If it wasn’t for the author’s persistence, or a huge amount of good luck, many books we love today would never have been published. It’s terrifying to think that there are probably so many other not so lucky masterpieces which have never seen the light of day.
Jerzy Kosiński, Steps
To prove that the publishing industry is incapable of recognizing talent, Chuck Ross sent the manuscript, signed Erik Demos, to 14 publishers. It was Jerzy Kosiński's book Steps. It had won the National Book Award for Fiction and by this time, had sold over 400,000 copies. Every publisher rejected the work, including Random House, who had originally published it. A publisher of another of Kosiński's books praised the writing and style: “Jerzy Kosinski comes to mind as a point of comparison”, but finally also refused. Ross commented, "Evidently, Kosinski is not as good as Kosinski when Demos is the name on the envelope."
J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter
Twelve rejections in a row is enough to give up. After a year of trying to find a publisher for Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, the book was saved by 8-year-old Alice Newton, the daughter of Bloomsbury’s chairman, who read the submitted chapter and immediately demanded the rest of the book. "She nagged and nagged me in the following months, wanting to see what came next", her father recalls. God bless you dear girl! Accepting the manuscript, the publisher advised J.K. Rowling, a single mother, to find a day job instead of expecting reasonable money from the book sales. The series about magic and muggles sold over 400 million copies, making Rowling the 11th best selling author in history.
Stephanie Meyer, Twilight
The idea of teenage love between a human and a vampire came to Meyer in a dream and she wrote it down for her own enjoyment, never thinking of publishing the work. Encouraged by her sister, eventually she submitted the 130,000-word manuscript to 14 different publishers and received either no response or a rejection. An inexperienced assistant at Writers House responded to her inquiry, not knowing that young adult books are expected to be about 40,000 to 60,000 words in length. It was probably the luckiest procedure omission in history. Effect: 17 million copies sold. Translated into 38 languages.
Stephen King: Carrie
Stephen King, living with his wife Tabby and two baby children in a trailer, was already publishing short stories in magazines, but the couple’s day jobs earned hardly enough to make ends meet. When Stephen was offered an extra part time job, Tabby asked, “Will you have time to write?” “Not much” “Well then, you can’t take it.” It was she who found the first 3 pages of Carrie that the author had thrown into a wastepaper basket and helped him to keep on writing it. 30 publishers rejected King's first full-length novel. When Carrie was finally published in paperback, it sold 1 million copies in the first year alone. Now King is the 19th best-selling author of all time, having sold over 300 million copies.
Ursula Le Guin: Left Hand of Darkness
At age 11 Ursula got her first rejection from the magazine she had submitted a story to. She continued writing but did not attempt to publish for ten years. For the next decade the author wrote five novels, which publishers rejected because they seemed “inaccessible”. Only in her thirties did Le Guin start to get published, mostly in magazines. When Left Hand of Darkness was submitted to a publisher, the author got an answer: “The book is so endlessly complicated... hopelessly bogged down and unreadable.” Accepted by Ace Books, the novel became the first of the author’s numerous best-sellers, won both the Hugo and Nebula Awards and is now regularly voted as the second best fantasy novel of all time, next to The Lord of the Rings. Sales: over a million copies in English, plus translations to 28 languages.
Jack Kerouac: On The Road
The “frenetic and scrambled prose” was repeatedly rejected by publishers for six years. The experimental style, sympathy towards marginalized social groups, scenes of drug use and homosexual behaviour dissuaded publishers as no one wanted to risk obscenity charges. Before the book was finally published in 1957, the author worked as a “railroad brakeman and fire lookout”. Being in print to date, the novel has sold five million copies in the US alone and has become an icon of the Beat Generation. “I suppose if Jack Kerouac had never written On the Road, The Doors would never have existed”, said Ray Manzarek, the band's keyboard player.
The Diary of Anne Frank
“The girl doesn’t, it seems to me, have a special perception or feeling which would lift that book above the ‘curiosity’ level.” “Very dull, a dreary record of typical family bickering, petty annoyances and adolescent emotions.” This is just to quote two opinions among the 16 rejections received by the memoir of 15-year-old Holocaust victim, who had been in hiding with her family for two years during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands, and later died in a camp, just weeks before the end of war. When the English translation was finally published, it became an international phenomenon, selling 30 million copies.
George Orwell: Animal Farm
It was the poet, Thomas Stearns Eliot, who as head of Faber & Faber refused to accept Orwell's book. He acclaimed the "good writing" and "fundamental integrity", but rejected the allegorical dystopia for its "Trotskyite" point of view.
This publishing house was not the only one to reject the story. Right after the war, in which the Soviets were allies against Hitler, many were afraid to upset Stalin, as much as they were afraid that stories about animals “don’t sell in America.” Published in 1945, Animal Farm became an anti-Stalinism classic and sold over 20 million copies worldwide.
The list of best-selling authors who initially got devastating rejection letters is way longer than this. The conclusion is obvious: dear authors, we should never give up with our writing and bringing it to the world. You may have a diamond in your drawer, but the more unique it is, the less people may be able to recognize its value.