There was a column in The Daily Telegraph last month by Charlotte Runcie, who, as far as I can tell, is a poet and freelance journalist. Her column includes five egregious examples of famous authors whose books were turned down by publishers.
Stephen King received so many rejection letters for Carrie that he kept them all on a spike in his bedroom. When it was first published in 1974, it was a runaway success, and the paperback sold more than a million copies in its first year.
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone
J K Rowling’s first Harry Potter manuscript was snubbed by 12 different publishers. Eventually, Bloomsbury took a chance on the debut novelist: they offered an advance of £1500 and suggested she get a day job, just in case.
The Spy Who Came in from the Cold
John le Carré’s Cold War classic was brutally rejected by a publisher whose dismissive verdict was that the writer hadn’t ‘got any future’. Still, it fared better than William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, which was turned down 20 times.
This daring novel was rejected by so many American publishers, including one who recommended ‘it be buried under a stone for a thousand years’, that Vladimir Nabokov eventually published it in France – a more enlightened market.
Herman Melville’s manuscript was dismissed with a despairing note from a publisher who said, ‘First, we must ask, does it have to be a whale? While this is rather delightful, if somewhat esoteric, plot device, we recommend an antagonist with a more popular visage among the younger readers. For instance, could not the Captain be struggling with a depravity towards young, perhaps voluptuous maidens?’ The book was eventually published, whale and all, but Melville had to fund the typesetting himself.”
As Andrew Michael Hurley said about the frustrations of writers finding a willing publisher, in a previous post: “So many times you feel like giving up and thinking, this isn’t going to happen. But it does. It absolutely does.”