Dune's Original Publisher Otherwise Just Printed Repair Manuals
Tales abound of famous novels that found success only after various publishers rejected them. Stephen King's first book, Carrie, was rejected by dozens of publishers. Ditto John Grisham's first novel A Time To Kill. Catch-22, A Wrinkle In Time, and Lord of the Flies all got over 20 rejections each. Chicken Soup for the Soul was rejected 144 times, and not only did it go on to sell over five million copies in the first three years, it launched a franchise of hundreds of books, with its own company that releases a dozen new titles a year.
Dune began as a pair of short novels. Frank Herbert had been researching ... wait for it ... dunes, as a reporter covering the USDA's environmental efforts, and he spun that idea into a sand-based sci-fi setting. The sci-fi novels were an easy enough sell. He serialized them in a magazine called Analog Science Fact & Fiction.
But then he expanded those stories (Dune World and The Prophet of Dune) into Dune proper. It now totaled some 200,000 words. As a result, 23 different publishers rejected it. Sci-fi readers like their stories short, they insisted, unlike fantasy fans, who are fine with books that long. In fact, you might argue that Dune is a fantasy story, full of royalty and messiahs and corrupt advisors, but Herbert was pitching it as sci-fi.
The publisher that finally accepted the manuscript was Chilton Company. Which was amazing because Chilton Company was not a publisher of novels. It published magazines like Iron Age—which was not, as you might think, another sci-fi fiction magazine but a trade publication about the hardware industry. Chilton did also publish books, but mainly only auto repair manuals, if those count.
After Dune, Chilton published some more novels, including the acclaimed The Witches of Karres, but they didn't throw themselves headfirst into the fiction biz. They didn't even publish Dune's many sequels. They were still hugely successful with their trade publications, eventually getting sold for half a billion dollars. Dune too saw some success, we're told.
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Top image: Warner Bros. Pictures