Famous Children’s Authors Whose Books Were Rejected by Publishers
The Elusive Book Publisher
Trying to find a publisher is one of the most difficult problems artists and illustrators face. I have several children’s books that I have written and illustrated but couldn’t find a single publisher interested. All my craft books and coloring books have been self-published. It would be nice to find a publisher for the illustrated children’s books but so far I have been rejected at every turn. Even agents have rejected me. It makes it hard to keep my equilibrium.
And then I see all those who went before me who were also rejected. When I researched other great writers and illustrators, it was amazing how many were also rejected by multiple publishers, even though the books they finally published were best sellers. It seems to me that publishers have no idea how popular a book or author is going to be ultimately.
“Setting goals is the first step in turning the invisible into the visible.”— Tony Robbins
Getting the first book that he wrote and illustrated published (And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street) required a great degree of persistence; it was rejected 27 times before being published by Vanguard Press.
The Wind in the Willows was born out of bedtime stories that Grahame made up for his son, Alastair. He received several rejections including one; “An irresponsible holiday story that will never sell.” The novel went on to sell 25 million copies worldwide.
He found it impossible to work on any project that didn't resonate with his personal sensibilities, and selling publishers on his personal vision was extremely difficult. Time and time again, he found rejection with advice to imitate more conventional American styles of children's book illustration because his characters looked rumpled and dumpy compared to the fresh-scrubbed, athletic children in fashion. In addition, the Where the Wild Things Are protagonist was considered far too controversial and rude for his time. He was criticized for having a character who would talk back to his mother and act the way he did, plus he didn’t get punished for his behavior by the end of the book. Still, the book has been hugely popular.
"I came up with the story about four years ago for my niece, Olivia," explains Falconer, who based his heroine on her. "It got better and better, so I got in touch with an agent at a large agency which shall remain unnamed. They loved the illustrations but wanted me to work with a published writer. I really didn't want to give it up, so I put it away." He put Olivia the Pig away until children's book editor Anne Schwartz gave it a shot and even then Falconer was told the book was "too long, too text-heavy and overly sophisticated." After being rejected and reworked, Olivia the Pig finally saw the light in 2000 and the rest is history.
The first few publishers she sent it to flatly rejected the first book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, because it was too long for a children’s book. At that time, she was so poor that she couldn’t afford photocopying and hand-typed each manuscript she sent. Even after getting an agent, her book was still rejected until one publisher actually gave it to his eight-year-old daughter who devoured it and wanted more. Only then did the publisher take a chance on a book that would bring in more than the gross national product of Bolivia.
“Art flourishes where there is a sense of adventure.”
— Alfred North Whitehead
After writing for 8 years and receiving 200 consecutive rejections, Roots finally becomes a publishing sensation, selling 1.5 million copies in the first 7 months, and going on to sell 8 million copies. He is a strong person to withstand 200 rejections. Crushing.
Louisa May Alcott
Little Women was not only rejected, but the author was told to “Stick to teaching.” That takes rejection to a whole new level. Still in print 140 years, the book has sold millions of copies.
Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen
The duo behind Chicken Soup for the Soul was rejected by over 140 publishers. According to them, "They all said it was a stupid title, that nobody bought collections of short stories, that there was no edge – no sex, no violence. Why would anyone read it?” They went so far as to go to a publisher with guarantees of people who had pre-ordered the book; 20,000 of them. And they were still rejected. Finally, a publisher on the brink of bankruptcy snatched the title up and watched as basically every English speaking person in the world bought a copy.
Lucy Maud Montgomery
Sure, now it has sold over 50 million copies, but Anne of Green Gables was originally rejected by five publishers before being published in 1908. I personally can’t imagine a childhood without Anne with an “e” and her “bosom friend” Diana, can you?
The Tale of Peter Rabbit started life as just a story she told a sick child, but it was so popular with the children that she felt it would do well published. She did all the illustrations herself in watercolor and presented them to all the London publishers she could find but was rejected by all. So she took money from her own savings and printed 250 books at her own expense. When almost all were sold, she thought she would print more when she was approached by one of the publishers that had at first rejected her little book. Those little books are still in print and charming children all over the world; over 45 million copies have sold.
“Art is like a border of flowers along the course of civilization.”— Lincoln Steffens
Unlike some of the others on this list, Orwell was a well-known published author when he turned out Animal Farm. But no publisher in the UK or US wanted to upset Russia or Stalin during World War II. It wasn’t until 1945 when no one seemed to care about upsetting the Russian leader that the book finally got published.
It is worth it to keep trying even in the face of crushing rejection. Who knows how long it will take or what the rejection will fuel in your future creativity. Sometimes it is adversity that fuels the best creativity. Never give up.