No book idea is too out-there for Rejected Books

Ad creatives Graham Johnson and Rob Hibbert invented silly Penguin book ideas, which were then published in an actual book by Penguin. Now, it has a specially rejected, Penguin-inspired dust jacket

There’s something fascinating about seeing creative ideas that ended up on the cutting room floor: the ads, logos, or key art that were turned down for one reason or another.

Rejected Books, created by Graham Johnson and Rob Hibbert, is a play on that premise. The book brings together mock covers for made-up books that are, for obvious reasons, just too silly to publish: Cooking with Breast Milk; DIY Glory Holes; Thatcher in the Rye. Rejected Books was initially published last year, and now comes in a limited edition dust jacket, which was inspired, and rejected, by the publisher.

It’s their second book published by Penguin – after 2011’s Images You Should Not Masturbate To – with countless genuine rejections in between.

Johnson and Hibbert met at their first job in advertising in Melbourne in the early 1990s. After working together at a second agency a few years later, they went onto separate ventures: Johnson moved to Sydney, where he worked with M&C Saatchi, while Hibbert stayed in Melbourne, where he’s spent 26 years working at TBWA.

When it came to Rejected Covers, the two spitballed ideas via texts and late-night calls, which they then developed in all manner of ways. “Stock shots came in handy and covers that were typographic came together quickly. But there were a few shopping expeditions for sausages that matched varied penis girths and photogenic suppositories that, while funny, ended up being wasted time as those books ended up in the rejected pile.

“All up, Graham spent over a year sculpting, building, baking, making, photographing, and sticking his arse in Plaster of Paris. Rob got his son to photograph him wearing owl masks and Trump and Putin masks. He asked his neighbour if he could borrow some expressed breast milk, and asked his friend to make him a coffin fit for a clown,” the creators explain.

One of their highlights is Holy Bible 2. The duo decided to go one step further by creating imaginary commandments and actually producing a one-off version of the Holy Bible 2, which will be auctioned off in July.

And then there is the limited edition cover itself, their favourite idea, “which not-so-ironically also got rejected”, they explain. “Not to be outdone, we hatched the idea of creating a limited-edition dust jacket that used our originally pitched but, in the end, rejected cover art and title, 50 Books Rejected By Penguin. Thankfully, Henry Vines at Penguin London (who’s been extremely supportive of our foolish ideas) gave us permission to sell the bespoke dust jacket.”

After countless rejections, the two finally had a success story. Their message to others? “Embrace rejection. Even after we got our book approved, we still faced many rounds of rejection. As mentioned, the title and cover itself were rejected. And there were also quite a few book ideas we’d mocked up that got rejected from Rejected Books.

“Remember, you’re not an artist, you’re an art director (or copywriter). And you’re getting paid for your concepts, whether they get bought or not,” they point out. “If an artist doesn’t sell their work, they don’t get paid for it. If you’re feeling sorry for yourself, read about Monet. Or speak to any real artist who cleans toilets to make ends meet.

“Like most advertising creatives, we’ve had an uncountable number of ideas rejected throughout our careers. You have to accept that your best ideas simply don’t get made. Take this as a signal that you should probably try ‘creating’ in another field. So, try making something that isn’t an ad. Put some time aside for your own ideas, not just ideas for clients. Ideas where the IP is owned by you,” they suggest.

“And you can’t just dabble at it. You need to commit to it. If you have an idea for something that you’d really like to make, you have to find a way. As the great Ry Cooder once said (long before Dan Wieden), ‘Find a way to do it. Do it.’”

The limited edition version of Rejected Books is out now;