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Top 10 World Famous Books That Got Rejected

by Jenny Snook
fact checked by Jamie Frater

Before becoming some of the most popular books in history, classics such as Gone with the Wind and Harry Potter were rejected over and over before it was finally decided that they were worth publishing. Here we look at the story of J. K. Rowling and many other of our greatest writers who struggled to get that first work out there. These authors prove how important it is to persevere if there’s something you really want in life. Beyond the books themselves, there is a lesson to be learnt here by us all.

10 Diary of Anne Frank

The Diary of Anne Frank – Trailer

Anne Frank and her family were sent to a concentration camp after they were arrested by the Gestapo in 1944. Anne’s father Otto Frank was the only family member who survived. When he was given his daughters’ diary he decided to have it published.[1]

This true story reveals the threats that Jews had to cope with in the time of Nazism. Although she was killed at the age of 15 this book remains an optimistic story despite the terrible ordeals she went through. Otto stated:

“The Anne that appeared before me was very different from the daughter I had lost. I had had no idea of the depth of her thoughts and feelings.”

This book was rejected 16 times and many felt that people weren’t ready to relive the terrors of World War 2. Since first being published in 1947, over 30 million copes have been sold and it remains the most widely-read documents focusing on the things people experienced during the Holocaust. This book was also banned for being too depressing! You can read more about that on 10 Books That Were Banned For All The Wrong Reasons.

9 The Time Traveler’s Wife

The Time Traveler’s Wife (2009) Official Trailer – Rachel McAdams Movie HD

Audrey Niffennegger is an American writer and visual artist. Her first book, The Time Traveler’s Wife is a story about a man who is able to travel through time but is married to a woman who can’t. While they try to live an ordinary life forming a family and holding down steady jobs this book describes the problems they face.[2]

The book was rejected by over 20 publishers but was finally chosen by a small publisher in San Francisco who was a big fan of the story. It was published in 2003, becoming an international bestseller and winning the Exclusive Books Boeke Prize and a British Book Award. It was turned into a film in 2009. If you fancy a read about people who legit thought they could travel through time, here’s 10 People Who Claimed To Be Time Travelers.


DUNE (2021) Official First Look – Timothée Chalamet, Zendaya Movie

DUNE was first published in 1965 and written by American author Frank Herbert. Today, it is seen as one of the most popular science-fiction novels ever written but was rejected at least 20 times. It tells the story of life on a fictional desert planet named Arrakis, set in the distant future.[3]

In 1966, this book won the Nebula award for best novel; an impressive prize voted on by members of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America Inc. There are now six published novels that are set in the DUNE universe. Happily I can also add that the rather awful film version from 1984 (directed by the usually-great David Lynch) has been remade (seldom a good thing, but in this case, almost certainly) with a star-studded cast (including the criminally-handsome Timothée Chalamet) and directed by Denis Villeneuve of Arrival and Blade Runner 2049 fame, set to be released in 2020 (or maybe 2021 due to Coronavirus). It should be noted that DUNE is so awesome it ranks on our list of Top 15 Science Fiction Book Series.

7 Watership Down

Watership Down (1978) Official Trailer – John Hurt Movie

Born in 1926, British writer Richard George Adams grew up in the countryside in Berkshire where he could view the real Watership Down (a hill), on the border with Hampshire. He has a vivid childhood memory of a local man he saw pushing a handcart that was filled with dead rabbits—creepy.

When his children asked him to tell them a story one day he made up the tale of a group of rabbits trying to escape from a threatened warren. After telling the story, he decided to write it all down.[4]

This was a process that took Adams more than two years, and he was, at first, unable to find a publisher. This book was continually rejected with publishers telling him that it was too long and that his characters didn’t resemble the cuddly creatures most people see as rabbits. It was finally published (with reluctance) in 1972 by Rex Collings and has since become a children’s classic, being turned into an animated film in 1978. The film will make you cry. And if it doesn’t . . . you’re a monster! Speaking of reactions to movies, you may like our A.M.A.Z.I.N.G. list (written by our Dear Leader JFrater) of Top 10 Amazing Audience Reactions.

6 Chicken Soup for the Soul

Chicken Soup for the Soul was published in 1993 and was the first of a large series of books that includes titles such as Chicken Soup for the Soul: A Book of Miracles and Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Dating Game. Its’ founders were two motivational speakers Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen who told short stories based on inspiring people they’d met.[5]

The book was rejected a whopping 144 times and after every big publisher in New York had turned them down it was given to Peter Vesgo, the owner of HCI, a small Florida-based health and wellness publisher. He loved the motivational short stories included in the book and agreed to publish it. With the first book selling over 11 million copies, Chicken Soup for the Soul has now become a series of 250 different titles. And while we’re pondering chicken, here’s how to roast one perfectly (and a myriad of other basics) on Top 10 Basic Cooking Tricks.

5 Carrie

Carrie (1976) – Official Trailer (HD)

Famed horror novelist and short story writer Stephen King has sold over 350,000,000 books. His first published book Carrie tells the story of a teenage girl who’s bullied at school and feels like an outsider, living with a religiously obsessed mother. She takes her revenge at the school prom, using the telekinetic powers she’s been gifted with.[6]

This book was rejected 30 times before it was first published in 1974 by Doubleday. One of the rejection letters read: “We are not interested in science fiction which deals with negative utopias. They do not sell.”

King kept these letters in his bedroom as a means of motivation. The book was ultimately a huge success and King was able to give up his job as an English teacher to become a full-time writer. In 1976 Carrie was made into a film that was nominated for two Academy Awards; Best Actress and Best-Supporting Actress. It was also remade in 2013 but let’s just pretend that never happened (sorry Julianne Moore . . . we still love you!). Finally, if you’re a fan of this genre and looking for something to read during the coronavirus lockdown, take a look at Top 10 Modern Horror Novels More Terrifying Than A Stephen King Book.

4 Catch-22

Catch-22 Trailer (Official) | Hulu

Published in 1961, Catch-22 is a must-read classic novel by American writer Joseph Heller. It is set during World War II and tells the story of American bombardier Captain John Yossarian. Stationed on a Mediterranean island, he has to fight to stay alive. Heller himself worked as an American bombardier during the war.

It is believed that the book was given the name Catch-22 because it was chosen by its 22nd publisher Simon and Schuster. A comment from one of the publishers who rejected it, stated: “I haven’t the foggiest idea about what the man is trying to say . . . Apparently the author intends it to be funny – possibly even satire – but it is really not funny on any intellectual level”.

The book still continues to receive mixed reviews, everything from “the best novel in years,” (from smart people) to “disorganised, unreadable and crass,” (from morans) but has still gone on to sell over 10 million copies.[7]

In 2019, Hulu made a surprisingly good short TV series based on the book. I highly recommend it. And if you don’t plan to watch it, watch the trailer above anyway—as one commenter on the video said: “A trailer that introduces the core concept, introduces the core characters, perfectly shows the tone of the series . . . And doesn’t spoil anything. Who is the mastermind behind this?” We, at Listverse, concur.

If you’re interested in learning more about how the name came about, you can find that and lots more on 10 Extraordinary Origins Of Well-Known Numbers.

3 Lord of the Flies

Lord Of The Flies – full movie

When William Golding’s Lord of the Flies was sent to publisher Faber and Faber, they described it as “rubbish and dull. Pointless”. This English writer was born in 1911 and this novel had to overcome over 20 rejections before it was published in 1954. This is the story of a young group of boys marooned on a coral island after being the only survivors of a plane crash, who have to revert to savagery to stay alive.

It was a young editor Charles Monteith who persuaded Faber and Faber to publish the novel stating that he was becoming “not merely interesting, but totally gripped” as he continued to read. Editorial changes still had to be made, cutting out a complete section at the beginning of the book. Since then, this book has become a classic and in 2005 was named by Time magazine as one of the 100 best English-language novels published since 1923.[8]

The entire 1990s film version of the book is above. Oh, and while I hate to burst your bubble, Mr Golding was, unfortunately, a pervert! You can read more about that on 10 Authors You Read In School Who Were Secretly Terrible People.

2 Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001) Official Trailer – Daniel Radcliffe Movie HD

The story of J. K. Rowling and her struggle in getting her first book published is a well known one. This book tells the story of a young boy who is orphaned and sent to live with his aunt and uncle when he’s 15 months old. At the age of 11 he learns of Hogwart’s School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and is sent to the same school that his parents once attended.

It was sent to 12 different publishers and finally published by Bloomsbury in 1997. There are now 7 books in the Harry Potter series which has become one of the best-selling series of all time. Once living as an unemployed single mother, after the book was published Rowling went on to become one of the richest women in Britain.[9]

J. K. Rowling states: “It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all.”

We think she is right and we think we could all benefit from a reminder of our 10 Tips for Success in Everything.

1 Gone With the Wind

Gone with the Wind (1939) Official Trailer – Clark Gable, Vivien Leigh Movie HD

Gone With the Wind was written by American author Margaret Mitchell, who worked as a reporter at the Atlanta Journal but was forced to leave her job in 1926 due to physical injuries. Living in a one-bed apartment with her husband she was given a typewriter as a present to cope with her problems of boredom.[10]

She only wrote one novel which tells the story of an Atlanta belle and her life from the antebellum South throughout the Civil War, leading into the Reconstruction era. She used family stories that she had heard for inspiration, along with conversations she had with Confederate war veterans when she was a girl. This novel was rejected 38 times before it was published in 1936 and in 1937 Mitchell won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. It has gone on to sell millions of copies around the world. Now I know, haters gonna hate, but as good as this book was, the movie was better. How do I know? Because it’s on Top 10 Movies That Are Better Than The Books!

fact checked by Jamie Frater