1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites
China Hongkong Mädchen liest Harry Potter
Image: Getty Images/AFP/A. Wallace

Bestsellers that almost didn't make it to the bookstores

Dagmar Breitenbach
January 4, 2018

They have very different styles, but Stephen King and Beatrix Potter have something in common: They're both authors whose books were initially rejected by publishers — and went on to become bestsellers. Here are more.


About 20 years ago, quite a few publishers turned down an unknown British writer's story about a young wizard and his adventures at a school of witchcraft. That may be one the more glaring recent errors of judgement in the publishing world, but it isn't the only one by far.

The list of rejected manuscripts that went on to become best-selling books is long, and full of surprises.

Read more: 'The History of Bees' is Germany's top-selling book of 2017

Anne Frank's "The Diary of a Young Girl" was turned down by English-language publishers, but saved from the rejection pile by an editor with Doubleday, where the book was published in in 1952 — and became not only a bestseller, but also one of the most enduring documents of the 20th century.

"The Jungle Book" by Rudyard Kipling was also turned down, with one publisher reportedly remarking Kipling didn't now how to use English. What a loss that would have been: The 1967 Disney animated film version is beloved by children all over the world to this day.  

Other literary works that almost didn't make the cut include "Dubliners," a collection of short stories by James Joyce, and "The Kon-Tiki Expedition by Raft Across the South Seas," the story of a raft expedition by Thor Heyerdahl. Once the travel memoirs were published in 1948, the first run sold out in 15 days. It later became an international hit. 

The gallery above features more international bestsellers that initially faced rejection. 

Skip next section Explore more
Skip next section Related topics
Skip next section DW's Top Story

DW's Top Story

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy (L) and Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov in Kyiv, pictured on February 3, 2022

Ukraine updates: Kyiv to replace defense minister

Skip next section More stories from DW
Go to homepage