute enough copies to satisfy you or ourselves.”

great rejected books

It took Pat Barker 10 years to get her first novel, Union Street, published. Editors called her book “bleak and depressing.”

great rejected books

The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling was rejected numerous times. One publisher commented that Kipling didn’t know how to properly us the English language.

great rejected books

In 1953, after 20 rejections, Kon Tiki by author Thor Heyerdahl was published.

great rejected books

Laurence Peter’s business book The Peter Principle was rejected 16 times. Bantam Books finally published it in 1969.

great rejected books

J.G. Ballard’s Crash was rejected with the note, “the author of this book is beyond psychiatric help. Do not publish.”

famous rejections

Shannon Hale was rejected and revised a number of times before Bloomsbury published The Goose Girl.

famous rejections

16 publishers rejected John Grisham’s A Time to Kill before finding an agent who eventually rejected him as well.

famous rejections

Sons and Lovers faced rejection, and D.H. Lawrence didn’t take it easily.

famous rejections

E.E. Cummings named the 14 publishers who rejected No Thanks in the book itself.

 

A Heap Of Thanks To Those That Helped Us Compile Our List Of Famous Rejections

 

literary rejectionsThe Last Word On Great Rejected Books…

In this New York Times article PUBLISHERS’ CONFESSIONS-REJECTIONS I REGRET Caryn James highlights the publishing worlds’ copious mistakes. She states, “When I asked publishers and editors to recall the works of serious fiction they most regret having turned down, the question brought on a few cases of temporary amnesia and provoked a wide variety of confessions that show why some of the best recent novels have histories of rejection. While many answers reflected the caution of today’s publishing industry, many others proved an age-old irony – in publishing, originality can be a drawback, making a novel’s artistic merit difficult to judge and its commercial prospects impossible to predict.”

Better Than A Loaded Pistol & A Bottle Of Jack

writer tools

 
 

Master The Greatest Challenge You Face As A Writer: Constant Rejection

This book shows newbies, midlisters, self-published and best selling authors how to transcend painful obstacles like rejected manuscripts, bad reviews, insulting advances and poor sales. Using the latest studies in building grit and resiliency you’ll cultivate the inner strength needed to push through adversity and thrive under pressure. And hopefully, land a coveted spot on this page.

Click here for information.

Publishing is one of the few industries that systematically rejects its most talented people. To understand the scale of how badly it misjudges talent you only have to glance how many times publishers rejected writers like William Faulkner, Vladimir Nabokov, Marcel Proust, Gertrude Stein, Jack Kerouac, and John Le Carre.

It’s difficult to fully grasp the enormity of the industry’s inability to recognize talent until you compare it to other industries. Imagine Samsung, Sony or Verizon rejecting Steve Job’s resume with an email that said, “While we enjoyed the iPhone the Lisa II failed miserably so we’re not going to take a chance on you.”

Or Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Chase, and Citigroup telling Warren Buffet he doesn’t have what they’re looking for.

Or Google, LinkedIn and Pinterest telling Mark Zuckerberg they see no future for him in social media.

Literary Rejections

It would never happen. Yet rejecting talented authors happens regularly in publishing. Brilliant writers like Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, Ursula Le Guin have amassed so many literary rejection letters they could build a bonfire and keep a lot of us warm for a week.

In almost all other industries people generally rise to the level of their abilities. Gifted with numbers? You’ll get a great job in accounting. Talented in physics? You’ll land a high paying job in aerospace. Adept at design? You’ll step into a high-powered ad firm.

But publishing? Not true. Demonstrably not true.

In my book, The Bulletproof Writer: How To Overcome Constant Rejection To Become An Unstoppable Author I ask an important question:Is Rejection An Indictment Of Your Work?

We writers cement ourselves to a demonstrably false belief: Rejections mean our work is no good. Despite the long list of rejected authors who, and I say this with love, are way more talented than you and I are, we believe things like “If I were talented I wouldn’t get rejected” or

“If my work was any good publishers would flock to it.”

Clearly, a lack of talent (or enough talent) is a factor in whether you get rejected or accepted, but it is not the only one. And if you look at the difference in talent between the writers who got rejected and the ones who “made it,” maybe not even the main one.

To prove my point, I had my team scour the interwebs to find the most famous books rejected by authors.  We  found about 80 but I promise you that’s the tip of the iceberg.  For obvious reasons, publishers and editors don’t want the public to know that they passed on a book that became a best seller.    Would you?  Would you want the world to know that your judgment of talent is that bad?

Famous Rejections

Consequently, we don’t actually have a good understanding of just how many best selling books were initially rejected.  Any astute observer of the industry will tell you it’s got to be massive.  If that makes you shake your head think about how many fantastic manuscripts never became books!

Oy, somebody pass me some aspirin. And a bottle of Jack.

I hope you’ve enjoyed our assemblage of literary ridiculousness. The next time you or a writer friend feel overwhelmed by the constant rejection that publishing doles out, remember this page. You’re in good company.