• Joy Sephton

Top 20 famous rejected authors, to fire you up

There are tons of articles on the web that discuss this but, in those dark moments, I find it’s always an inspiring topic to come back to.

Where possible the images are of the first edition covers.

1. LM Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables was rejected 5 times before publication. More than 50 million copies have been sold to date, in more than 20 languages, and the setting, Prince Edward Island in Canada, has become a major tourist destination.

2. After Beatrice Potter’s first book, The Tale of Peter Rabbit, was rejected by 6 publishers she decided to self-publish 250 copies. The book has to date sold more than 45 million copies.

3. Agatha Christie (who along with William Shakespeare has sold an estimated record-breaking 4 billion books) was rejected 6 times over 5 years before her first book, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, was published. Her protagonist, detective Hercule Poirot, merited a full front page obituary in the Times newspaper when she killed him off 55 years later. Interestingly in 1930, Agatha Christie said she found Poirot "insufferable", and by 1960 she thought that he was a "detestable, bombastic, tiresome, egocentric little creep". She kept him alive so long because the public loved him.

4. JK Rowling says that Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was rejected by “loads” of literary agents. It was then rejected by 12 publishers after agent Christopher Little accepted it.

5. Anne Frank’s Diary of a Young Girl (Het Achterhuis - literally "the back house") was rejected 15 times before it was accepted for publication. It has since been translated into over 70 languages and has sold more than 30 million copies.

6. Richard Bach’s Jonathan Livingston Seagull was rejected 18 times, one publisher saying that a book about a seagull was "ridiculous". Since being published it has sold more than 44 million copies.

7. William Golding’s Lord of the Flies was rejected 20 times before being accepted by Faber and Faber. It became required reading at many schools and universities, and Stephen King says that he was "heavily influenced" by the book.

8. James Joyce’s Dubliners was rejected 22 times. The first run only sold 379 copies, of which 120 were bought by Joyce himself.

9. Frank Herbert’s first book, Dune, was rejected 23 times. Today it is one of the world's best selling works of science fiction.

10. Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveller’s Wife was rejected 25 times before being accepted by a publisher. Its eventual success earned Niffenegger a $5 million advance for her second book, Her Fearful Symmetry.

11. Dr Seuss’ first book And to Think that I saw it on Mulberry Street was rejected 27 times and, on the very day it was finally accepted, he had decided to burn it. Today, just in the USA, over 11,000 Dr Seuss books are sold every day.

12. John Grisham’s first book, A Time to Kill, was rejected 28 times until eventually 5,000 copies were printed. He filled his car with the books and drove around handing them out to libraries for free. His book sales have now reached over $400 million.

13. Stephen King’s debut novel, Carrie, was rejected 30 times and went on to sell a million copies in its first year.

14. James Patterson’s first book, The Thomas Berryman Number, was rejected 31 times. Patterson went on to head the Forbes list of highest-paid authors for three years in a row, only ceding his place to JK Rowling in 2017.

15. Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind was rejected 38 times. It went on to win her the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1937, and has sold more than 30,000 million copies.

16. Robert M Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance was rejected 121 times. It has long been considered a counter-culture classic.

17. Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hanson’s Chicken Soup for the Soul was rejected 144 times before being published in 1993. There are now more than 250 titles in the series and Canfield's wise advice for writers is to "reject rejection". This is not a first edition cover, but is a reprint of the original book.

18. Alex Haley’s Roots was rejected 200 times but has now sold more than 8 million copies. It earned its author a Pulitzer Prize special award in 1977.

19. Louis L’Amour started out his career with 200 rejection letters before his first title, Westward the Tide, was published. He wrote more than 100 books and 400 short stories in his lifetime, and his sales are now in excess of $330 million. He is considered one of the most prolific published writers in the world.

20. Finally, my hero, Jack London (Call of the Wild, White Fang and many others) had his work rejected over 600 times. He kept every one of his rejection letters but he didn't let them get to him. In just sixteen years he wrote and published more than 50 fiction and nonfiction books, hundreds of short stories, numerous articles and several plays.

I hope you feel inspired now?

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© 2020 by Joy Sephton