It’s easy to assume that all of the classic stories in the world met little to no resistance when they were published. The author got it down onto paper, wooed the first publisher they met, the book hit the shelves, and was loved by the public forever more. Behind some of the more famous books out there, however, some of them did not have such an easy ride.
Here are ten books which met some sort of trouble before, during, or after it was published.
10. Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling
Beginning this list is one of the more famous and well-known examples of a book going through publishing hell before making it onto the bookshelves. With seven books in the series, movies filmed, and theme parks springing up based around the boy wizard, it’s easy to assume that J.K. Rowling struck gold, and everyone realised it when she tried to get her first book published.
The publishing world didn’t seem to agree, however. Not only did she receive 12 rejections, the only reason she managed to score a deal in the first place was due to the daughter of a Bloomsbury chairman demanding to read the rest of the submitted manuscript. Even with the spouse’s recommendation and an editor’s acceptance, J.K. Rowling was told that she was not destined to be a children’s book author, and advised not to quit the day job. Little did they know that a day job would be the last thing J.K. Rowling would ever need.
9. Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter
The charming tales of Peter Rabbit captured the imaginations of children across the world. The process of getting the book out into the hands of said children, however, was not as easy as author Beatrix Potter would like.
Beatrix Potter had difficulties trying to get herself out into the public. Her first attempt to get her book published turned into six different rejections. Stalwart, she decided to take the matters into her own hands. She decided to make the books and sell them herself, matching the vision she had for the books she wanted to make. This, too, was met with resistance, with one publisher telling her it was a bad idea. In those days, women were regarded as unable to perform business whatsoever.
Regardless, she persisted, creating 250 copies of the book. She ended up doing so well, one of the six publishers that initially rejected her proposal agreed to take up the book. Now, the Peter Rabbit books sell two million units worldwide.
8. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
Not all books receive resistance during the publishing process; some of them receive flak after they finally hit the shelves. This was the case for Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, which made some unusual enemies after it was published in 1865.
What problems did people have with it? The Woodsville High School in New Hampshire banned the book due to the book referencing ‘sexual fantasies’. Then, in 1931, it was banned in China for its inclusion of talking animals, with the Governor of the Hunan Province stating “Animals should not use human language, and that it was disastrous to put animals and human beings on the same level”. If they could see that a gecko would be selling car insurance in today’s world, who knows what they would have thought?
7. And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street by Dr. Seuss
It’s hard to believe that people did not respond well to the charming words of Dr. Seuss himself. His publication of his first ever book was very tough; in fact, it was so tough that the world was very close to never seeing the name ‘Dr. Seuss’ on the front of a book.
Dr. Seuss’ first hurdle was, surprisingly, the style we all know and love today. Back in the 1930s, picture books were not made to be fun and silly; they were designed to carry very serious messages for the children to learn from. When Dr. Seuss approached publishers, he was told that his book was too silly to be published. It was rejected 27 times.
Dr. Seuss was convinced that his book would never sell. Manuscript in hand, he walked home with the full intent of burning it and forgetting he ever wrote it. It was here that he met with a friend and told him of his plans. The friend told him that he had recently been employed by Vanguard Press as a children’s book editor, and he needed something to publish. Being new to the scene, he was (thankfully) unaware of the current trends of the children’s scene, and accepted Dr. Seuss’ stories on the merit of them being a fun read. This one breakthrough leads the path for another 43 books to be written.
6. Carrie by Stephen King
Carrie had a very rough past. Written by a very poor Stephen King, it was inspired when he read an article that, if telekinesis did actually exist, it would be strongest in adolescent girls. This, combined with his experience as a school janitor, inspired him to pen the novel.
Writing the book was a big enough problem as it is; with little knowledge of the female scene in a high school, he based the characters off of two girls he knew from his own school years. During writing, both girls had passed away due to health conditions, making the story even harder to write for Stephen King. He eventually lost faith in his novel, throwing the three pages into the waste and giving up.
If Stephen King’s wife Tabby had not emptied the bin and rescued the manuscript, we would perhaps not have seen the story come to light. Even after the book was finished, it took 30 rejections from publishers before he finally broke through with Doubleday Publishing, beginning the career of one of the wealthiest authors ever to exist.
5. Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne
A lovely tale of a bear and his love for honey. Surely, a book like this didn’t receive much flak? Unfortunately, it did, and in the most bizarre way possible; it was getting banned in multiple places for a wide spectrum of different reasons.
The list of strikes against Winnie the Pooh is both hilarious and somewhat worrying. It was banned in a school within the United Kingdom in fear it might offend Muslims with its Piglet character, to which the Muslim Council of Britain stepped forwards to say that it wouldn’t be offensive. A television station in Turkey banned the television show for the same reason, but the talking piglet didn’t get off so easily over there; while efforts were made to totally erase Piglet from the show, it was eventually seen as too much effort and scrapped altogether.
Winnie the Pooh also saw similar flak for the same reasons that Alice in Wonderland was banned in China, from an entirely different group of people. This time, it’s a parent group from Kansas detesting the talking animals because doing so is an ‘insult to God’.
And if that wasn’t bad enough, Winnie the Pooh ended up being tied to nothing more than Nazi Germany. In 2009 in Russia, a political extremist’s possessions contained Winnie the Pooh wearing a swastika. This, in the mind of the Justice Ministry at the time, meant that Winnie the Pooh was becoming a symbol of Nazism, and so the innocent bear’s adventures in Hundred Acre Wood was labelled as ‘Pro-Nazi’ and listed as ‘politically subversive’. Oh, bother.
4. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Some novels face near annihilation by either rejection or desperation; sometimes the story almost never gets written because the author just gets annoyed with it.
To Kill a Mockingbird is a story that is often used in school curriculums as both a literary example and an insight into racial tension in society. The book almost never made it as far as the agent who published it, let alone the schools. It’s said that the author got so angry with the manuscript, that they threw it out of the window and into the snow. The only reason we have a book to read in this day and age is due to their agent convincing the author that throwing works in progress out of the window doesn’t do much for sales. The author, presumably begrudgingly, picked up the manuscript and kept going.
3. Ultramarine by Malcolm Lowry
Of all the ways a piece of fiction has its progress stalled, one of the smaller and rarer cases is when the manuscript for the story is outright stolen. This was the case for Ultramarine, a book that was published in 1933.
Fortunately, at the point of losing the manuscript, Malcolm had managed to find a publisher for his work. Unfortunately, said publisher had left the manuscript in a briefcase in their car, and a passing thief decided to take their chances and see what was inside. The original manuscript wasn’t retrieved, and what happened next seems to have two different stories. One story is the author stating he had to rewrite the entire story from scratch, while another says a friend of his retrieved a carbon copy that Malcolm had otherwise thrown away.
2. Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery
The story of this novel began in 1900, when Montgomery read a newspaper article about a couple who applied to adopt a boy, but received a girl instead. During 1905, she had the basic idea of a story down, and decided to write it. Then, she submitted to five publishers. Each one rejected it.
Writers often respond to rejection in one of two ways; they see it as a sign that their skills are not good enough, or they see it as a step forwards to finding a home for their work. Montgomery took neither route, as she must have figured that the time was not right and left it in her hat box. For three years.
When she finally got around to wanting to submit it again, she scored a publishing deal with L.C. Page, and sold 19,000 copies in her first five months.
1. Lord of the Flies by William Golding
Being rejected is one thing; being cruelly rejected is another story altogether.
Critics are not usually the type to hold their tongue, and this was the case for Golding while trying to sell Lord of the Flies to a publisher. Not only did his book originally get rejected from publisher Faber & Faber, it got rejected with a little added scorn thrown in. The professional reader over at Faber & Faber had this to say about Golding’s work:
“Time: the Future. Absurd & uninteresting fantasy about the explosion of an atom bomb on the Colonies. A group of children who land in jungle-country near New Guinea. Rubbish & dull. Pointless.”
It was only when a new employee at Faber & Faber decided that it would work (with editorial changes that he suggested) that the company decided to give it a shot; even then, they decided to skirt it under the current literary advisor at the time, who eventually discovered the book was being published, read it, and supported it.
S.E. Batt is a humor writer. He writes freelance non-fiction for various websites, and moonlights as a fiction writer when he finds the space to do so. He enjoys cats, keyboards, and tea, but not all at the same time.