The traditional publishing industry does not exactly have 100% record of identifying books carrying the stamp of massive popularity and commercial success. Consider this list of best-sellers from various genres and their initial rejection totals (source: “How Stuff Works“):
- Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell (38)
- Dune by Frank Herbert (20)
- Carrie by Stephen King (30)
- Dubliners by James Joyce (22)
- M*A*S*H by Richard Hooker (21)
- Kon-Tiki by Thor Heyerdahl (20)
- Auntie Mame by Patrick Dennis (15)
- Chicken Soup for the Soul by Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen (140)
- Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling (12)
- The Peter Principle by Laurence Peter (16)
- Lorna Doone by Richard Doddridge Blackmore (18)
- Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig (121)
- A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle (22)
- Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison by Charles Shaw (20)
- Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach (18)
You might have heard of some of these stunning best-sellers – but not thanks to the many publishers who saw no potential.
We All Make Mistakes
The book-publishing industry is not alone in “playing safe”. We have experienced much merriment over the years concerning Decca Records’ rejection of the Beatles in 1961 because “guitar groups are on the way out” and “The Beatles have no future in show business”. (You might have heard of the Beatles.)
Decca saw no track record, no (London) following and made a guess. And that applies to publishers. Most of the above authors had never been previously published. No track record, no following. Back then, all the publishers could do was to draw upon their experience of what sells and make a judgement call.
Who can honestly say they never made a mistake in their professional lives? I forgive each single one of these bad judgements, but am horrified at the overall totals. Is it really so hard to spot a great read?
Like these multi-rejected writers, the Beatles had the confidence and drive to keep trying until they got a contract.
So How Do You Spot A Winner?
John Lennon said, when asked about the secret of their success, “If we knew that, we’d form another group and be managers.”
Next post, I’ll look at “How To Spot A Winner” in the publishing industry.