What if We Reject a Bestseller?

A writer asked:

“How many bestsellers have slipped through reputable agents’ hands? I am curious to know how an agent deals with such a loss when a bestseller was in their hands and they rejected it.”

This is an interesting question, because most editors and agents have passed on books that went on to success (if not bestseller lists). It’s all part of doing business, and most of us don’t lose any sleep over it. In fact, we usually stand by our original impression of the book. If it turns out to be a huge bestseller, we may regret losing all that money, and it’s certainly professionally gratifying to represent a bestselling author. But when we think about it, we usually realize our original opinion of the book hasn’t changed just because it was profitable.

It’s probably more common for an agent to “lose” a bestselling book not because they didn’t want it, but because there was competition for it (many agents offering representation) and the author simply chose someone else. In that case, we definitely are disappointed!

I don’t think agents would say bestsellers “slipped through their hands” unless it was a case where they were too busy to give it adequate consideration. But agents usually say “no” after careful evaluation. If they determine they can’t personally get behind a book, or they don’t have the right publishing contacts or it doesn’t fit what they represent, they make the right decision in saying “no” even if the book is a potential blockbuster.

Sometimes I say “no” to someone for representation, and then I hear a fellow agent agreed to represent them. My response is generally to think, “Cool, I’m happy for both of them.” I might re-evaluate whether I made the right decision, but I don’t regret it. I have to keep moving forward with confidence. I always pray for wisdom in making decisions, and I also pray for authors to find the best agent for them, even if it’s not me. That helps me to trust that everything is working out as it should so I don’t need to waste energy regretting a lost opportunity.

So, to the question “How many bestsellers have been rejected by reputable agents?” the answer is something like, “All of them.” How many agents have rejected books that went on to become bestsellers? Probably a quite a few. Do we ever kick ourselves over it? Undoubtedly, but mostly we just keep moving.


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Photo by Marcos Paulo Prado on Unsplash

Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Gardner Literary. Coffee & wine enthusiast (not at the same time) and dark chocolate connoisseur. I've worked in publishing since 1995 and I love talking about books!


  1. Mark Murata on May 28, 2020 at 1:50 PM

    I’m going to assume that if a manuscript went on to become a bestseller, that author had a beta reader or developmental editor help retool the manuscript after you first saw it.

  2. Anne Lev on May 27, 2020 at 5:51 AM

    This was very interesting.. Something I have always wondered. Thank you for sharing this.