10 Books That Were Rejected By Publishers

Rejection is the rule, not the exception

I have consulted the oracles and chosen an auspicious date to start writing my book!

I’m just kidding, I just decided to stop procrastinating, embrace the fear, and do it.

One of the things holding me back is me, getting way ahead of myself, concerning myself with “what ifs.” What if publishers hate it? What if it’s not received well? And the reviews, O-M-G… the reviews. Blah blah blah. As a writer, there are so many uncertainties. But there is one thing that I know for sure. Rejection is par for the course. Sometimes when I step back and think about this, I stop to question why I would ever choose writing as my second act. Only for a moment though

To a degree, I get it. Rejection comes with the territory because the gatekeepers have a brand to protect. Some of these publishing houses have been around far longer than I’ve been alive. Their credibility, their reputation, and an unspoken promise to their readers are wrapped up in that brand. 

I decided to do some digging on some unbelievable rejections of books we have known and loved.


A Time To Kill by John Grisham

Over the course of a year, A Time To Kill was rejected by 28 publishers. The book was finally published in 1988 but the success was not immediate. John Grisham once said, “Five thousand copies were printed and we couldn’t give them away.” A Time To Kill eventually became a bestseller after Grisham’s second novel, The Firm, paved the way.


Chicken Soup For The Soul

After 144 rejections, Chicken Soup For The Soul went on to sell over 500 million copies. It is now a series with 250 titles and it is available in 47 languages. Jack Canfield, co-creator of the series said “Most people are afraid of rejection…They are afraid of looking needy, looking foolish and looking stupid.”

Well yeah… but look where he is now… 


The Help by Katherine Stockett

Personally, I thought this one was crazy… how in the world? File this under “what were they thinking…”

Katherine Stockett stopped counting her rejection letters at 45, although she notes “…it’s probably more like 60 rejections.” The book spent 100 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list and went on to become a major motion picture.

And just so you know The Help is my favorite movie:)


A Wrinkle In Time by Madeline L’Engle

First published in 1963, A Wrinkle In Time was rejected 26 times. That same year it won the Newbury Award. You know the one that authors receive for their distinguished contributions to American literature for children? Yeah, that one…


Catcher In The Rye by J.D. Salinger

Another one of my favorites. The first publisher in talks with J.D.Salinger refused publication because he thought Holden Caulfield was “crazy.” In spite of early objections Catcher In The Rye went on to become required reading in high schools across America. Uhhh… let’s hear it for the first amendment?


Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

Yes, I said Philosopher’s Stone. This is the title of the book we know in America as Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. The first book in the Harry Potter series which incidentally was rejected 12 times. I don’t think I have to go into details about the success that followed. Universal Studios anyone?


Lord Of The Flies by William Golding

Lord Of The Flies was rejected 21 times. Editors described it as “absurd and uninteresting” yet somehow it managed to work its way onto curriculums everywhere. William Golding was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1983. 


Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig

After five years and 121 rejections, Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance was published in 1974. The book sold over 5 million copies and has been translated into 27 languages.


And To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street by Dr. Suess

After 27 rejections, Theodore Geisel, you know him better as Dr. Suess, was ready to throw in the towel. A chance encounter with a friend in publishing ultimately led to its publication in 1937.

If they say no

Just don’t go

Keep on trying

You never know!

No? Anyone? ok….


Carrie by Stephen King

I love the story behind this one. Stephen King abandoned the story after three pages. His wife Tabitha, saw it in the trash, fished it out and encouraged him to finish it. After 30 rejections, Carrie launched an amazing career. Kinda gives you chills doesn’t it? 

Of course, this is not an exhaustive list. When it comes to books that were not appreciated or given a fair shake, the list is long. I always read that every book begins with the same question: “What if.” The concept of what if goes beyond the plot and beyond setting a scene. What if some or all of these authors gave up after their first or 15th rejection? How would that have affected literary history as we know it?

These authors believed in their work and this list is a testament to perseverance.


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