Thursday, July 08, 2010

The Taste of Rejection

I was reading some articles on John Le Carre when I came across this piece in The Guardian by Robert McCrum: Dear Mr Orwell, we regret to say ….

This is a good piece for new writers who are looking for some hope. Read it and you will stay optimistic about getting published (of course, after you have done all that needs to be done to write a good book, that is exhausted yourself in the process).

Here it goes:

Spotting new and original literary talent is not as easy as it can look with the benefit of hindsight. I can think of several well-known contemporary names whose work drifted hopelessly round literary London before finding happy homes.

There are some famous examples of books that were misunderstood or overlooked. One reader for JG Ballard's Crash wrote: "The author of this book is beyond psychiatric help." Someone else wrote that Norman Mailer's novel, The Deer Park, "will set publishing back by 25 years".

A classic is often a new tune and new tunes can be difficult to pick up. After a first reading of Lolita, one in-house reader wrote, in some perplexity: "The whole thing is an unsure cross between hideous reality and improbable fantasy ... I recommend that it be buried under a stone for a thousand years."

Sometimes it is the authors who get buried by rejection. John Kennedy Toole committed suicide before A Confederacy of Dunces saw the light of day, in a massive launch (slightly helped by the manuscript's backstory) in 1980. Many other celebrated writers, including Beatrix Potter, Joseph Heller, George Orwell, Stephen King, John le Carré and James Joyce, have all experienced the bitter taste of rejection at some point in their literary careers.

This game is not, and never has been, for softies. Thirteen publishers rejected ee cummings's No Thanks, until it was finally published by his mother. On the dedication page, cummings wrote: "WITH NO THANKS TO ..." and then listed the publishers who'd turned it down.

From time to time, literary journalists have fun anonymously submitting badly typed copies of first chapters by Jane Austen or Virginia Woolf, invariably scoring a near universal rejection. According to one biographer, Samuel Beckett kept a neat, handwritten list of the 42 publishers who rejected Murphy in his wallet for years. Beckett said that he kept the list because it comforted him to know that so many people were wrong about his writing. In Worstward Ho, he coined the perfect credo for the literary world: "Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better."



Anonymous said...

great piece.

Anonymous said...