In John Updike's "Rabbit, Run," protagonist Harry Angstrom contemplates his escape from the confines of his mid-century, middle-class American life. He observes, "There is this quality, in things, of the right way seeming wrong at first." Angstrom's no sage -- he goes on to do some pretty terrible things -- but there's truth in this insight, especially when considering how many classic novels were originally rejected by perfectly smart and capable publishers. The most commonly-cited excuse? The stories were just too different.
Updike's book wasn't in danger of never coming to fruition, but a number of lauded, bestselling stories were. Thank goodness for tenacious authors and risk-taking publishers; without them we'd live in a world with no Dr. Seuss, no Harry Potter, and no Atticus Finch.
Below are 9 beloved books that almost never saw the light of day:
"Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" by J.K. Rowling
Any die-hard fan of the series knows the story of J.K. Rowling's poverty: The now all-star author claims to have hand-typed extra copies of the initial Harry Potter book because she couldn't afford to make photocopies. As if this weren't a big enough deterrent, she also received a slew of rejections, most of them saying the book was too long to appeal to children.
"Animal Farm" by George Orwell
Although Orwell was already an established writer when he penned this political allegory, publishers hesitated to take on such an inflammatory topic. Even T.S. Eliot, who was running publishing house Faber and Faber at the time, wasn't keen on the Orwell's now-classic story, not because he lacked writing chops, but because he was too critical of Stalin.
Americans weren't as concerned about the political ramifications as U.K. publishers were, but dismissed the book for other reasons: Apparently there was no market for animal stories in the U.S. at the time.
"And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street" by Dr. Seuss
This was Dr. Seuss's very first book. Imagine if it were never published -- there'd be no "Green Eggs and Ham" or "Oh, The Places You'll Go!" to speak of. Luckily, an old friend at Vanguard Press agreed to take the project on, and it was published in 1937, but only after it was rejected by 27 other children's book publishers for -- get this -- being too "different" and "silly."
The timing was pretty impeccable -- Dr. Seuss had vowed to torch the book on the very same day that he ran into his friend, Marshall McClintock, who we have in part to thank for our more enriched childhood bedtime stories.
"To Kill a Mockingbird" by Harper Lee
Dr. Seuss wasn't the only writer who nearly exposed his manuscript to the elements. Harper Lee, too, grew frustrated with her work-in-progress. Rather than lighting her half-finished novel on fire, she's rumored to have thrown the pages out into the snow. Her agent, who was recommended to her by Truman Capote, made her retrieve and finish it.
"A Confederacy of Dunces" by John Kennedy Toole
Toole's story is a tragic one: He sent his manuscript to a number of publishers, who didn't see its worth. The rejections were crushing to the writer, who eventually committed suicide.
Toole's mother tracked down a copy and sent it to as many publishers as possible, and even coaxed Walker Percy, an author from the same city as her son, to read the book. Once the project had his backing, it was not only published, but Toole was awarded the Pulitzer Prize posthumously.
"Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" by Robert Pirsig
Pirsig's book, like many others on this list, received a lot of rejection letters. But he was even more tenacious than others; his book was rejected by over 121 publishers before it was finally accepted.
"A Wrinkle in Time" by Madeleine L’Engle
Like Dr. Seuss, L'Engle believed her first book was rejected because it was "too different." Indeed, her sci-fi book bends genres. Thankfully, John Farrar of Farrar, Straus & Giroux loved her quirkiness and ran with it. It's a good thing he did, too. The book hasn't gone out of print since its publication in 1960.
"Carrie" by Stephen King
"Carrie" wasn't Stephen King's first book (in fact, it was his fourth), but it was his first to be published. He's since called it a "young book by a young writer," claiming he "didn't expect much" from the title. Said King: "Who'd want to read a book about a poor little girl with menstrual problems? I couldn't believe I was writing it."
"The Diary of a Young Girl" by Anne Frank
Of course, Anne Frank's diary nearly went unpublished for a number of reasons. She and her family had been living behind a bookshelf in Amsterdam to hide from persecution from the Nazis. Her diary chronicles her time there, before being discovered. Her father was the only member of her immediate family to survive the Holocaust, and he considered editing out portions of her writing, but ultimately allowed interested publishers full rights to her poignant, heartbreaking observations.
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