Famous Books Rejected Multiple Times

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Commenting on That First Page, a reader remarks:

Then there is the story of Orwell’s novel being rejected by American publishers because “American readers don’t like animal stories!”

Publishers and agents alike have turned down books that finally made it into print and immortality.

Two books devoted to the subject give details of now embarrassing reasons given for turning down writers who have become household names:

Pushcart’s Complete Rotten Reviews (1998), Edited by Bill Henderson and Andre Bernard. (“You’re welcome to Le Carré; he hasn’t got any future.”)

Rejections of the Written Famous (2003) by Joyce Spizer  (“Tony Hillerman’s agent told him, ‘Get rid of the Indian stuff'”)

Here, with the number of times the book was turned down, are some examples to give you courage next time you receive a rejection letter. (Note: the figures are taken from websites and not directly from the books.)

Auntie Mame, Patrick Dennis (15)
Carrie, Stephen Kng (30)
Chicken Soup for the Soul, Jack Canfeld and Mark Victor Hansen (140)
Diary of Anne Frank (16)
Dr. Seuss books (15)
Dubliners, James Joyce (22)
Dune, Frank Herbert (23)
Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell (38)
Harry Potter book one, J. K. Rowling (9)
Jonathan Livingston Seagull, Richard Bach (18)
Kon-Tiki, Thor Heyerdahl (20)
M*A*S*H, Richard Hooker (17)
The Peter Principle, Laurence Peter (16)
The Prncess Diaries, Meg Cabot (17)
Watership Down, Richard Adams (26)
A Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L’Engle, (26)

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12 thoughts on “Famous Books Rejected Multiple Times”

  1. As a university writing instructor, I often mention this litany of missed great books by publishers and expert editors.

    The book that I usually mention first, however, is not on your fine list: Catch-22 by Joseph Heller. Originally, it was titled Catch-18 but he increased the number with each rejection letter from leading publishers. Of course, Heller had the last laugh as his comic masterpiece become an international bestseller and became a cultural reference point in 1960s. The Oxford English Dictionary even includes the phrase today and a Hollywood film was based on the book.

    Thanks for the article and gentle reminder that tastes differ and experts do not always know best!

  2. You say that Americans don’t like animal books. I won’t read anything human, or atleast imagine them as humans, because I like animal stories ONLY. Also, can you all say how many times Redwall was turned down?

  3. In fact, “Carrie” had been dumped in the garbage. Stephen King was disgusted with it (presumably after all the rejections) and had tossed it in the rubbish. His wife, Tabitha, saw the manuscript and rescued it; she read it and convinced him to keep trying. That was the start of King’s career (and lots of sleepless nights for many fortunate readers).

  4. I am an architect and a writer and wish to add to your list Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. About 105 publishers. Still selling well today since the 1970’s.

  5. Rejections are part of writer’s life. This article is a great piece and encourages a writer to put more efforts. As a writer, I have also come across such instances where the content written by me were not approved. But by hard work and effort, it were later accepted by the same people who initially rejected it. I appreciate the writings of Louisa May alcott, Mark Twain, Alexandre Dumas, Arthur Conan Doyle. Their works have inspired me to write effortlessly.

  6. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance was rejected 104 times as I recall. It continues to sell today over 40 years later.

  7. Do publishing agencies discrimate on age for writers, supposely a minor wanted to get a book published, would they turn down that person because of their age rather than their work?

  8. @Renee, I’m not sure. I just got back an e-mail from Penguin SA rejecting my manuscript. They say, “we feel like the book is not for us”.
    its very postmodern and experimental, maybe that’s why they rejected it.
    Or the fact that I am 17?
    Not sure.
    But its fine, J K Rowling was rejected many times, it gives me hope.

  9. Nice words to read. I just got rejected again today and between that and being out of work it gets old. I know all about frustration as I am sure we all do. I guess I will keep trying. Somebody has to to listen someday.

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