Skip To Content

    14 Works Of Literature That Authors Really Regretted Publishing

    Winnie-the-Pooh doesn't have the whimsical backstory I thought it would.

    1. An author's distaste for their own work typically comes in one of two varieties: either they don't like the writing itself or they take issue with the public's reaction to it. Annie Proulx's relationship with her short story Brokeback Mountain falls firmly into the latter category.

    Annie Proulx with a quote reading "so many people have completely misunderstood the story."
    Getty / Dimitrios Kambouris / Scribner

    She explained to the Paris Review that following the movie adaptation, fans of the story with "powerful fantasy lives" would send her rewritten versions of her own work, since they wanted the story to end happily. Proulx pointed out that her characters belong to her and her alone and said that her readers' attempts to change them or their lives "just drives me wild," especially when they prioritize Jack and Ennis over the themes of the story: "It’s about homophobia; it’s about a social situation; it’s about a place and a particular mindset and morality." 

    2. Octavia E. Butler disliked her third novel, Survivor, because of its use of sci-fi clichés she described as "really offensive garbage," and she refused to let it be reprinted.

    Octavia E Butler and the cover of Survivor
    Getty / Malcolm Ali / Signet

    Butler thought of the book as her "Star Trek novel," and explained that it reminded her of stories in which people would explore outer space and discover "either little green men or little brown men" who were "a little like 'the natives' in a very bad, old movie." 

    3. Stephen King's novel Rage, which centers on a troubled student who brings a gun to school, was linked to four actual or attempted school shootings in the '80s and '90s. Following these incidents, King requested that the book no longer be published.

    Stephen King with quote: I pulled it because in my judgment it might be hurting people, and that made it the responsible thing to do.
    Getty / Leigh Vogel / New American Library

    Though he didn't blame the real-life incidents entirely on Rage, he called the novel a "possible accelerant" to those already on the verge of violence. 

    4. Despite the fact that she wrote 33 novels and 56 stories about him, Agatha Christie wasn't overly fond of her iconic detective, Hercule Poirot. The author described the character as a "detestable, bombastic, tiresome, egocentric little creep," and resented that his popularity meant that her publishers were reluctant to let her experiment with new, Poirot-free ideas.

    Agatha Christie alongside a book of hers entitled Poirot Investigates
    Getty / Bettmann / Warbler Classics

    After writing 14 books about Poirot, Christie created a new character: Ariadne Oliver, "a mystery novelist who despises her most famous creation." In one of her appearances, Oliver says that if she ever encountered her fictional creation in real life, she'd "do a better murder than any I’ve ever invented." 

    5. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle may have created one of the most enduring pop culture figures of all time in Sherlock Holmes, but the writer resented the detective for "tend[ing] to obscure my higher work" and preventing him from taking a "more commanding" presence in literature.

    Arthur Conan Doyle and the cover of an edition of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
    Getty / Herbert Barraud / Buyenlarge

    Following the success of the first Holmes stories, Doyle tried to devote himself to his true passion: historical fiction, which he considered "more ambitious from a literary point of view." However, these works never got a fraction of the notice his Sherlock stories did, and after writing a dozen more, Doyle "deliberately signaled the end of his patience" by killing off the detective at Reichenbach Falls. In 1903, nine years after Reichenbach, Doyle caved to popular demand and resurrected Sherlock, continuing to write about him until 1927. 

    6. A.A. Milne regretted writing the four books that made up the Winnie-the-Pooh series after it became clear that their success would eclipse the rest of his work. To make matters worse, the burden of Pooh's notoriety was shared by Milne's only son, Christopher Robin Milne.

    AA Milne with Christopher Robin and a quote reading: If I write anything less realistic, less straightforward than the cat sat on the mat, I am indulging in a whimsy
    Getty / Apic / Dutton Books for Young Readers

    The real Christopher was used to promote the series, performing in pageants based on the books and answering fan mail from readers "with his nanny's help." This resulted in fame that inspired "amazement and disgust" in the elder Milne, who stopped writing the series partially because of the effect all this attention had on his son. After being ruthlessly bullied  at school for inspiring the character and struggling to find work after university, the real Christopher Robin became embittered by the success his father had found "climbing upon my infant shoulders." 

    7. Peter Benchley's novel about a murderous shark sold millions of copies and made him quite a bit of money, but his success was soured by a zoological misunderstanding with real ecological consequences.

    Peter Benchley and the cover of Jaws, with the quote: No one appreciates how vulnerable sharks are to destruction
    Getty / New York Times Co. / Ballantine Books

    According to Benchley himself, “What I now know, which wasn’t known when I wrote Jaws, is that there is no such thing as a rogue shark which develops a taste for human flesh." One scientist, Simon Thorrold, said that Jaws "provided cover for people who simply wanted to go out and kill sharks," resulting in declines in shark populations, especially on the East Coast of the US. Benchley devoted the rest of his life to ocean and shark conservation. 

    8. In 1969, a teenaged William Powell began writing The Anarchist Cookbook while "being actively pursued by the US military, who seemed single-mindedly determined to send me to fight, and possibly die, in Vietnam." In 2013, he wrote an essay about why he thought it should be pulled from print (Powell never owned the copyright, and so couldn't make that decision on his own).

    William Powell with the anarchist cookbook and quote: We talk about the cliché of the skeleton in the closet, but my skeleton's not in the closet. My skeleton is in print. And I live with that.
    Gravitas Ventures /

    Over the course of an adulthood spent doing charity and education work, Powell explained, he'd come to the conclusion that answering violence with violence and anger with anger was "illogical." 

    9. In a poem that went unpublished until years after Anthony Burgess's death in 1993, he implored readers to skip A Clockwork Orange and even went so far as to suggest other books they might enjoy more.

    Anthony Burgess with A Clockwork Orange
    Getty / Ben Martin / W. W. Norton & Company

    Here's the regretful verse, and if you're wondering (I was), "farrago" is another word for "hodgepodge." 

    "A Sonnet for the Emery Collegiate Institute"

    Advice: don’t read

    A Clockwork Orange ‚ÄĒ it‚Äôs a foul farrago¬†

    Of made-up words that bite and bash and bleed.

    I’ve written better books...So have other men, indeed.

    Read Hamlet, Shelley, Keats, Doctor Zhivago.

    10. Louisa May Alcott didn't want to write a book about girls, but editor Thomas Niles insisted she try it. She grew bored by her first attempt and soon gave up, but when Niles said he'd only publish her father's book (of "philosophical musings") if she gave it another shot, Alcott finished writing Little Women in two months. It became a huge success, but Alcott never cared for it.

    Getty / Hulton Archive

    When fans showed up at her house, Alcott would "pretend to be a servant and usher them away." She was particularly displeased by the letters she received asking whether Jo married Laurie, writing in her journal that, "Girls write to ask who the little women marry, as if that was the only end and aim of a woman’s life." A few sequels later, Alcott returned to the suspenseful adult work about which she was more passionate. 

    11. In his essay collection Palm Sunday, Kurt Vonnegut gave a letter grade to each of the books he had written so far, and two received the lowest possible grade on his scale.

    Slapstick and Happy Birthday, Wanda June with a picture of Vonnegut
    Bantam Doubleday Dell / Getty / Hulton Archive / Mickey Adair / Delta Publishing

    While Slaughterhouse-Five and Cat's Cradle both received A-pluses, Vonnegut gave two of his books (Slapstick and Happy Birthday, Wanda June) a D. He didn't elaborate on why any work received the score it did, though judging by the C he gave Breakfast of Champions, he may have just been hard on himself in general. 

    12. Gelett Burgess, an American poet and humorist, became haunted by the popularity of a four-line nonsense poem he composed about purple cows.

    Gelett Burgess next to an image of a purple cow in a field
    Getty / Nicol Grespi / EyeEm

    In 1895, Burgess published this poem: 

    "The Purple Cow" 

    I never saw a Purple Cow,
    I never hope to see one,
    But I can tell you, anyhow,
    I'd rather see than be one!

    Apparently, it was a bit of a 19th century meme, and it quickly became his best-known work. A few years later, he published a similarly brief follow-up: 

    "Confession: and a Portrait, Too, Upon a Background that I Rue!"

    Ah, yes! I wrote the "Purple Cow" ‚ÄĒ
    I'm Sorry, now, I Wrote it! 
    But I can Tell you, Anyhow,
    I'll Kill you if you Quote it! 

    So I think it's safe to assume he didn't love the piece. 

    13. According to the 2017 biography Salinger, J.D. Salinger spent "ten years writing The Catcher in the Rye and the rest of his life regretting it."

    J.D. Salinger and the cover of the catcher in the rye
    Getty / Bettmann / Bay Back Books

    In private letters written prior to the book's publication, Salinger expressed concerns about how his friends and family would react to it. As soon as it became a hit, "he was completely overwhelmed by fame" and quickly left New York. However, according to his biographers, he was not a recluse, only a "man of deep, deep contradictions" who wanted a private life. 

    14. Franz Kafka burned an estimated 90% of his work while he was alive, and after his death, his friend Max Brod found a letter requesting he burn the rest. Brod refused, and two months later he arranged the publication of three novels that Kafka hoped would end up in the fireplace: The Trial, The Castle, and Amerika.

    Kafka with his dog and next to a modern cover of the Trial
    Getty / Imagno / Schocken

    In 1939, Brod carried Kafka's work on the "last train to leave Prague, five minutes before the Nazis closed the Czech border." 

    Want great book recommendations in your inbox every week? Sign up for the BuzzFeed Books newsletter!

    Newsletter signup form