5 authors whose best-selling books were rejected at first

5 authors whose best-selling books were rejected at first

Professional criticism isn’t always the last say. Sometimes, quality trumps quantity and something that seems too obscure to sell simply takes off. Whichever publishing companies rejected these five novels surely are kicking themselves now.

Watership Down

Richard Adams’ award-winning Watership Down wasn’t just rejected once or twice, but reportedly 17 times before finally being picked up by Rex Collings’ one-man publishing firm. “Older children will not like it because its language is too difficult,” one publisher critiqued of the novel that became one of the fastest selling of all time. The fantasy adventure tale of anthropomorphized rabbits went on to win the annual Carnegie Medal and the Guardian Prize, and was even adapted into an animated film and television series.

The Great Gatsby

Over 90 years and 25 million copies later, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby has proven to be a timeless classic and a best seller on top of that. Yet, in an early rejection letter, a publisher noted it was “an absurd story, whether considered as romance, melodrama, or plain record of New York high life,” and that “you’d have a decent book if you’d get rid of that Gatsby character.” He wasn’t that central to the plot, right?

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

One of the biggest book and film franchises of the 21st century received 12 publishing rejections before finally being picked up by Bloomsbury. The Harry Potter books were considered too long to be children’s books and publishers felt the books wouldn’t keep children’s attention spans long enough, yet it was an eight-year-old daughter of a Bloomsbury editor that demanded to finish the book, which prompted the publishing agency to take a chance on J.K. Rowling’s fantasy novel. The last four of the series consecutively broke records for the fastest-selling books in history.

The Da Vinci Code

How did Dan Brown learn to cope after being told his new novel, The Da Vinci Code, was “so badly written” in one of his first rejection letters? Oh, about 80 million sales later, something tells me he survived.

The Lord of the Flies

Now a staple of English literature and present in nearly every school in the Americas, William Golding’s The Lord of the Flies was described early on as “an absurd and uninteresting fantasy which was rubbish and dull.” It was recently named by TIME magazine as one of the best English language novels of the last century.


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