Saturday, July 21, 2007

The theory of natural rejection

Her work has endured for two centuries, sold in its millions and inspired countless film and television adaptations. But would Jane Austen be able to find a publisher and an agent today? A cheeky experiment by an Austen enthusiast suggests not.

David Lassman, the director of the Jane Austen Festival in Bath decided to find out what sort of reception the writer might get if she approached publishers and agents in the age of Harry Potter and the airport blockbuster.

After making only minor changes, he sent off opening chapters and plot synopses to 18 of the UK's biggest publishers and agents. He was amazed when they all sent the manuscripts back with polite but firm "no-thank-you's" and almost all failed to spot that he was ripping off one of the world's most famous literary figures.

Mr Lassman said: "I was staggered. Here is one of the greatest writers that has lived, with her oeuvre securely fixed in the English canon and yet only one recipient recognised them as Austen's work."
The diary of a nobody publisher

Good day today. Rejected 30 manuscripts this morning! Went out, had a lunch break, came back in feeling refreshed. Read the first chapter of one manuscript: rejected that. Read the first page of another manuscript: rejected that. Read the first word of another manuscript: rejected that. (Pity, too - it was a good word. But you've got to have standards.)

Theoretically, I could keep going this way, rejecting authors on fine punctuation marks, or dots on the cover, or a vague dislike for the binding of the manuscript, but you've got to stop somewhere.

To finish the day off, I sent off rejection slips to an arbitrary amount of the people I had rejected earlier in the day.

"A productive day at the office," I said to Ms Pritterkin on the way out.
"Sleaze,"she countered, in that jocular and jesting way she has. I do so enjoy our little conversations at the end of the day.

I do not feel well. I was up all night wondering about the people I have rejected who I have not sent rejection slips to. Shouldn't I in fact be more considerate, and send them rejection slips explaining why they have been rejected for the reception of rejection slips? On the other hand, that would really hamper productivity. Those books don't go through the paper shredder themselves, you know!

To get over the touch of insomnia, I spent the whole morning putting books through the shredder, extra fast. Quite thrilling, really. Made the blood in my temples really pound. Zowie!

In my opinion, there are far too many books in the world. A complete and utter waste of paper that could have been quite simply and easily saved if a publisher had merely taken the trouble of rejecting them. I went past the library this morning and saw the shelves simply cluttered with books, a complete excess of paper.

Slightly off-colour today. To amuse myself, I compiled a list of classic books I would reject, if I could:

Great Expectations (failed to live up to it: REJECTED!)

The Most Lamentable Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet (the only tragedy was that it was ever really written in the first place. REJECTED!)

Wordsworth's Prelude (If it was a quaalude, it would have been barely tolerable. REJECTED!)

Anna Karenina (would have been more entertaining if it started off with the suicide, and a lot less trouble to get through. REJECTED!)

Crime and Punishment (the book is the crime, the reading is the punishment. REJECTED!)

The Hobbit (In a hole in a ground there lived a hobbit, and he should have stayed there, the nasty little beast. REJECTED!)

Persuasion (unpersuasive. REJECTED!)

(Of course, I have standards: I would never reject the Holy Bible, with the exception of the Old Testament, and 37 books of the New Testament.)

Actually let a book through today. It's company tradition that we have to publish one book a year, as a hollow gesture to 'kulcha', and our 'readers'. The author is one 'Wraith Picket', and I actually think this zesty comical and existential romp through outback Australia could sell quite well...

I find it all quite dispiriting, and make a bargain with myself to double the amount of rejections I make in the next week. After all, in order to keep up with international standards in rejections, I must make these little boosts in productivity from time to time.

Read a disappointing article in The Guardian today. Full of slurs and vile calumnies about the publishing industry. Apparently people actually expect us to publish quality books on a regular and timely basis!

Very worrying. Very dispiriting. Only one thing to do: reject The Guardian!


nailpolishblues said...

Oh dear, this theme is getting a little too much attention lately, isn't it? Especially as it's something we all pretty much knew anyway.

Don't worry, Tim, I'm sure you'll eventually write something for the kiddies that'll make you famous.

TimT said...

I should note that Tim Sterne has a much funnier and more insightful take on this whole affair.

nailpolishblues said...

Yes, I know.

alexis said...

They did this experiment with Paddy White, too, and - not surprisingly - no contemporary publisher was prepared to touch his stuff with a bargepole. Which isn't entirely senseless: modernist prose just doesn't mean what it meant when it was young and shocking. I don't think he'd catch on now the way he arguably caught on forty years ago.

TimT said...

It's becoming quite the seasonal habit. Is it spring again? Must send in a classic to the publishers and see if it's published again.

I slipped in a Paddy White/Wraith Pickett mention into the text..

alexis said...

Ach, so you did. I'm slipping.

Mitzy G Burger said...

Re: rejection, my year 10 "crew" decided that Romeo and Juliet is not entirely tragic to read, as the Nurse spends much time discussing her nipple in relation to breastfeeding Juliet.
How about writing the erotic version of the Potter series and call it "HP Sauce"? Bound to get a three book deal and juicy advance.

TimT said...

Barry Trotter - taken
The Da Vinci Cod - taken
The Chronicles of Blarnia - taken
The Lion and the Bitch in the Wardrobe - taken
Bored of the Rings - taken
Tromeo and Juliet - taken

There's a parody for everything, and everything has a parody. My favourite is 'Bored of the Rings', which names the hero, 'Frito', after an American junk food.

Email: timhtrain - at -

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