Thursday, 19 July 2007

It’s a Lottery

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.


Mary Witzl said...

I am both heartened and depressed by this news, Paul -- but not terribly surprised by it.

Kaavya Viswanathan managed to fool her agent, editor, and publisher, after all; only her first readers recognized bits of Salman Rushdie's and Meg McCafferty's prose in her work. It is possible that those in the business of promoting and publishing books sometimes do not see the trees for the forest. And they really are extremely busy and must look out for writing with sales potential -- not necessarily classic literary stuff.

I don't think my own writing is great (yet) and I certainly don't think it's up to V. S. Naipaul's or Jane Austen's standard. But when I get rejected, it is comforting to think that contemporary publishers and agents have failed to recognize -- and rejected -- the works of such august literary figures.

Kanani said...

What's depressing is that they didn't recognize the prose. Didn't catch on that maybe it wasn't written this cenury!

I've always said that if Jane Austen were submitting P&P today, she wouldn't be published.

Why? Because her revelations come all too late for readers today. There are so many details, side stories, characters and readers today are generally too impatient.

But then.... there's always someone clever who manages an update. "Bridget Jones's Diary" or the movie, "Clueless."

Paul said...

As a postscript to this, why not take a look at yesterday's blog from the grumpy old bookman:

Well, it made me laugh.