Bookish Bits

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Best-Sellers Initially Rejected

Despite phenomenal success, every single one of these best-selling authors was initially rejected. An endless stream of rejection letters told them nobody would be interested in their work.

Here’s an extensive collection of the some of the biggest errors of judgement in publishing history.

Author Title Publisher comments Rejections Book sales
Dan Brown The Da Vinci Code “It is so badly written.” 80 million copies
Richard Bach Jonathan Livingston Seagull “Nobody will want to read a book about a seagull.” 44 million copies
Jacqueline Susann Valley of the Dolls “Undisciplined, rambling and thoroughly amateurish writer.” 30 million
Agatha Christie (Various) 5 years of rejection letters. $2 billion
Louis L’Amour (Various) 200 330 million copies
Dr. Seuss “Too different from other juveniles on the market to warrant its selling.” 300 million copies
Zane Grey (Various) “You have no business being a writer and should give up.” over 250 million copies
Jack Canfield & Mark Victor Hansen Chicken Soup for the Soul (series) “Anthologies don’t sell.” 140 125 million copies
J.K. Rowling Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone Advises author to get a day job since she has little chance of making money in children’s books. 12 Combined sales of all her books 450 million copies
C.S. Lewis The Chronicles of Narnia Years of rejection over 100 million copies
Judy Blume The One in the Middle Is the Green Kangaroo Tells author that her fiction would have no readership. 80 million copies
J.D. Salinger The Catcher In The Rye “We feel that we don’t know the central character well enough.” 65 million copies
L.M. Montgomery Anne of Green Gables 5 50 million copies
Vladimir Nabokov Lolita “I recommend that it be buried under a stone for a thousand years.” Shunned by all major publishers. 50 million copies
Beatrix Potter The Tale of Peter Rabbit Rejected so many times, the author decided to self-publish 250 copies. 45 million copies
Margaret Mitchell Gone With The Wind 38 30 million copies
Anne Frank 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.” 15 25 million copies
Irving Stone Lust For Life “A long, dull novel about an artist.” 25 million copies
Kenneth Graheme The Wind In The Willows “An irresponsible holiday story that will never sell.” 25 million copies
Thor Heyerdahl Kon-Tiki: Across The Pacific 20 20 million copies
Stephenie Meyer Twilight 14 17 million copies
William Golding The Lord Of The Flies “An absurd and uninteresting fantasy which was rubbish and dull.” 15 million copies
W.M. Paul Young The Shack 20, author eventually self-published. 15 million copies
Meg Cabot The Princess Diaries 3 years of rejection letters. 15 million copies
L.M Frank Baum The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz “Too radical of a departure from traditional juvenile literature.” 15 million copies
Madeleine L’Engle A Wrinkle in Time 26 8 million copies
Ayn Rand The Fountainhead “Unsaleable and unpublishable.” 7 million copies
Audrey Niffenegger The Time Traveler’s Wife 25 7 million copies
Kathryn Stockett The Help 60
Yann Martel Life of Pi 5
Jason Wallace Out of Shadows 100
H.G. Wells The War Of The Worlds “An endless nightmare. I think the verdict would be ‘Oh don’t read that horrid book.”
Herman Melville Moby Dick “Our united opinion is entirely against the book. It is very long, and rather old-fashioned.”
F. Scott Fitzgerald The Great Gatsby “An absurd story as romance, melodrama or record of New York high life.”
Louisa May Alcott Little Women “Stick to teaching.”
Joseph Heller Catch-22 “I haven’t the foggiest idea about what the man is trying to say. Apparently the author intends it to be funny.” 10 million sales
Richard Adams Watership Down “Older children will not like it because its language is too difficult.”
Stephen King Carrie “We are not interested in science fiction which deals with negative utopias. They do not sell.” Sold 1 million in the first year alone.
Pearl S. Buck The Good Earth “The American public is not interested in China.”
Frank Herbert Dune 23
Nicholas Sparks The Notebook 24 $1 million
James Patterson The Thomas Berryman Number 31 220 million copies
John Grisham A Time To Kill Rejected by 16 agencies and 12 publishers. 250 million copies
Isaac Singer Satan in Goray “It’s Poland and the rich Jews again.”
Laurence Peter The Peter Principle 30
Norman Mailer The Deer Park “This will set publishing back 25 years.”
Alex Haley Roots 200 Sold 1.5 million copies in its first seven months of release, and going on to sell 8 million.
Jasper Fforde The Eyre Affair 76
Tony Hillerman Navajo Tribal Police (series) “We suggest you get rid of all that Indian stuff.”
D.H. Lawrence Lady Chatterly’s Lover Rejected by all publishers in the UK and US, leading the author to self-publish. The book quickly sells millions, as by  becomes a worldwide best-seller.
Marcel Proust Remembrance of Things Past (with a 1.5 million word count!) “I rack my brains why a chap should need thirty pages to describe how he turns over in bed before going to sleep.”
Mary Higgins Clark “We found the heroine boring.” $60 million
J.G. Ballard Crash “This author is beyond psychiatric help. Do not publish.”
 E.E. Cummings


The Enormous Room 15
John le Carre’ The Spy Who Came in From the Cold “He hasn’t got any future.”
Robert M. Pirsig Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance 121
Ursula K. Le Guin The Left Hand of Darkness “Hopelessly bogged down and unreadable.”
Richard Hornberger (pseudonym Richard Hooker) M*A*S*H 21
William Faulkner Sanctuary “Good G**, I can’t publish this.”
Jack London House of Happy Walls 600

To prove how hard it is for new writers to break into the publishing market, Jerzy Kosinski used a pen name to submit his bestseller Steps to 13 literary agents and 14 publishers. All of them reject it, including Random House, who had published it.



Hollywood Rejection Slips


The studios of Hollywood have always produced the most impersonal rejection slips that a writer will receive.

To this day, the practice continues as screenwriters receive blunt responses from the pool of readers who work for the major studios.

As with all writers, they long for constructive criticism to help them make the necessary changes. This very rarely occurs unless they pay for a reader’s report, and even then boxes are ticked, and scores are given. In some cases these writers are told to be 20% funnier, or make their protagonist warmer.

This rejection slip sent by the Essanay Film Manufacturing Company in the early days of the studio system demonstrates just what screenwriters have had to endure in response.

If these slips were adopted by the book industry today it would incense writers.

One can imagine how unpublished  crime-fiction authors would react to a ticked 17.



Info taken from