There was a lot of press coverage this morning of the prank played by David Lassman, Director of the Jane Austen Festival in Bath and rejected thriller writer. Unable to find a publisher for his own novel, Mr Lassman decided to conduct a little experiment. He sent updated versions of three of Jane Austen’s best known works to eighteen leading publishers and literary agents, pretending they were written by wannabe author ‘Alison Laydee’. Guess what? All but one of the recipients failed to notice Austen’s sparkling prose. Worse, they all rejected the manuscripts. Penguin, who only recently republished Pride and Prejudice, described the updated version as a ‘really original and interesting read’ but not right for them!
Something similar happened just last year, when The Sunday Times anonymously submitted the first three chapters of a couple of 1970s Booker Prize winners – V.S. Naipaul's In a Free State and Stanley Middleton's Holiday - to agents and publishers. As with the Austen submissions, neither book was recognised, and both received standard rejection letters.
It’s all jolly amusing, I’m sure, to the majority of people. But to a lot of writers it’s all immensely depressing.