For those of you who have aspirations of becoming a best selling author, here are 14 best-selling books that were repeatedly rejected by publishers – as originally reported by How Things Work:
- Auntie Mame by Patrick Dennis
Based on his party-throwing, out-of-control aunt, Patrick Dennis’s story defined in 1955 what Americans now know as “camp.” However, before Vanguard Press picked it up, 15 other publishers rejected it. Within years, Auntie Mame would not only become a hit on Broadway but a popular film as well. Dennis became a millionaire and, in 1956, was the first author in history to have three books simultaneously ranked on The New York Times best-seller list.
- Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach
Richard Bach has always said that this story, told from the point of view of a young seagull, wasn’t written but channeled. When he sent out the story, Bach received 18 rejection letters. Nobody thought a story about a seagull that flew not for survival but for the joy of flying itself would have an audience. Boy, were they wrong! Macmillan Publishers finally picked up Jonathan Livingston Seagull in 1972, and that year the book sold more than a million copies. A movie followed in 1973, with a sound track by Neil Diamond.
- Chicken Soup for the Soul by Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen
Within a month of submitting the first manuscript to publishing houses, the creative team behind this multimillion dollar series got turned down 33 consecutive times. Publishers claimed that “anthologies don’t sell” and the book was “too positive.” Total number of rejections? 140. Then, in 1993, the president of Health Communications took a chance on the collection of poems, stories, and tidbits of encouragement. Today, the 65-title series has sold more than 80 million copies in 37 languages.
- Kon-Tiki by Thor Heyerdahl
With a name like Thor, adventure on the high seas is sort of a given, isn’t it? In 1947, Heyerdahl took a crew of six men on a 4,300-mile journey across the Pacific Ocean. But not on a cruise ship — their vessel was a reproduction of a prehistoric balsa wood raft, and the only modern equipment they carried was a radio. Heyerdahl wrote the true story of his journey from Peru to Polynesia, but when he tried to get it published, he couldn’t. One publisher asked him if anyone had drowned. When Heyerdahl said no, they rejected him on the grounds that the story wouldn’t be very interesting. In 1953, after 20 rejections, Kon-Tiki finally found a publisher — and an audience. The book is now available in 66 languages.
- The Peter Principle by Laurence Peter
In 1969, after 16 reported rejections, Canadian professor Laurence Peter’s business book about bad management finally got a green light from Bantam Books. Within one year, the hardcover version of The Peter Principle was in its 15th reprint. Peter went on to write The Peter Prescription, The Peter Plan, and the unintentionally amusing The Peter Pyramid: Will We Ever Get to the Point? None of Peter’s follow-up books did as well as the original, but no one can deny the book’s impact on business publishing.
- Dubliners by James Joyce
It took 22 rejections before a publisher took a chance on a young James Joyce in 1914. They didn’t take too big of a chance — only 1,250 copies of Dubliners were initially published. Joyce’s popularity didn’t hit right away; out of the 379 copies that sold in the first year, Joyce himself purchased 120 of them. Joyce would go on to be regarded as one of the most influential writers of the 20th century. Dubliners, a collection of short stories, is among the most popular of Joyce’s titles, which include A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Finnegans Wake, and Ulysses.
- Lorna Doone by Richard Doddridge Blackmore
You know you’ve done well when you’ve got a cookie named after your novel’s heroine. Not only does Nabisco’s Lorna Doone cookie remind us of Blackmore’s classic, but there are nearly a dozen big-screen or TV versions of the story as well. This Devonshire-set romance of rivalry and revenge was turned down 18 times before being published in 1889. Today, Blackmore is considered one of the greatest British authors of the 19th century, though his popularity has waned over time.
- Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig
Pirsig’s manuscript attempts to understand the true meaning of life. By the time it was finally published in 1974, the book had been turned down 121 times. The editor who finally published Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance said of Pirsig’s book, “It forced me to decide what I was in publishing for.” Indeed, Zen has given millions of readers an accessible, enjoyable book for seeking insight into their own lives.
- M*A*S*H by Richard Hooker
Before the television series, there was the film. Before the film, there was the novel. Richard Hooker’s unforgettable book about a medical unit serving in the Korean War was rejected by 21 publishers before eventually seeing the light of day. It remains a story of courage and friendship that connects with audiences around the world in times of war and peace.
- Carrie by Stephen King
If it hadn’t been for Stephen King’s wife, Tabitha, the iconic image of a young girl in a prom dress covered in pig’s blood would not exist. King received 30 rejections for his story of a tormented girl with telekinetic powers, and then he threw it in the trash. Tabitha fished it out. King sent his story around again and, eventually, Carrie was published. The novel became a classic in the horror genre and has enjoyed film and TV adaptations as well. Sometimes all it takes is a little encouragement from someone who believes in you.
- Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
The only book that Margaret Mitchell ever published, Gone With the Wind won her a Pulitzer Prize in 1937. The story of Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler, set in the South during the Civil War, was rejected by 38 publishers before it was printed. The 1939 movie made of Mitchell’s love story, which starred Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh, is the highest grossing Hollywood film of all time (adjusted for inflation).
- A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
The publishing house of Farrar, Straus and Giroux was smart enough to recognize the genius in L’Engle’s tale for people of all ages. Published in 1962, the story was awarded the prestigious Newbery Medal the following year. Wrinkle remains one of the best-selling children’s books of all time, and the story of precocious children and the magical world they discover was adapted for television in 2001. Still, L’Engle amassed 26 rejections before this success came her way.
- Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison by Charles Shaw
In 1952, Crown Publishing Group in New York took a chance on the story of a shipwreck in the South Pacific. Shaw, an Australian author, was rejected by dozens of publishers on his own continent and by an estimated 20 British publishing firms, too. By 1957, this humorous tale was made into a movie starring Deborah Kerr and Robert Mitchum. The story and the movie are considered war classics and garnered several Academy Award nominations, including one for Best Writing.
- Dune by Frank Herbert
This epic science-fiction story was rejected by 23 publishers before being accepted by Chilton, a small Philadelphia publisher. Dune quickly became a success, winning awards such as the Hugo Award for Best Novel in 1966. Dune was followed by five sequels, and though none did as well as the original, a film version of the book starring rock star Sting did quite well and remains a cult favorite.
Contributing writers to the original article: Helen Davies, Marjorie Dorfman, Mary Fons, Deborah Hawkins, Martin Hintz, Linnea Lundgren, David Priess, Julia Clark Robinson, Paul Seaburn, Heidi Stevens, and Steve Theunissen.