These exercises are depressingly predictable. Part of me wants to get riled up about this, part of me wants to accept it as inevitable, and part of me just wants to go back to bed. But, it’s still an interesting news item.
The Sunday Times in Britain posted an article about British publishers who rejected two former Booker Prize winning novels. While the manuscripts were presented under the guise of aspiring authors submitting their work, both had actually won Great Britain’s most prestigious literary prize in the seventies. In fact, one of the books was by a Nobel Prize winning author.
In a Free State by V.S. Naipaul and Holiday by Stanley Middleton were sent to 20 publishers and agents. No one recognized them as Booker Prize winners and all but one responses were rejections.
The article points out that “critics say the publishing industry has become obsessed with celebrity authors and ‘bright marketable young things’ at the expense of serious writers. Most large publishers no longer accept unsolicited manuscripts from first-time authors, leaving the literary agencies to discover new talent. Many of the agencies find it hard to cope with the volume of submissions. One said last week that she receives up to 50 manuscripts a day, but takes on a maximum of only six new writers a year.”
Both authors were diplomatic about the situation, basically saying that times have changed since those books were submitted. But other authors, such as Doris Lessing, were astounded that the literary value of these books was not recognized.
Publishers, editors, and agents are swamped. And times do change. There quite possibly was some novel printed in the sixties that would not have been recognized in the seventies, when these two books were published. So in that respect, I can understand the side of the publishing industry. However, aspiring authors are always told that genuine talent will eventually be recognized but this example shows that not only can award-quality books be rejected, but that the authors not recognized. Naipaul is a Nobel Prize winner christsakes. Even if they rejected the novel, shouldn’t someone have recognized the ruse?