8 Badass Books That Were Rejected by Publishers

The first (and perhaps) best piece of advice you'll ever get when you decide to become a published author is this: Get ready to be rejected. A lot. Like, a way lot. And then, just when you think things are about to turn around and some obscure nobody publisher is really super pumped up about your awesome, mind-destroyingly brilliant work of epic modern literature, they'll turn around and reject you again. Guest column by Ben Thompson, who runs the website badassoftheweek.com since 2004, and has written humorous history-related columns for outlets such as Cracked, Fangoria, and the American Mustache Institute.
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The first (and perhaps) best piece of advice you'll ever get when you decide to become a published author is this: Get ready to be rejected. A lot. Like, a way lot. And then, just when you think things are about to turn around and some obscure nobody publisher is really super pumped up about your awesome, mind-destroyingly brilliant work of epic modern literature, they'll turn around and reject you again.

Ben is excited to give away a free copy of his book to a random commenter. Comment within one week; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you've won before. (Update: Yolanda won.)

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Guest column by Ben Thompson, who runs the website
badassoftheweek.com since 2004, and has written
humorous history-related columns for outlets such as
Cracked, Fangoria, and the American Mustache Institute.
His first book, BADASS: A Relentless Onslaught of the
Toughest Warlords, Vikings, Samurai, Pirates, Gunfighters,
and Military Commanders to Ever Live was published in
October 2009. A second book, titled BADASS: Birth of
a Legend, was released in March 2011.

Basically, what I'm trying to say here is that you're going to get shot down like a one-armed biplane pilot staring down a squadron of F-15E Strike Eagles, and every time you hop back in the cockpit and resolve to succeed or die trying, you're staring down a phalanx of jackasses who are determined to make sure the end result is the latter.

I don't know if this is just personal delusions or whatever, but I make myself feel better by telling myself that any time you're some obscure writer trying to do some crazy crap nobody's ever done before, publishers are going to be a little freaked out. I mean, look at the track record here: J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone was rejected 12 times. The pubs were like, "Who the hell wants to read some housewife's cracked-out story about a boy who goes to some insane magic academy?" not realizing that the correct answer to that question was EVERYBODY IN THE WORLD. The Diary of Anne Frank was rejected 15 times. It took Gertrude Stein 22 years to get her works published. The brutal groin-kick of rejection was also felt (repeatedly) by Stephen King, Rudyard Kipling, James Patterson, Isaac Asimov, Judy Blume, and pretty much every other author who ever published a book. Hell, even friggin' Dr. Seuss was rejected by publishers for being "too different form existing juvenile lit."

But the one thing about being badass is that you never let anything stop you—you never give up, never back down, and never surrender, no matter how badly the odds are stacked against you. So, now that a good 50 percent of the readers of this column are tentatively holding broken glass shards above the major veins in their wrists, here's something uplifting to pump you up about your awesome project—six people who appreciated badass things, and applied these credentials of badassitude to their dream of seeing their name in print on the cover of a well-worn paperback on the dusty shelves of some second-hand book store.

MOBY-DICK, BY HERMAN MELVILLE

Maybe they were turned off the flagrant usage of the word "dick" in the title, but for some reason publishers in England though that Melville's classic about a gigantic asskicking evil white whale who despises humanity and demolishes ship hulls with his face was "unsuitable for the juvenile market."

Nowadays it's required reading in pretty much every high school in the English-speaking world.

CATCH-22, BY JOSEPH HELLER

In a good example of publishers not really even bothering to read submissions sometimes, Heller's classic story was rejected for being "not funny on any intellectual level"—a conclusion the reviewer probably arrived at because of the fact that Heller didn't intend for the book to be a comedy in any way whatsoever, but rather a book about moral dilemmas among soldiers during wartime. But perhaps that's only a minor detail?

ANIMAL FARM, BY GEORGE ORWELL

In another tale of clueless acquisition editing, one American publisher rejected Orwell's allegorical tale of Stalinist atrocities by helpfully informing the author that "it is impossible to sell animal stories in the USA." Uh, thanks, jackass, but I think you're missing the point here.

Famous British poet/publisher T.S. Eliot did get the point, but still rejected it anyways, saying that it was too hard on the Ruskies and he didn't want to publish a book so awesome that it was going to cause an international incident. Orwell, a veteran of the Spanish Civil War who was once shot through the neck by a sniper while chasing a Fascist soldier down with his bayonet, eventually found some Trotskyist Socialist house that was willing to publish it. They both made a metric crapload of money.

LORD OF THE FLIES, BY WILLIAM GOLDING

Golding's tale of pissed-off schoolchildren clubbing each other to death on a remote island was described in one rejection letter as "an absurd and uninteresting fantasy which was rubbish and dull." It went on to sell 14 million copies and win the Nobel Prize for Literature. I hope that Golding had the good sense to fax a copy of the Nobel Prize paperwork to that douchebag publisher, presumably paperclipped to a photocopied image of his own ass cheeks.

DUNE, BY FRANK HERBERT

Herbert was rejected 20 times while trying to publish a book that would become the best-selling science fiction story in history. The book did so well that Herbert was signed to write five sequels, and nowadays there are an additional ten "Dune Universe" novels, plus a ton of video games, board games, comic books, short stories, and a full-length motion picture featuring rock icon Sting.

LOLITA, BY VLADIMIR NABOKOV

Now, I'm not saying that a story about a dude who hooks up with a 12-year-old is badass, but Nabokov was such a colossal eccentric badass—and his book was so successful—that I can't leave it off this list. I'm also so OCD that I couldn't in good conscience leave this list hanging on an odd number.

Nabokov, a former boxing instructor who had fled Russia to escape the Bolshevik Revolution, unsuccessfully pitched his book to five different U.S. publishers before going overseas. To the Americans, it was deemed "overwhelmingly nauseating," which is actually kind of an awesome line in a rejection letter. Nabokov was later able to find a French publisher (of course) who wasn't quite so turned off by that whole statutory rape thing, and nowadays Lolita routinely finds itself on lists of the top 10 greatest novels in the English language.

Ben is excited to give away a free copy of his book to a random commenter. Comment within one week; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you've won before. (Update: Yolanda won.)

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