There are certain books it’s hard to imagine a world without. And yet, many of our best loved bestsellers met much difficulty in finding publication. The reasons for this are various, from the reluctance to publish controversial material, to simply being unwilling to take a risk on a little-known author. However, once these books do hit print, it can be very inspiring to take a look back and think about the many obstacles they faced on their way to glory.
We’ve compiled a list of ten bestsellers and the number of rejections they received. Some of these might surprise you!
Animal Farm by George Orwell
Number of Rejections: 4
Animal Farm was praised by those who rejected it. However, at the time many thought it was too controversial to publish a book that criticized Communism, particularly during World War II when the UK was allied with the Soviet Union. After the war, Animal Farm found publication, as well as its place in the canon of great political satire.
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
Number of Rejections: 5+
Lolita is still considered by many to be a controversial book. During the fifties-era of censorship laws, even Nabokov worried about its publication. At the time, he was teaching at Cornell and wanted his book to be published under a pseudonym because he thought it would get him fired. However, after being rejected by five leading publishers, the novel was published in France under the condition that Nabokov use his name on the cover. Though Lolita eventually met much criticism, love it or hate it, it’s now considered one of the most important books in the history of literature.
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by JK Rowling
Number of Rejections: 12
At the time, Rowling was living on government assistance. She sent the book to publishers and then to agents, who rejected it mainly for its length and the worry that a children’s book wouldn’t do well enough to make back the investment it would take to print it. It wasn’t until the eight-year-old daughter of a Bloomsbury editor read the first chapter and demanded the rest that the book was accepted for publication.
Number of Rejections: 14
Like Rowling, Stephenie Meyer was a virtually unknown and unproven writer when she submitted her Twilight manuscript to agents. Fourteen agents turned her down before one finally gave her a shot. From there, it wasn’t long before the book secured a publisher and an undying and dedicated readership.
Lord of the Flies by William Golding
Number of Rejections: 20
What is childhood without a dip into the world of William Golding’s amazing adventure tale? For many, Lord of the Flies is the book that introduces young readers to literature. However, it came very close to not even seeing print. Golding’s debut was met with 20 rejections until it was finally accepted. Even then, the book was not immediately a commercial success. As it garnered the acclaim of critics, the book’s reputation began to grow into the behemoth it is now.
Dubliners by James Joyce
Number of Rejections: 22
Even after the 22 rejections Joyce received on Dubliners, the publisher that eventually released the book only printed 1,250 copies. Perhaps they were right to do so, since the book didn’t sell well. It wasn’t until the release of his novels that Joyce’s reputation grew. Now, Dubliners is considered a standout among Joyce’s notable work.
Dune by Frank Herbert
Number of Rejections: 23
This genre defining sci-fi novel was rejected 23 times before final commanding the attention of a small Philadelphia-based publisher. Upon its release, Dune won many prestigious awards that helped cement its reputation and readership. Herbert wrote five sequels, though none went on to do as well as the original.
And to Think That I saw It on Mulberry Street by Dr. Seuss
Number of Rejections: 27
Often, the reason publishers reject a novel is the thing that eventually distinguishes it when and if it becomes a bestseller. No writer better exemplifies this than Dr. Seuss, whose first book was thought too strange by many of the 27 publishers who rejected it. Eventually, the book did find publication, spawning a literary career that we’d all be poorer without.
Number of Rejections: 30
King’s story is, perhaps, a love story. He wrote a novel that was rejected thirty times before he threw it in the trash. His wife fished it out and encouraged him to keep working on it, even giving him advice on the world of women. It wasn’t long before King had a revised manuscript and then a publisher. He’s since gone on to write some of the most iconic fiction of the last thirty years.
Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
Number of Rejections: 38
Publishing a thousand-page book is a risk, and it’s one that 38 publishers didn’t think worth it. Our winner for this list’s most rejected bestseller, Gone With the Wind is one of America’s most famous and widely known novels. It won the Pulitzer Prize in 1937 and was made into a classic film in 1939, spawning one of the most famous lines in history.
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