Top 10 Famous Books That Were Originally Rejected

You might think that almost every famous and talented writer that is responsible for publishing books have an innate ability for spotting the best manuscripts and stories. Most amateur writers are thrown off for being rejected and believe that if they are rejected, it’s often for good reason. I am here to tell you not to be too naive because a rejection letter does not automatically mean you are bad writer.

This list highlights top 10  books that were originally rejected for publication by publishers. Each one is now famous and renowned across the globe. No one would ever have guessed the accusations these publishers made.


1.  Diary of Anne Frank

Diary of Anne Frank

Why It Was Rejected:

Anne’s father, Otto Frank, was the lone survivor of the Holocaust; he lost his wife and both of his children. What Otto did find was Anne’s diary and a series of notes she wrote while in hiding during the Nazi era. Otto Frank was so moved by his daughter’s journal and her desire to become a writer that he made an attempt to have it published. It was rejected at first.

That’s right, this hallmark of history and Nazi atrocities was REJECTED by publishers in 1950. Can anyone think of a better account about a young Jewish girl growing up in a time of repression and despair? The publishers thought the book was boring and had far too much family squabbling to be an interest. Also, the publishers thought the discourse regarding Anne’s developing sexuality was too explicit for young readers. That’s right, a book about one of the greatest genocides in human history is okay, but add a bit of sex, and it’s too lewd and salacious, not to mention boring.

 How It Was Published:

Otto Frank tried offering two different versions of the diary – one in its original form as we hear and read about it today and the other without any reference to Anne’s sexuality. The full version was finally accepted by a publisher in the UK in 1952 where it met with critical praise but with little success. However, it was popular in France, the United States and, surprisingly in Germany and Japan, two of the major axis powers during WWII. Since its release, The Diary of Anne Frank has received countless acclaim by poets and scholars. The former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt even provided the forward to the first American publication, despite the diary’s obvious discussions about sex.


2.  Harry Potter

Harry Potter and the Philosopher Stone

Why It Was Rejected:

JK Rowling was rejected by not just 1 publisher, but 12 publishers before it was ready for release. The issue with children’s books in the 1990s was that the market was too saturated. There was too many children’s book and the industry was not regarded as money-spinning and profitable by the publishers. Many publishers enjoyed the story, but they didn’t think there was a market for that type of children’s fantasy novels.

Rowlings was incredibly poor and was raising a baby daughter. She was so busy, she used to walk around Edinburgh until her daughter fell asleep, so that she could find the time to write her book. The series’ publishing was also overruled because it was too long for children; after all it was an era of video games and cable television. What child had the time or patience to read such a bulky novel?

How It Was Published:

After many rejections Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was finally ready for print. Rowling was told not to expect to make any money off of the book deal and was only offered a £1,500 advance. Rowlings the time didn’t have enough money to live off and had to apply for a government grant of £8000 in order to buy a word processor to type the Chamber of Secrets. Only three days after the Philosopher’s Stone was released, Scholastic Publishers offered Rowlings £100 000 for the publishing rights (the largest in history at the time). Since then Harry Potter has made Rowling one of the richest people in the UK and produced a immensely successful movie series. Rowlings is now one of the richest people in the UK, even richer then the Queen of England. I guess the editors were right; no one has the time to read children’s books nowadays.


3. Lord of the Flies

Lord of the Flies

Why it was rejected:

Lord of the Flies was rejected by 20 authors before it was finally published. One publisher even denounced the book sighting that it was “an absurd and uninteresting fantasy which was rubbish and dull.”

How was it finally published:

First published in 1954, Lord of the Flies was Golding’s first novel. Although it was not much of a  success, only selling fewer than 3,000 copies in the United States during 1955 before going out of stock. Now the book has become a best-seller and has even become a required reading in many schools and colleges. If you are not much of  a reader, check out the movie adaptations filed in English in 1964 and 1990.


4. Animal Farm

Animal Farm

Why It Was Rejected:

One of the most famous satires about an totalitarian government was also originallly rejected by publishers. It was not done so by a random unknown publisher, but by TS Eliot, one of the few most prominent poets of the 20th Century. In the rejection letter Eliot stated that “We have no conviction that this is the right point of view from which to criticise the political situation at the current time,”  and added that he thought its “view, which I take to be generally Trotskyite, is not convincing”.

Also, the novel made Snowball, or Trotsky, a hero at a time when that was extremely unpopular. Eliot even defended (though implicitly Stalin) in his rejection letter by arguing “After all, your pigs are far more intelligent than the other animals, and therefore the best qualified to run the farm – in fact there couldn’t have been an Animal Farm at all without them: so that what was needed (someone might argue) was not more communism but more public-spirited pigs.”

This of course could be interpreted as Eliot defending Stalin, or other authoritarian governments, as long as they benefited the entire community. What perhaps Eliot missed is that Stalin was a madman who terrorized his own people, caused massive starvation and almost brought on a massive nuclear holocaust.

How It Was Published:

Fortunately, for readers the war was winding down, and relations between the west and the USSR began to immediately sour (perhaps unfortunately for the rest of the world), making Animal Farm topical. The need to keep Stalin as an ally soon waned and Orwell’s book was accepted for publication.

However, one publishing house was insightful enough to see the long-term picture, and accepted it for publication. Curiously, a short while later they wrote back to tell Orwell they were rejecting the book:

It turns out that they rejected the book only after the publisher received extreme censure from Peter Smollett, the head of the Russian section of the British government’s information ministry. But Smollett was just doing his job and protecting his country right?

Absolutely…except his country was the Soviet Union. Smollett was a Soviet spy and encouraged the publishers to retract the book because it attacked his native country.

The book received almost universal acclaim and Orwell went on to write another dystopian novel Nineteen-Eighty Four. And although the allies were initially skeptical of making fun of the Soviets, soon Americans became much more comfortable with viewing Communists much more critically.


5. And To Think that I Saw it On Mulberry Street

 And To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street

Why It Was Rejected:

Theodore Geisel (Aka. Dr. Seuss) had a difficult time publishing the first book he wrote in the 1930s – the decade of the Great Depression. At that time, Geisel was already a famous and published poet and political cartoonist, yet the  beloved author’s first attempt at writing a book was rejected by 27 publishers for being too silly for the young crowds. And to say, children are never silly.

Publishers and parents alike thought that children books should teach them skills, like health, time management and strong work ethics. A book about weird creatures that only rhymed with make belief words was simply too much for publishers in the 1930s to handle. The book criticized as being nonsensical. In fact, Geisel almost burned the manuscript because he was so disappointed with the rejections, and who wouldn’t be.

How It Was Published:

In 1937 it was finally accepted for publication, that is two years before WWII began. His works have widely been applauded for their contribution to early learning. Interestingly, the main criticisms of Dr. Seuss’ first work – the strange words and rhymes – have been recognized by educators as an important piece of the development of early language skills. Geisel would later use his popularity for political commentary. He used his fame to criticize isolationism prior to World War II and to also portray all Japanese-Americans as conspirators.

After the war, he went on to write some of the most beloved children’s stories of all time. Can anyone imagine their childhood with no Cat in the Hat and no Green Eggs and Ham and Sam-I-am?


6. A Confederacy of Dunces

A Confederacy of Dunces

Why It Was Rejected:

The author, John Kennedy Toole, faced a continual  issue of rejection from publishers when he tried to have this manuscript published. Simon and Schuster wrote a note back to him saying that the book did not have any substance. Toole did not take the reject well; he started drinking and heavily and suffered from severe headaches. He became more and more paranoid after the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr.  in 1968.

How It Was Published:

Toole’s mother was the one who found a copy of the manuscript and decided to try to get the published again- 11 years after her son died. This was long before Seinfeld came along and books about nothing were really looked down upon. The book still kept being rejected, but Toole’s mother was persistent. Finally she sent the book to a professor at Loyola University in New Orleans who wrote favorably about the novel, leading to its publication. It went on to win a Pulitzer Prize in fiction and has become a staple of literature from the American South.


7. Mash


Why It Was Rejected:
Dr. Richard Hornberger got his idea for his book, MASH, after serving in an army field medical hospital during the Korean War. Once he returned, he completed a novel about his time in Korea as a military surgeon. It was rejected not just by 1 publisher, but by a dozen different ones. The book was deemed to silly for such an important topic as the Korean War. Publishers were not happy with the fact that military doctors acted unmilitarily and insubordinate as the book described them.  Evidently, among war surgeons it was commonplace to make fun of “the brass” for their inept leadership.

How It Was Published:
Timing is everything in publishing and after numerous rejections, the book was accepted in 1968. At that time, America was in the middle of  the War inVietnam, a highly unpopular war, and a book that made fun of the brutality of war was accepted and to be ready by the public.

Hornberger, who used the pseudonym “Hooker” in reference to his love of golf, later sold his rights for $100 000 so that the book would be adapted into a movie. It led to an OSCAR winning movie and a TV series that lasted over ten years. More importantly, it started to popularize satire of the military, perhaps making the baby boomers, and subsequent generations, more constrained to support war. The weird part about all this is that Hornberger did not intend to write a political statement against. Hornberger was a conservative Republican who did not appreciate the TV show and its satire.


8. Chicken Soup for the Soul


Chicken Soup for the Soul

Why It was Rejected:

The book was rejected by 123 publishers total because they didn’t think there was an audience for heartfelt and encouraging books such as this, and instead desired for  something a little more violent or voluptuous to say the least. Turns out they were wrong because the series has over 200 titles and has sold tens of millions of copies.

How it Was Published:

Chicken Soup for the Soul was finally published in 1993 and became a holiday favorite by the end of that year. What drove initial interest was not media attention or celebrity endorsement, but the word-of-mouth promotion from ordinary people around the country who loved the book and wanted  to read it. Many would return to the bookstore to buy five or ten copies for friends and family.

By 1994, Chicken Soup for the Soul was on every major bestseller list in the U.S. and Canada. Although the media were not the leaders in the promotion, they soon caught on. Chicken Soup for the Soul received coverage from just about every major media outlet, including “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” “The Today Show,” “Larry King Live” and many many more. The series quickly became a pop culture phenomenon, receiving mentions on television programs like “Friends,” “The Sopranos,” “Everybody Loves Raymond,” and many movies as well.


9. A Wrinkle in Time

A Wrinkle In Time

Why It Was Rejected:

This book by Madeline L’Engle was rejected by 26 publishers. The main reason for it was that it was hard to categorize. Basically, the rejections were along the lines of it dealt with the problem of evil too openly and it was too difficult for children to read. Also, many publishers could not tell who the target audience was. They were debating whether the book was a kid’s book or was an adult’s book? Classification for this book is also a tricky affair. The source I’ve located calls it Science Fiction, but it can easily be called a Fantasy novel as well.

How It Was Published:

After going through 26 some publishers, L’Engle’s agent returned the manuscript to her. Then one Christmas, L’Engle threw a tea party in honour of her mother. One of the guests happened to know John C. Farrar of Farrar, from Straus and Giroux. Her mother insisted that L’Engle meet with him. Although the publisher did not at the time publish any children’s books, Farrar met L’Engle and indeed enjoyed the novel and ultimately published it.

So despite the objections, the book has remained popular, never going out of print since it was first published. L’Engle followed it up with a series of sequels detailing  further adventures of the Murry family and their friends, many of which have also been successful. Perhaps the oddness of the books made it  a real part of the lasting appeal. A Wrinkle in Time is indeed a challenging book for readers young and old, but which child does not love a good challenge.


10. Lolita:


Why It Was Rejected:

There is no doubt about it, Lolita is one of the best-selling novels of all time, selling well over 50 million copies since its first publication in 1955. When  Vladimir Nabokov was shopping the title around though, he had a hard time finding anyone willing to publish it because so many publishers were worried about getting sued for obscenity as soon as anyone looked at. One rejection letter even went so far as to say, “It is overwhelmingly nauseating, even to an enlightened Freudian. To the public, it will be revolting. It will not sell, and will do immeasurable harm to a growing reputation… I recommend that it be buried under a stone for a thousand years.”

How It Was Published:

The novel, about a man’s obsession with a 12-year-old girl, had been rejected by four publishers before being accepted by G.P. Putnam’s Sons in 1958 . The book became a bestseller that allowed Nabokov to retire as a college professor.

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