Did you know that Moby-Dick was originally rejected for publication because it had the word "dick" in the title? No? Well, that's because we just made that up. But it turns out that some of the most-read books in the world were in fact rejected for similarly preposterous reasons over the years. Take, for example ...
5 Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling
The Harry Potter series is, quite simply, one of the most lucrative ideas in the history of human civilization. The movies alone have made nearly $8 billion worldwide. Add in book sales and merchandising, and it's probably around $25 billion, and that's not counting the theme park. The franchise will still be making money for someone 100 years from now as it gets repackaged for generation after generation.
So surely the first editor who opened a box and saw this manuscript called Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone must have immediately started shitting dollar signs, right?
Not even close.
Author J.K. Rowling might have approximately all of the money now, but things didn't start out that way. Once upon a time, Rowling was living off of government assistance, retyping complete copies of the manuscript for Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone to send out to publishers because she was too broke to have photocopies made. So she sent off her precious slaved-over copies of the manuscript to publishing houses, where they promptly went into the trash.
"After careful consideration, we've decided to release the hounds."
The first several publishers she tried rejected it outright, all for the same reason: It was far too long for a children's book. Now, we feel it's important to interject here that, at 320 pages for the U.S. paperback edition, the first book is the shortest of the kajillions-sold series, with Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix topping out at close to three times that length. So not only was 320 pages not too much for the fragile brains of modern children, but they read six other, longer episodes -- 4,224 pages to be exact.
Anyway, deciding that she needed an agent, Rowling thumbed through a directory and chose Christopher Little because the name sounded like a character in a children's book. She shipped her manuscript off to Little's office, where it met a familiar fate: An assistant tossed it straight into the rejection pile because Little thought that children's books didn't make any money. Again, it's understandable if maybe you don't anticipate that this child wizard story would ultimately make more money than the gross domestic product of Bolivia, but it seems like it would still occur to someone that it was worth putting the thing into print just to see what would happen.
"We've decided it would work better as part of a package deal."
Eventually fate (or possibly a curse on Rowling's part, we're not sure) intervened when Rowling's illustrations caught the eye of Little's assistant while she was sending out the rejections. She convinced Little, who signed Rowling on ... at which point publishers continued to reject Harry Potter. Finally, Little shipped it off to Bloomsbury Publishing, where chairman Nigel Newton agreed to look at it as a personal favor.
Newton then did something that apparently never occurred to other children's book publishers, which was to show it to an actual child. He offhandedly tossed the manuscript to his 8-year-old daughter, who devoured it in hours and came back to him demanding more. Only at that point did someone finally decide, "Eh, let's put some copies out there. Who knows, maybe this will make us all enough money that we can each live on an island made of gold."
"I just wanted to let you know that I now legally own all your organs. Cheers!"