Gina Mei
October 04, 2015 6:00 am

Some authors come out of the gates swinging. Zadie Smith left the world reeling with her debut novel, White Teeth; Jhumpa Lahiri won a Pulitzer for her first collection of short stories, Interpreter of Maladies; and we all know what happened when J.K. Rowling released Harry Potter into the universe.

But most writers have much quieter beginnings. Even the best of the best had to start somewhere; and sometimes, “somewhere” is a totally unexpected and very weird place. Whether we take on a project to pay the bills or even just to get our names out there, our first piece of published work usually isn’t very representative of what we’re capable of — and that’s okay.

Here are just a few now-famous authors who published some very surprising first books.

Neil Gaiman

Before Sandman and Coraline and Stardust and American Gods, there was Duran Duran: The First Four Years of the Fab Five. Yes, one of the most brilliantly imaginative writers of all time’s first published book was a 123-page rock and roll biography. (We see you hustlin’, Neil!) In 2010, Gaiman told BBC it was his “dark secret” until, many years later, he met Duran Duran’s lead singer, Simon Le Bon, and confessed he’d written a book about the band.

“He asked which one and when I told him he said, ‘We liked that,'” Gaiman told BBC. “I relaxed a little — my 23-year-old self was gratified.”

Suzanne Collins

We all know and love Collins for bringing the Hunger Games franchise into existence. But before she was writing record-smashing dystopian novels, Collins was actually a rather accomplished television writer. One of the shows she worked on in the ’90s, The Mystery Files of Shelby Woo (A+ show), led to her first published book: Fire Proof: Shelby Woo #11. Looks like the true queen of Panem has always appreciated a kickass heroine.

Dr. Seuss

The beloved writer behind some of our favorite children’s books has some rather curious beginnings: To be specific, BonersMore BonersStill More Boners; and Prize Boners for 1932. Before you jump to conclusions (because, as it turns out, we are all still in middle school and can’t stop laughing), a boner was another term for a “blooper” back in the day. The books are filled with one-page jokes, accompanied by Dr. Seuss’ illustrations.

If chasing down four extremely rare books from the 1930’s might dissuade you, the books were compiled into one collection in 1941, called The Pocket Book of Boners. And that was just the tip (sorry) of the iceberg. In later years, there were more boner books, including The Omnibus Boners, The 2nd Boners Omnibus, and Bigger & Better Boners. Fair warning: Some of Dr. Seuss’ early illustrations are straight-up distasteful (aka incredibly racist) — so maybe just stick to laughing at the covers from a distance.

Dan Brown

Before delving into one of the best-selling mystery series of all time, Dan Brown co-wrote 187 Men to Avoid: A Survival Guide for the Romantically Frustrated Woman, with his wife, Blythe Newlon. Written under the pen name Danielle Brown, the book is nothing if not thorough, and includes such gems as “men who pretend they know what they’re doing when they smell the cork” and “men who write self-help books for women.” (Clearly, Brown can take a joke at his expense.)

Cassandra Clare

Like the rest of us, Cassandra Clare is a major Harry Potter fangirl. A quick Google search reveals that, before she became famous for The Mortal Instruments, she wrote an online fan fiction trilogy featuring three novel-length stories surrounding Draco Malfoy. It’s not surprising, then, that her first story published in book-form would also give a little tip of the hat to the Harry Potter universe. Turn The Other Chick, an anthology of fantasy stories with kickass female heroines, featured Claire’s story “The Girl’s Guide to Defeating the Dark Lord” — and, while not really about HP at all, we like to think the “Dark Lord” appreciates the shout-out.

(Featured image via Ron Ellis / Shutterstock; other images via Amazon.)

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