Thursday, August 13, 2015

Beatrix Potter, Vladimir Nabokov, and Me

“Dear Sara: I have been reading your ms with interest and admiration. I think you are a splendid writer! Your prose is smart and tight and colorful and I am enjoying this project chapter by chapter. BUT—alas this is a big But—I am not clear on what is the premise of this book. . . .”
—email from Gail Hochman, literary agent, received yesterday

Just because I am a proud indie author doesn't mean I don't occasionally go knocking on agents' doors. This is the second book of mine that Gail Hochman has rejected. The first time around, my mother was on hand to issue a loud harrumph ("I don't think she knows what she's talking about" were her exact words). This time, I cheered myself by reading some of the editorial comments that have accompanied other writers' rejected manuscripts. Here are some of my favorites:

20  "I recommend that it be buried under a stone for a thousand years." (Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov)
19  "Nobody will want to read a book about a seagull." (Jonathan Livingston Seagull, by Richard Bach)
18  "We feel that we don't know the central character well enough." (Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger)
17  "Undisciplined, rambling, and thoroughly amateurish writer." (Valley of the Dolls, by Jacqueline Susann)
16  "The girl doesn't, it seems to me, have a special perception or feeling that would lift the book above a 'curiosity' level." (The Diary of Anne Frank)
15  "A long, dull novel about an artist." (Lust for Life, by Irving Stone)
14  "An irresponsible holiday story that will never sell." (Wind in the Willows, by Kenneth Grahame)
13  "An absurd and uninteresting fantasy which was rubbish and dull." (Lord of the Flies, by William Golding)
12  "Too radical of a departure from traditional juvenile literature." (The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, by L. Frank Baum)
11  "Unsaleable and unpublishable." (The Fountainhead, by Ayn Rand)
10  "Frenetic and scrambled prose." (On the Road, by Jack Kerouac)
9  "An endless nightmare. I think the verdict would be 'Oh don't read that horrid book.' " (The War of the Worlds, by H.G. Wells)
8  "Our united opinion is entirely against the book. It is very long and rather old-fashioned." (Moby-Dick, by Herman Melville)
7  "I haven't the foggiest idea about what the man is trying to say. Apparently the author intends it to be funny." (Catch-22, by Joseph Heller)
6  "We are not interested in science fiction which deals with negative utopias. They do not sell." (Carrie, by Stephen King)
5  "The American public is not interested in China." (The Good Earth, by Pearl S. Buck)
4  "It's Poland and the rich Jews again." (Satan in Goray, by Isaac Singer)
3  "This will set publishing back 25 years." (The Deer Park, by Norman Mailer)
2  "I wrack my brains why a chap should need thirty pages to describe how he turns over in bed before going to sleep." (Remembrance of Things Past, by Marcel Proust)
1  "Anthologies don't sell." (Chicken Soup for the Soul)

Beatrix Potter's story about a bunny was rejected so many times, she finally decided to self-publish and printed 250 copies. The Tale of Peter Rabbit has now sold over 45 million copies.

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