Friday, January 06, 2006

Naipaul's 'disguised' book rejected by Agents/Publishers

I first read it in Kitabkhana, and it amused me no end.

You take a famous manuscript (book) by a famous writer and send it out to agents/publishers with an unknown name for their kind consideration. Chances are they will not only not recognize the content (even Booker prize-winning content!), they will even reject it with complete professional sanity. It was done before with perhaps a Thackery or Dickens novel. I don't remember exactly. The Sunday Times has done it again like a sting operation:

Top novels in disguise rejected by publishers

THERE is no greater award for a writer than the Nobel prize for literature. Five years ago the accolade went to VS Naipaul in recognition of his 50-year writing career.

Naipaul, born in Trinidad, also won the 1971 Booker prize (now the Man Booker) in Britain, where he has lived since 1950. It was awarded for In a Free State, his novel about displaced colonials on different continents.

Dennis Potter, the TV dramatist, praised its “lucid complexity”. He wrote: “Do not miss the exhilaration of catching one of our most accomplished writers reaching towards the full stretch of his talent.”

Surely the special qualities of such timeless prose would be recognised by today’s publishing industry? Surely a first-time novelist who matched the standard of Naipaul at his best would be snapped up?

The Sunday Times sent out the opening chapter of In a Free State to 20 agents and publishers to find out. Only the names of the author and main characters were changed.

None of the agents or publishers spotted the book’s true pedigree. And instead of experiencing Potter’s exhilaration, they all sent back polite rejections.



Manzoor Khan said...

That's the perennial "Brand Equity" concept which is ubiquitous in the world, fortunately and unfortunately.

Jabberwock said...

Zafar, the whole thing is of course quite funny, but for another perspective on the issue do see this piece Samit wrote for HT.

The other thing is, I'm really not sure there is such a thing as "timeless prose" - many of the most acclaimed/awarded novels of the 1970s are almost unreadable today.

Zafar Anjum said...

Hi J,

I read Samit's piece and saw his point. Talent is not enough. One needs to be lucky to get published. Right book, right agent, right publisher, all at the right time--too many rights! Well, actually publishing has never been easy, and a brea
k was always a lucky one. Even after getting your first book out, success is measured with every new book. Now if you don't hit the bestseller charts/award lists with your first book, the future (of your forthcoming books) gets clouded.

About timeless prose, I agree with you that many books from the past, not from just the 70s, are almost unreadable. The same goes for a large number of contemporary books too. But variety is good (there are great books, good books, award-winning books, trashy stuff and you develop your own list of favs out of all these) and reading/writing is such a subjective affair.

However, Naipaul's Booker winner (quoted in the story) is splendidly written, and I am still able to enjoy most of his prose.

The point of the story is about the current publishing trends--about the fact that good writing is not enough, and that there are many other factors that count, if not more, than equally significantly.

But I am firm believer in talent. If one has talent, one will get noticed at some point of time--it might take 10 years or 50 years. Success or no success (in getting published), writing is all about drudgery, discipline and hard work. The (current) problem is for those who seek instant success, or those who want to take up writing as a full-time work. Being a full-time writer has never been easy.

But why I am saying all these things to you? You any way know so much about writing and writers, surely more than I do.