Some writers toil for years and years hoping to write a novel that will make them a household name. For some this never happens, and they are relegated to the bargain section of bargain stores. Others seem to have lucky charms and have seen their first published book make it to the New York Times bestselling list, or something equally memorable.
What they have in common, though, is that none of them were overnight successes. They either lived unbearably tough and demanding lives, or they spent years developing characters and the plot until they reached a point where they were happy with it. Suzanne Collins of Hunger Games fame, and George RR Martin, author of Game of Thrones, went through other book series before their works made them rich. As a result, they are not fortunate enough to be included on this list, which singles out those who enjoyed phenomenal success with the very first book they published.
9: The Secret Life Of Bees – Sue Monk Kidd
This 2002 book about racism in the 1960s was on the New York Times bestseller list for two years and has sold over six million copies. Lily Owens is in search of her mother’s past and escapes town with the family’s African-American maid Rosaleen, getting away from her abusive father. It addresses the feelings of loss and betrayal that the character goes through as she learns about what really happened the day her mother died.
Monk Kidd had written spiritual memoirs in contemplative Christianity before this book, but this was her first novel. In 2008 it was adapted in to a movie of the same name, with Dakota Fanning playing the role of Lily.
8: The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini
Khaled Hosseini has had a string of bestsellers, and at the top of that string is the Kite Runner, a novel about a young boy growing up in Afghanistan in a time that witnessed the fall of its monarchy and the rise of the Taliban.
The author has called the book a father-son narrative and incorporates elements of guilt and redemption within that relationship. The book was on the New York Times Bestsellers list for 120 weeks and sold over seven million copies in the US in that time. It was adapted into a movie in 2007 and has also been a stage production in theatres.
7: The Help – Kathryn Stockett
The Help was rejected 60 times before it was picked up by a publisher. It took Kathryn Stockett five years to write the book, but it has been worth it. The Help has now been published in over 30 languages and was turned into a Hollywood film in 2011.
The story follows the life of an African-American housemaid, Abileen, in the challenging early 1960s as she struggles with rough treatment from her white employers. Eugenia Phelan is a white woman from a wealthy family who decides she wants to write a book about the struggle that Abileen and others go through on a daily basis. Full of tension, drama and even some good chuckles around chocolate pies, the book and film have become classics in the eyes of its many fans.
6: The Name Of The Wind – Patrick Rothfuss
The Name of the Wind was the first novel for Patrick Rothfuss, but it was definitely a journey to get to publishing it. It was written in the nine years that he was studying his bachelor’s in English and inspired by his personal passions, hobbies, and a few of the courses in his degree program.
It was actually an excerpt from his second book The Wise Man’s Fear (which is the sequel to this book) that caught the attention of publishers when it won an award. The book was published in 2007. It has not been a fast growing success, but its name has literally been carried in the wind as fans recommend it to those ignorant of its existence. In 2013, 20th Century Fox bought the options to develop a TV series for the show, which as of yet is unannounced. It would no doubt grant extra attention to a very worthy novel.
5: The Book Thief – Markus Zusak
The Book Thief is set in Nazi Germany and follows the life of a young girl who is adopted by a couple after her communist mother is forced to give her up. The girl meets many people in the small town where she is staying, including a young neighbor and the wife of a Nazi commander who introduces her to their extensive library of books.
Released first in 2005, it has been internationally recognised and has won many awards for the writing and story. One of the most interesting aspects about the book is that it is narrated from the point of view of death and his fascination with the young heroine, Liesel. It was released as a movie in November 2013 and starred Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson as the foster parents of the young girl.
4: Jonathan Livingston Seagull – Richard Bach
It took 18 rejections before Bach was picked up for his book about a seagull who flew only for the joy of living. Publishers did not believe that something like this would sell, as people wanted stories of survival and challenges overcome. Bach was persistent, believing that he had channeled the book and that it was destined to do well.
Eventually MacMillan Publishers picked the book up in 1972, and in its first year of release it sold a million copies. Due to the success of the novel it was quickly picked up by Hollywood and turned in to a movie, with Neil Diamond penning the tunes that carried the movie along.
3: The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night Time – Mark Haddon
Received with overwhelming acclaim, this story is about a 15 year old boy who possesses traits that lie on the autism spectrum. A unique tale, it begins with a young boy finding the body of his neighbour’s dog with a garden fork sticking in him and proceeds to investigate further.
At the time the book was very unique in its perspective of seeing the world from the viewpoint of this young man, which won the book a number of awards and recognition. A BBC survey showed that readers believed it to be one of the top 5 happy ending novels of all time, up there with Sense and Sensibility and Jane Eyre. It has been adapted as a stage play, and there was a curious incident of the roof collapsing on the audience of people who were watching it at the Apollo theatre in London. As with others on the list, there is a film adaptation in the works.
2: Harry Potter – J.K. Rowling
Despite being rejected by twelve publishers before being picked up, the Harry Potter series launched JK Rowling to international stardom. She worked at it for many years, developing the characters and plots before penning the first in the series Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone. There is no need to mention that it is about a young wizard who discovers his wizarding powers and embarks upon a journey to rid the world of the evil Voldemort.
It helped a lot when the movie franchise launched in the year 2000 and quickly rocketed Rowling’s income level to billionaire status. She has always been quiet about her money, not one to show it off and spend frivolously. In fact, she has been a shining example to many in her income bracket, donating millions of dollars to the charities that she believes in. Whether she will have the same success with other books penned by her, or her pen name, remains to be seen.
1: 50 Shades of Grey – EL James
It unlikely that EL James will receive any awards for her writing abilities, but 50 Shades of Grey has definitely spoken to millions around the world.
Originally self-published by the author, her books became the fastest selling paperback of all time with over 35 million sold in the US alone in its first year. By the end of 2013, EL James had made personal earnings of over $95 million with the books and another $5 million for the rights to the film series, which will be released later this year. Not bad for a book that was first penned in 2009 as fan fiction on a Twilight fan page.
The author claimed it was the result of a mid life crisis in which she simply shared some of her deepest fantasies.