Every writer knows how difficult it is to get published as even the bestsellers will go through a mountain of rejection letters before winning that prized book deal. What is most eye-opening is that some of the biggest selling books of the 20th century had initially been rejected by publishers, often with amusing remarks about the books being dull or having no conceivable market. Here is a list of the ten most eye-opening book rejections.
Stephen King – Carrie
His first novel was rejected on no fewer than thirty occasions with one publisher describing that there would be no suitable market for his dystopian vision of a young girl with telekinetic powers. King became incensed at the persistent rejection letters that he decided to dispose of the manuscript. Thankfully, his wife retrieved the work and encouraged him to carry on. Spurred by her belief in him and the book, King did so and eventually, Carrie saw the light of day. It has been adapted to celluloid twice.
George Orwell ‘ Animal Farm
Ask one hundred random readers what Orwell’s biggest work was and you’re likely to be split down the middle between the dystopian 1984 and this commentary on communism. Now a text book in many schools in the western world, the manuscript for this work was repeatedly rejected by American publishers because ‘Americans don’t like to read about animals’. Clearly, the message was lost on the publishers. It was also rejected by a number of other sources mostly for political reasons who were concerned about the effect it would have on relations with the Soviets.
JK Rowling ‘ Harry Potter
Arguably the biggest selling book series of the last fifteen years was repeatedly rejected by publishers who believed it was far too long for a children’s book (ignore that later books in the series were three times the length of the first). Others argued that children’s books were unprofitable and that it was an outdated concept. An illustrator who worked for one of the rejecting publishers retrieved the manuscript and gave it to his daughter to read. The girl enjoyed it so much that she wanted to know more. The illustrator convinced the publisher to give it another look and rest is history.
Richard Doddridge Blackmore ‘ Lorna Doone
‘The Romance of Exmoor’ was a difficult sell to the publishers of Victorian England for its parochial style of writing that it was claimed would not appeal to a broad audience. It was eventually published anonymously and as a small run in 1869 but only just over half of the copies sold. The following year it was published in a cheaper format and became a success. It has never been out of print and spawned several film adaptations.
Joseph Heller ‘ Catch 22
Considered the greatest American novel of the modern era, Heller’s satirical novel was panned as confusing and not funny on any level. After Heller managed to get it published, the reading public disagreed and it has sold in the millions. A 50th anniversary edition recently republished introduced a new audience to this classic work. The title has also passed into the vernacular to describe a no-win situation when presented with several choices.
William Golding ‘ Lord of the Flies
Another mainstay of English literature schooling, this tale of a group of middle class schoolboys crashing on a desert island and slowly turning on one another demonstrates the animal instinct in all of us and how quickly civilisation can degenerate with a moral compass. It was rejected over twenty times before finding a market; one of the publishers decried it as being absurd, uninteresting and dull. Several film adaptations have been produced and it is a book very much appreciated by a wide audience.
Anne Frank ‘ The Diary of a Young Girl
This seminal work written at the time of the holocaust of a young girl in hiding in Nazi-occupied Netherlands is another big read of the younger generation and features in history lessons across the western world. Originally written in her native Dutch, it was rejected by several publishers, one of whom refused on the basis that it did not offer any special insight into the period that would raise a reader’s interest ‘above curiosity level’.
Richard Adams ‘ Watership Down
Another case of publishers thinking they know the minds of children. This popular work about rabbits in rural Hampshire, England searching for a new home after one of their number has a vision about the destruction of their warren, was described as written in a style of language that was too difficult for most children to read and too ordinary for adults. Not only was it his first book, it was his most successful ‘ no other work of his came close to repeating its success.
F. Scott Fitzgerald ‘ The Great Gatsby
Another American classic, this tale of decadence and the American Dream is as celebrated today as it was when published in the 1920s. One publisher told Fitzgerald that he would have a superb novel if only he omitted Gatsby from the text. It went on to become a much-loved novel of American literature and arguably the most popular American novel amongst British readership.
H G Wells ‘ The War of the Worlds
Perhaps the first alien invasion novel written by one of the giants of classic British science fiction was rejected many a time for its ‘nightmare’ themes of destruction and war. The dystopian Victorian England in which the war takes place sees a British Empire powerless to fight back against the superior technology of the Martian invaders before nature takes a stand and gives them all the flu. It is regarded as Wells’ best work.
Budding writers should take solace from the fact that even the biggest-selling books of all time have been rejected multiple times by short-sighted publishers. The list of rejected novels is endless and no doubt this story of future best sellers having amusing rejection letters will continue in future too. If you have a novel that has been rejected many times, persevere because success might just be around the corner.