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. Don't give up just yet! 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 all-time-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 list 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.
John Crow's Devil
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.)
Lord of the Flies
Rejected: 20 times
According to LitRejections.com, one of Golding’s rejection letters read: “An absurd and uninteresting fantasy which was rubbish and dull.” Tell that to every high school English class reading list in the U.S.
Anne of Green Gables
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.”
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.
Gone With the Wind
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.
The Diary of a Young Girl
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.
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.”
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.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
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.
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
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.”
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.
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.
Rejected: 23 times
Despite its initial 23 rejection letters, Dune went on to become the best-selling science-fiction novel of all time.
The Bell Jar
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.