1. Agatha Christie
The creator of the worldwide-loved characters of Hercules Poirot and Miss Marple waited for five years for her first book, rejected by six publishers, to finally get published. To date, an estimated 2 to 4 billion copies of her books have sold worldwide, making her #2 on the list of best-selling authors of all time, after William Shakespeare.
2. "The Chronicles of Narnia" by C.S. Lewis
Written between 1949 and 1954 and published only in 1956, the series of "The Chronicles of Narnia" has sold over 100 million copies in 47 languages and is considered a classic of children's literature.
3. “Anne of Green Gables”
L.M. Montgomery sent her debut novel to five publishers and got rejections. "That finished me," she wrote. She packed the manuscript into a hat-box and forgot about it. Some time later she found it again by accident, and deciding that it wasn’t that bad, submitted it again. "The book may or may not succeed. I wrote it for love, not money." Since its publication in 1908, "Anne" has sold more than 50 million copies and has been translated into 20 languages, so apparently it succeeded :-)
4. H.G. Wells
"An endless nightmare. I do not believe it would "take"...I think the verdict would be 'Oh don't read that horrid book'." A letter of rejection containing these words was received by "the father of science fiction" about his "The War of the Worlds". It was finally published in 1898 and is still in print today, over a century later.
5. Jack London
According to Jack London's careful record, in the first five years of his writing career his works were rejected 664 times. "The Call of the Wild" alone has sold one million copies and made London the most popular American writer of his generation.
6. "Dune" by Frank Herbert
The manuscript was submitted to more than twenty publishers, each of whom rejected it. The novel was finally published in 1965 by Chilton Books, a printing house better known for publishing auto repair manuals. “Dune” won the Hugo Award and the Nebula Award. In print to date, it has been translated into dozens of languages and has sold almost 20 million copies.
7. Zane Grey, the father of the "Western" genre
When his first novel was rejected, he lapsed into despair. Who wouldn't, reading, “You have no business being a writer and should give up”? Zane Grey self-published his novel in 1903, perhaps with funds provided by his wife or his brother's girlfriend. Now, the total estimated sales of Grey's books sum up to 250 million and have been adapted into 112 films.
8. "Moby Dick"
“It is very long, and rather old-fashioned. We do not think it would be at all suitable for the Juvenile Market”. The rejected “Moby Dick” by Herman Melville was later published in 1851 with only 500 copies in the UK and 3,000 in the US. 2,300 copies of the book were then sold in its first year and a half, and on average 27 copies a year were sold for the next 34 years, totaling 3,215 copies. Melville's earnings from the book add up to $1,260.
9. James Joyce's "Dubliners"
Between 1905, when Joyce first sent the manuscript to a publisher, and 1914, when the book was finally published, Joyce submitted the book 18 times to a total of 15 publishers. The first publisher, Grant Richards, after agreeing to publish the book, began to press Joyce to remove a number of passages. Joyce protested, but eventually did agree to make some of the requested changes. The publisher eventually backed out of the deal. Joyce thereupon resubmitted the manuscript to other publishers, and in 1909 he found a willing candidate. However, a similar controversy developed and Maunsel also refused to publish it, even threatening to sue Joyce for printing costs already incurred. Joyce offered to pay the printing costs himself if the sheets were turned over to him and he were allowed to complete the job elsewhere and distribute the book, but when Joyce arrived at the printers they refused to surrender the sheets. They burned them the next day. Joyce managed to save one copy, which he obtained "by ruse". He then returned to submitting the manuscript to other publishers, and in 1914 Grant Richards once again agreed to publish the book, using the page proofs saved from Maunsel as copy. The deepest respect to the author for persistence in the face of frustration.
10. Robert Pirsig
Written in the nights when the author returned from his day job of writing computer manuals, Robert M. Pirsig‘s "Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" was rejected 121 times. Eventually it was published in 1974, became an American literary cultural icon and has sold five million copies. It holds the record in the Guinness Book Of Records for the largest number of rejections received by a single best-selling book.
Well… publishers are just humans. They make mistakes. But it’s a terrifying thought, how many masterpieces might remain unrevealed to the world because of that kind of mistake. That’s why I think the best solution is publishing books in an open way, like at OpenBooks.com, where readers decide what’s valuable and what’s not.