I love hearing about surprise best-sellers. Those books that no one thought would sell, that the pros in publishing turned down, and that then went on to become bestsellers. Even classics.
Anyone who has been in publishing for a considerable time has his or her story. The book we turned down. The one that went on to take the best-seller list by storm. Some surprise hits were published to fill an obvious need, but weren’t expected to do much (see #1 below). Others gathered an impressive pile of rejections from the pros, the folks who “know the market.” And indeed, these folks do know the market. But what they/we can’t do is predict it. Readers always have, and always will, surprise us.
- Guess what title was the best-selling book of 2012 in the oh-so-secular country of Norway? The Bible. A new Norwegian translation, to be exact. How’s that for a surprise hit?
- Everyone who’s read Chicken Soup for the Soul, raise your hand. That book was rejected 150 times. But authors Canfield and Hansen didn’t quit—and the book has now sold over 125 million copies. (That’s a LOT of hands!)
- Surprises are happening right now. The Rabbit Who Wants to Fall Asleep—an indie Children’s picture book by Carl-Johan Forssén Ehrlin, which promises it can send any child off to sweet slumber, sold 800 copies the week of August 16, 2015. The week of August 23, 2015? It sold 29K print copies! According to Publisher’s Weekly, it’s “rumored that world English rights to the book…were acquired by Random House for seven figures.”
- Twenty-Six publishers told Madeline L’Engle A Wrinkle in Time was a loser. When she finally found a publisher, her book was honored with the 1963 Newbery Medal and now boasts over 8 million sales worldwide. (I love this book and it’s sequels. Seems to me the real losers were those 26 publishers…)
- The biggest surprise so far of 2015, though, has been Clever Polly and the Stupid Wolf by Catherine Storr. This children’s book was written…wait for it…in the 1950s! Puffin Books rereleased it at the beginning of July, and the book has not only topped the children’s best-seller list, but it has outsold popular adult titles, including The Girl On The Train, the acclaimed thriller by Paula Hawkins.
- Back in 1996, not even author Dava Sobel expected her book, Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time, to accomplish much in sales. After all, it was a book about…well, longitude. But when it released in 1996, it took off, hitting The New York Times best-seller list, and staying there for at least 6 months. (Just goes to show you that if you find a great story and tell it well, readers will respond.)
- Last but not least, the international publishing world is enamored of a Dutch novel, The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, 83 ¼ Years Old, which has stayed on the Dutch bestseller lists since it released last summer. The topic, that the way we treat the elderly speaks volumes about what we value as a society, has captured headlines—and readers–for a year. As has the fact that no one knows who really wrote it. The only author listed is the titular Hendrik.
So there you have it. Books that were rejected went on to succeed. In big ways. Titles no one expected to do much…did. MUCH. In the situations where books were rejected, the authors had a choice: listen to the naysayers and give up or keep trying. Many of those listed above heard the voice of rejection over and over and over–and didn’t listen. They held onto their passion and belief in what they were doing.
May we all listen to the One Voice that gave us this task of writing, of using words to share His truths. May we seek His direction, and if He says keep going, may we ever be obedient. No matter how many rejections we receive. And if He whispers a passion deep into our hearts, may we do all we can to fulfill his call, no matter what others say. Keep your hand to the plow, folks, until the Master sets you free.