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3 Famous Authors Who Almost Failed During Their Writing Careers

Sometimes, every sentence you manage to write takes a little bit of you with it—a little bit of your energy, a little bit of your resolve, a little bit of your self-confidence. The smallest criticism can take you back a long way. A single bad review can make you question your ability to write. You do everything you’ve been told to do—you do the marketing, you even do the public speaking—but your book has still not met its readers. Nobody seems to want to read your work, and you no longer want to keep writing.

That’s what happened to these three now-famous writers. Even after facing rejection after rejection, or extremely poor book sales for the first few years after publication, they still persevered on.

1. Paulo Coelho

“When you want something, the whole universe conspires to help you.” (The Alchemist)

Nearly everybody—whether an avid reader or a non-reader—has read The Alchemist, by Brazilian author Paulo Coelho. But what we don’t know was that The Alchemist turned out to be a flop when it was first published—in fact, it sold so little that his publisher actually terminated his contract.

Paulo Coelho, instead of giving up on his book at this point, went to find another Brazilian publisher to republish his book—and the book went on to sell half a million copies in Brazil. Later, an American tourist stumbled upon the book in the early 90s and helped him publish the book in English via HarperCollins. The book has now sold over 150 million copies worldwide, with renowned celebrities showering it with praises, and topped the New York Times bestseller lists for nearly three years.

2. Lisa Genova

All the big publishing houses that Lisa Genova had sent her manuscript to rejected her book, Still Alice, which was about a university professor who succumbed to dementia because of Alzheimer’s disease. Instead of letting that be the end of her writing career, she decided to launch a website offering useful information about Alzheimer’s and also reached out to the Alzheimer’s Association, gaining their approval for her book when she self-published it.

She managed to reach out to a global audience who found the book a heart-touching and accurate depiction of living with Alzheimer’s. “My advice is this: If you don’t find a literary agent falling into your lap quickly enough, if you feel like your work is done and is ready to be shared with the world, self-publish. Give your work to the world. Let it go,” says Lisa Genova.

3. Octavia E. Butler

Now known as one of the greatest science fiction writers of all time, Octavia E. Butler had a harder time selling her stories with all the obstacles as black female writer. She received rejection after rejection for five years, working odd little jobs to support herself, waking up at two or three in the early hours of the morning to write. She sold her first two stories after attending a science fiction workshop at the advice of her mentor, science fiction writer Harlan Ellison. She went on to win the Nebula Award for her bestselling novel Parable of the Talents.

“I am a Bestselling Writer. I write Bestselling Books And Excellent Short Stories. Both Books and Short Stories win prizes and awards.” This was the success she visualized for herself, her own personal mantra. “When I began writing science fiction, when I began reading, heck, I wasn’t in any of this stuff I read. The only black people you found were occasional characters or characters who were so feeble-witted that they couldn’t manage anything, anyway. I wrote myself in, since I’m me and I’m here and I’m writing,” she told The New York Times.

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Sharika Hafeez

Sharika Hafeez is a nerd, and she’s proud of it. Growing up, she fell in love with books and writing, and is currently following her undergraduate degree (for some mysterious reasons) in Physics. She likes procrastinating by watching the stars with a steaming cup of tea, composing poetry in her head.

August 28, 2022

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