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15 Famous Books That Were Initially Rejected

As Samuel Beckett once said: "Try again. Fail again. Fail better."

Writing a book is darn hard work, so we’d like to give a shout-out to all the aspiring writers out there who are just about ready to throw in the towel. Not so fast! You’ll be shocked to learn how many critically acclaimed books (and writers) went through rejection after rejection, most in the double-digits, on their way to literary fame. Even über-best-selling authors like J.K Rowling and Stephenie Meyer, who are currently pole-vaulting into swimming pools filled with British pounds and dollar bills respectively, struggled with numerous rejections.

So take a break from beating yourself up about that most recent rejection letter, and peruse this slideshow of 15 incredibly famous books that were initially rejected. Have you been rejected 121 times yet? We didn’t think so.

Now get back to work.



Buy John Crow's Devil at Amazon

John Crow's Devil

By Marlon James

Rejected: 78 times

Marlon James, winner of this year’s Man Booker Prize for A Brief History of Seven Killings, 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.” (Thankfully he later recovered the text by searching through his e-mails on an old computer.)

John Crow's Devil

By Marlon James

Buy Lord of the Flies at Amazon

Lord of the Flies

By William Golding

Rejected: 20 times

According to LitRejections.com, one of Golding’s rejection letters read: “An absurd and uninteresting fantasy which was rubbish and dull.”

Lord of the Flies

By William Golding

Buy Anne of Green Gables at Amazon

Anne of Green Gables

By L. Montgomery

Rejected: 4 times

After four rejections, L.M. Montgomery nearly gave up, putting the manuscript for Anne of Green Gables in a hatbox. And she didn’t exactly have a supportive family, either. Of her writing, she said, “I struggled on alone, in secrecy and silence. I never told my ambitions and efforts and failures to any one. Down, deep down, under all discouragement and rebuff, I knew I would ‘arrive’ some day.”

Anne of Green Gables

By L. Montgomery

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Buy Lolita at Amazon

Lolita

By Vladimir Nabokov

Rejected: 5 times

Nabokov’s masterpiece had difficulty finding a publisher because many believed the book too obscene for public consumption. One editor wrote, “It is overwhelmingly nauseating, even to an enlightened Freudian. To the public, it will be revolting. It will not sell, and will do immeasurable harm to a growing reputation … I recommend that it be buried under a stone for a thousand years.” Jeez, dude.

Lolita

By Vladimir Nabokov

Buy Gone With the Wind at Amazon

Gone With the Wind

By Margaret Mitchell

Rejected: 38 times 

Despite dozens of rejections, Margaret Mitchell’s sweeping Civil War epic went on to win the Pulitzer Prize in 1937...and became one of the most famous, top-grossing films of all time.

Gone With the Wind

By Margaret Mitchell

Buy The Diary of a Young Girl at Amazon

The Diary of a Young Girl

By Anne Frank

Rejected: 15 times

Unbelievably, one publisher wrote of Anne Frank’s incredible record of her life in hiding from the Nazis: “The girl doesn’t, it seems to me, have a special perception or feeling which would lift that book above the ‘curiosity’ level.” Wow.

The Diary of a Young Girl

By Anne Frank

Buy Dubliners at Amazon

Dubliners

By James Joyce

Rejected: 22 times

The road to publication for James Joyce was long and hard due to the threat of obscenity charges at the time. Nearly all of his publishers asked him to re-write large portions of Dubliners, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and his novel Ulysses was eventually banned and had to be smuggled into the United States.

Joyce wrote one editor about the 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.”

Dubliners

By James Joyce

Buy Carrie at Amazon

Carrie

By Stephen King

Rejected: 30 times

One rejection letter read: “We are not interested in science fiction which deals with negative utopias. They do not sell.” Hahahahahahaha. Haha. Ha.

Carrie

By Stephen King

Buy Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone at Amazon

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

By J.K. Rowling

Rejected: 8 times

Harry Potter almost didn’t see the light of day, until one publisher’s 8-year-old daughter found the first chapter and begged her father to get his hands on the rest of the story. Clever girl.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

By J.K. Rowling

Buy Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance at Amazon

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

By Robert M. Persig

Rejected: 121 times

After being rejected a whopping 121 times, the editor who finally decided to take a chance on Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance later said, “It forced me to decide what I was in publishing for.”

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

By Robert M. Persig

Buy Twilight at Amazon

Twilight

By Stephanie Meyer

Rejected: 14 times

Then unknown, Twilight author Stephenie Meyer struggled to find representation for her manuscript, which was rejected by 14 agents. They were Team Jacob, obviously.

Twilight

By Stephanie Meyer

Buy A Wrinkle in Time at Amazon

A Wrinkle in Time

By Madeleine L'Engle

Rejected: 26 times

Shortly after turning 40 with no literary success, Madeleine L’Engle nearly threw in the towel. But after a 10-week cross country road trip, she found the inspiration for A Wrinkle in Time.

A Wrinkle in Time

By Madeleine L'Engle

Buy Animal Farm at Amazon

Animal Farm

By George Orwell

Rejected: 4 times

Poet T.S. Eliot himself rejected Orwell’s novel, a satire of the perils of communism, writing, “We have no conviction that this is the right point of view from which to criticize the political situation at the current time.” In your face, Eliot.

Animal Farm

By George Orwell

Buy Dune at Amazon

Dune

By Frank Herbert

Rejected: 23 times

Despite its initial 23 rejection letters, Dune went on to become the best-selling science-fiction novel of all time.

Dune

By Frank Herbert

Buy The Bell Jar at Amazon

The Bell Jar

By Sylvia Plath

Rejected by American publishers

When Sylvia Plath went to publish her first novel from a publisher she had received a scholarship from, she thought she’d be a shoe-in. But Harper & Row’s editors called The Bell Jar “disappointing, juvenile and overwrought.” She went on to publish the book in the UK under the pseudonym Victoria Lucas, but the novel didn’t find an American publisher until after her death in 1963.

The Bell Jar

By Sylvia Plath

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Published on 02 Nov 2015

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