10 Best-Sellers Initially Rejected

This week’s blog post is dedicated to best-selling books that were initially rejected by publishers.  It is a subject that I thought might interest my fellow authors and book lovers. The following 10 books are presented in chronological order.

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The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells (1898) – This science fiction classic is about an unnamed protagonist and his younger brother, who are in London when the Earth is invaded by aliens. It was initially snubbed by a number of publishers, including one who wrote in the rejection letter, ‘An endless nightmare. I think the verdict would be ‘Oh don’t read that horrid book.’’

Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery (1908) – This classic recounts the adventures of Anne Shirley, an 11-year-old orphan sent to live with a middle-aged brother and sister on their farm. 5 publishers initially snubbed it, and it was only 2 years after this setback that the author removed it from her hatbox and resubmitted it.

Dubliners by James Joyce (1914) – Dubliners is a collection of 15 short stories whose primary theme is epiphany. Joyce began trying to find a publisher for his controversial book in 1905. He submitted Dubliners 18 times to 15 publishers without success. His relentless perseverance finally paid off when Grant Richards published it in 1914.

Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence (1928) – This story about a relationship between a gamekeeper and an upper-class woman was printed privately by its author in Florence after it was rejected by a host of publishers, due to its perceived scandalous subject matter and content. Lady Chatterley’s Lover was not published openly the UK until 1960.

Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell (1936) – Set during the American Civil War and Reconstruction era, Gone with the Wind is about Scarlett O’Hara, the daughter of a plantation owner. This, the only book published by Mitchell during her lifetime was shunned 38 times by publishers before eventually being accepted.  

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Lord of the Flies by William Golding (1954) – This dystopian novel is about a group of boys stranded on a deserted island, who attempt to govern themselves. Lord of the Flies was rejected 20 times before Faber and Faber accepted it. One of the rejection letters condemned the book as, ‘An absurd and uninteresting fantasy which was rubbish and dull.’

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov (1955) – Lolita is a controversial novel about a man’s obsession with a 12-year-old girl. It was rebuffed by numerous publishers because of its contentious subject matter. The book was eventually published in France by Olympia Press. Lolita was fourth on Modern Library’s 1998 list of the 100 Best Novels of the 20th Century.

Carrie by Stephen King (1974) – Stephen King’s first published novel is about a bullied high school girl who utilises her telekinetic powers to get revenge on her tormenters. Numerous publishers rejected the book. One publisher wrote in the rejection letter, ‘We are not interested in science fiction which deals with negative utopias. They do not sell.’

Life of Pi by Yann Martel (2001) – This fantasy adventure novel is about an Indian boy who survives for 227 days on a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger called Richard Parker. Life of Pi was rejected by 5 London publishers. In 2002 it won the The Man Booker Prize.

The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown (2003) – Dan Brown’s seminal work is a mystery/detective novel that explores an alternative religious history. Prior to its publication by Doubleday it was rejected by another publisher, who pre-empting the sentiments of many of its readers, allegedly stated in the rejection letter, ‘It is so badly written.’

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  • Really interesting post Guy! I see you’re in the process of redesigning the blog. Did you move to wordpress.org?

  • This is an encouraging post Guy for all Indie authors still trying to break through. Everyone gets rejections (and negative reviews) but it is important to remember that it is just one person’s opinion, which doesn’t always reflect the views of the majority. 🙂

    • Yes, good point Heather. Rejection is part of the process for everyone it seems. There’ll always be negative reviews that’s for sure. Even The Grapes of Wrath has a 1 star review on Amazon.

    • It may be a myth Sheila. I read that Mitchell once claimed in a letter that Gone with the Wind was never rejected. Was she telling the truth? Do any of us know what
      really happened? I certainly don’t.

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