15 Best-selling Authors Whose Books Were Initially Rejected

FUN FACTS November 24, 2017 By Hugo

The publishing world has never been an easy industry to crack. Rejections are almost guaranteed, and because of that, many aspiring writers struggle to even submit their manuscripts. But what about those that do get published? Did they leave their day jobs behind and become fabulously wealthy? Well, not quite. In fact, in America alone, over 300,000 new books were published in 2013


Then again, there are a few that defy the odds. They are the authors who everyone aspires to be. They make a living doing what they love and get paid handsomely in the process. They are in the minority, of course, but as you'll find out, they got their books published through having one thing in common: a dogged determination to succeed in the face of failure.

Here are 15 famous best-selling authors whose manuscripts were initially rejected.

1. Dan Brown

Dan Brown is one of the world's best-selling fiction authors and has achieved sales of well over 200m copies. But Brown's path to the top wasn't plain sailing.

Shutterstock/ G Holland

Instead, the author had little success with his first three novels, with all three failing to go beyond the 10,000 sales mark. But the 51-year-old didn't give up on his dream of writing full- time and after being told by one publisher that his fourth book was "so badly written" Brown tried Doubleday instead. They agreed to take him on and as of today, his fourth book, "The Da Vinci Code" has sold over 80m copies.

2. Beatrix Potter

Animal lover Beatrix Potter took her love for nature to literature when she wrote the beloved children's book, "The Tale of Peter Rabb."

Rupert Potter (father) via Wikimedia Commons

However, even in the age where books weren't being published every waking second, the ambitious Potter faced rejection so many times that she eventually self-published a meagre 250 copies of her work. Today, the book has sold over 45 million copies. 

3. E.L. James

E.L. James famously wrote part of her  "50 Shades of Grey" trilogy on her blackberry on the commute to work, not knowing that her erotic fiction would one day reach millions of readers. Though it isn't just the raunchy details of her plots, that have left people shocked.

Shutterstock/ Denis Makarenko

Many lamented the poor writing while Salmond Rushdie said that E.L. James's books made "Twilight look like "War and Peace." But James won't care. After all, her road to the top was like no other, and instead of attaining a literary agent, James decided to publish with a little-known publisher called The Writers Coffee Shop.

Today, sales for her trilogy are estimated to be around the 70m mark, and a film franchise has since followed.

4. Stephanie Meyer

Stephanie Meyer was a stay-at-home Mormon mom from Arizona when she sat down and wrote the first instalment of what she dreamed of the night before. The dream was, of course, Twilight, a vampire romance saga which would spawn one of cinema's most successful franchises. 

Shutterstock/ Christopher Halloran

After completing the first novel, Meyer sent out 15 manuscripts to different literary agents, with the first 14 all rejecting her services. But in fabled fashion, the 15th response came from one of the most prestigious literary agencies in the world; Writers House. Weeks later, Meyer had a $750,000 book deal.

5. 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.” Those were the words of one publisher who clearly didn't think Frank's vivid account of her days hiding from the Nazi's would amount to much.

Unknown photographer; Collectie Anne Frank Stichting Amsterdam via Wikimedia Commons

But instead of listening to such a misjudged critique, her father, with a further 15 rejections received, went to Doubleday. They took him on, and today, his daughter's memoirs have sold over 25 million copies.

6. William Golding

Children's author William Golding wrote one of the greatest adventure books of all time when his imagination gave him the literary scribblings of, "The Lord of The Flies." Still, people's love for the story wasn't as well received in the publishing world, and a plethora of publishers passed on the novel, with one writing, "“an absurd and uninteresting fantasy which was rubbish and dull.” 

Wikimedia Commons

Today, the book has sold over 15 million copies. 

7. Jack Kerouac 

“Frenetic and scrambled prose" was what one publisher wrote after reading Kerouac's novel.

Tom Palumbo from New York, NY, USA derivative work: Sir Richardson via Wikimedia Commons

Nonetheless, Viking Press took a chance and in doing so; published one of the most famous American novels of all time.

8. F. Scott Fitzgerald

Speaking of damning assessments, F. Scott. Fitzgerald, arguably the greatest American writer of the 20th Century, received a candid response from one publisher.

The World's Work via Wikimedia Commons

“An absurd story as romance, melodrama or record of New York high life" wrote one editor. Years later, the novel has become a best-selling classic. 

9. Stephen King

The king of horror churns out novels with such frequency you wonder if he has time for anything else. Nonetheless, King wasn't always in a position where he could write for a living. Instead, he was an English teacher for most of his 20s and received numerous rejections for his first novel, "Carrie". 

Pinguino via Wikimedia Commons

Such rejection was hard to stomach, which led the author to throw the entire manuscript into the bin before his wife found it. Encouraging him to revise it and re-submit it to other publishers, Carrie would go on to sell 1 million copies in its first year of release.

10. Nicholas Sparks

The pulp author had long been a workaholic and regularly worked 30 hour weeks alongside being a high school student. Perhaps it was that work ethic that convinced a then 28-year-old Sparks to give writing another go after completing two unpublished novels. 

Shutterstock/ Debby Wong

The story was called, "The Notebook" and eventually led Sparks to query 25 agents. Of those, 24 rejected him, but Theresa Park- his agent to this day- convinced Time Warner to part with a $1 million advance.

Today, the author has sold well over 100 million copies and has seen 11 of his novels adapted into movies.

11.  J.D. Salinger

J.D. Salinger's famous coming-of-age story, "The Catcher in the Rye", would capture the minds of millions of adolescents. But before its release, publishing houses weren't convinced. One even commented on the protagonist, Holden Caulfield, writing, "we feel that we don’t know the central character well enough.”

Robert Vickrey via Wikimedia Commons

Yet millions of others fell in love with Holden, and in doing so turned Salinger's book into a worldwide bestseller.

12. Paulo Coelho

One of the main lines in Paulo Coelho's famous novel, "The Alchemist" is, "It's the possibility of having a dream come true that makes life interesting."  

nrkbeta via Wikimedia Commons

So when the story sold only 800 copies in its first print run, the Brazillian author decided to take matters into his own hands and found a new publisher. As of today, "The Alchemist" has sold over 75 million copies.

13. Margaret Mitchell

The epic Civil War novel that Mitchell wrote was rejected 38 times by publishing houses before "Gone with The Wind" finally found a home.

New York World-Telegram and the Sun staff photographer: Aumuller, Al, photographer. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

It has since sold over 30 million copies.

14. Meg Cabot

Meg Cabot queried agents for over 3 years before a literary agent finally took on her novel, "The Princess Diaries."


Since its publication, the book has sold over 15 million copies and was adapted into a movie starring Anne Hathaway and Julie Andrews.

15. J.K. Rowling 

The most famous living author became the first writer to accumulate wealth beyond a billion dollars when her seven Harry Potter novels were turned into films, though initially, Rowling struggled to get published after she completed the first draft of "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone" and when a publishing house finally accepted her at the 12th time of asking, the Scottish writer was then told there was little money in childrens' books.

Shutterstock/ s_bukley

Years later, Rowling's last four books in the series became the fastest-selling novels of all time and gave the writer sales of well over 400m.

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