Best Selling Original Rejects

This article that caught my attention over the weekend,  ' Ten Best-Selling Books That Were Originally Rejected." via Flavorwire - the list reads as:

Animal Farm
Anne Frank
Anne of Green Gables
Harry Potter
Jonathan Livingston Seagull
The Ginger Man
Chicken Soup for the Soul
Valley of the Dolls

I'll be honest, it surprised me that I didn't recognise a couple of these titles - should I hang my face in shame?  Possibly. Probably not.  I remember having Jonathan Livingston Seagull shoved at me many years back, I was supposed to read it for an English assignment...but I refused.  I recall an old friend of mine travelling across Europe with a dog-eared copy of The Ginger Man, he offered it to me; I refused it.  And I can confirm that "Chicken Soup for the Soul" has never crossed my path.  So aside from my bare-shame-faced ignorance, my other 'raised eyebrow' moment was recognising that - although I'm keenly aware of a couple of the titles on this list now - I still wouldn't read them.  

So, what constitutes a Best Seller? I mean, apart from the obvious gargantuan sales associated with that title. The key to most of these titles is sustained sales over decades of time.  Are they, therefore 'Modern Day Classics?'  That is another question to ponder.  For me, the list is interesting because its a reflection of what was a Best Seller, twenty, thirty, fifty years ago, a footprint, a timeline - call it what you will.  And I just wonder, if these titles were released today, would they become 'Best Sellers?'  I think 'Best Sellers' capture the mood of audiences for a split second, in a small window of time - and tastes, trends and taboos change.  Which is a jolly good thing - because we writerly minded folk have a lot of books that need be written, right?  Nod along with me please.  Great, get writing then!


  1. Anne of Green Gables? Really? Whoever rejected that needs their bottom smacked.

  2. Hahaha. Considered it smacked!

  3. Hi,

    And of course, both Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters self-published because they were turned down by publishers. Jane Austen's last book in fact published after her death by her sister and brother-in-law!

    It's strange how many of the classics have only become so in the late 20th and 21st centuries. The Victorians shunned Austen. Why? who knows...

    The thing is best-sellers of today are rated best-sellers before they've even hit the book stands. Which kind of sets the trend, because if it's a best-seller everyone thinks they ought to have a copy.

    Technically, a book cannot be a best-seller until it has sold a specific number of copies on its first print run. So, when a virgin book hits the book stands as a best-seller it's breaking the trades description act. Hence some publishers have become canny. They print Best-Selling in large letters, and the authors name in small print, i.e. Killer Trait by BEST -SELLING author Dick Slasher. ;)


  4. Can't believe they rejected some of those! Anne of Green Gables is still one of my favorite books ever.

  5. Very uplifting post. Not only because it gives hope for us all through rejection...but because I havent touched many of those books. erg.

  6. Hi Talei!
    It just goes to show you...
    Potential books are over analyzed, over critiqued and over edited. I wonder how many great books have never seen the light of day because the author simply gave up under the weight of it all. I'm pretty sure it's a boatload.

  7. The only title I'm not familiar with is The Ginger Man, so I'll have to look into it. Jonathan Livingston Seagull was a bit saccharine for me although I will always remember his lament "There must be more to life than a fish head!"

    As for what makes a best seller? I think it may be a bit more than capturing the mood for a split second because some books a simply timeless, regardless of when they were written or who they were written for. I think Animal Farm is one of those.

  8. Francine,

    You make a good point re the 'labelling' of 'Best Selling' author to books pre sales. I guess its all part of the marketing push too, which isn't a bad thing if its your book. And yes, the sheep mentally - is it a good thing or not? ;-)

    And thanks for reminding us about Austen and Bronte sisters self-publishing. Indeed, the old Vanity press is something that has evolved. I'm not sure why people become popular after their deaths though - artists, writers, poets,composers - I wish people were celebrated when they were alive.


  9. Interesting article. And I learnt new things from the coments as well. Thanks for sharing!

  10. Meredith, funny isn't it? You just don't know which of your favourites have had a hard time getting published.

    Jessie, that was my original thought for my post today - I noticed a few of my writing friends are querying and waiting for replies from agents so I thought this post might give them something positive food for thought while they wait.

    Pat, definitely makes you wonder, how many great works may not have reached the readers. An ocean of books methinks...

    Bish, thanks. Yes, JLS - it was the voice, I recall and even back then, I couldn't read something that didn't appeal to me.
    I hear you on Animal Farm, I guess Best Sellers are different for all of us. My point was that for me - this particular list was a reflection of the past trends and that was interesting in itself. Books that are best sellers today are ones that capture a wide audience and something central to the story, is unique, its tomorrows trend or its a fabulously old tale retold with a new twist. Thats my gut feel.

  11. Hi Nas, cheers! Me too - I've learnt quite a bit from the comments.

  12. I love these lists - they make me keep going!

    I haven't read three off that list but I'm surprised they were rejects. Well, even rejects come good!

  13. I always look to Madeleine L'Engle for inspiration. I think she was rejected some twenty times with 'A Wrinkle in Time'. It's a bestseller for children but later became a Newberry! But it's also been a banned book! So you lose some, win some, lose some more and win again!!! Sometimes you don't just flat out win.

    Happy editing to you, darling!

  14. The Ginger Man is the only one of these I never heard of or read. And now I want to! (I love lists like these, they're so hopeful!)

  15. Wow, who would have thought!

  16. It is amazing what books have been rejected, some of them many, many times. Just confirms how subjective this business really is!

  17. Rachel, definitely provides motivation, right? And I'm with you - three on that list I've not read. Ahem, and probably won't... ;-))

    Danette, there's another list -Banned Books! Amazing how books suffer before they are appreciated... Happy Writing to you! ;-))

    Karen, I have to say, the cover jacket for that book always put me off. Hopeful is a great way to describe this list.

    Agnes, I know, right?

    Melissa, subjective definitely, and also depends on whats acceptable in society. I know Lady Chatterly's Lover was scorned but then completely sold out when released. Also, it had to be wrapped in brown paper - to hide the cover... Oh the scandal.

  18. I'm another one who never heard of The Ginger Man, but I've read the rest of them. Rejection is still lonely even with that company.

  19. Oh, great points! Some of those titles probably would NOT be best sellers today. It depends on the market at the time. Yeah!--so let's go forth and write the bestsellers of today!!


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