Dear Jane Austen: Good luck with your project

I have hopes of getting a second book published, but it’s been an, um, interesting process so far.

After my first book was published, I thought that it would be a little easier to get the second one out there. Actually, that's an understatement. I thought it would be a slam-dunk to get my second book published – especially since Storm of the Century: The Labor Day hurricane of 1935 received very good reviews from Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly, and other well-respected publications.

And Storm also became the basis for a History Channel documentary. How many first-time authors get that kind of recognition? Not a bad debut, I thought.

Well, long story short, I’m still pushing that second book. A couple of highly regarded agents gave my proposal a very long look, but they eventually declined.

I think I’ll place it sooner or later. In the meantime, the task is to keep the proposal fresh and not get discouraged. Re. that last task – avoid discouragement – I came across a story in England’s The Guardian today that helps a bit with that.

The Guardian’s Stephen Morris reports that would-be author David Lassman has had his novel repeatedly turned down by a series of publishers. Lassman modestly describes his novel as not a masterpiece, but publishable.

So Lassman devised a plan – some would say it was clever, some would say devious – to test publishers’ judgment of manuscripts. He made a few changes to chapters of three novels by Jane Austen and sent them out under the author’s name of Alison Laydee. Among his submissions was an excerpt from Austen’s 1813 novel Pride and Prejudice, widely regarded as one of the finest novels in the English language.

The results? All of the publishers rejected the manuscript, and only one of them told Lassman that they recognized the similarity to Austen’s work.

“I was staggered,” Lassman told The Guardian. “Here is one of the greatest writers that has lived, with her oeuvre securely fixed in the English canon and yet only one recipient recognised them as Austen’s work.”

The publishers sending rejection letters included some of the big ones. The Guardian contacted some of them for comment. The gist of their responses was that they had sent out form letters of rejection. One publisher told The Guardian that “internal notes did recognise similarities with existing published works and indeed there were even discussions about possible plagiarism.”

Still, anybody who’s ever had a manuscript returned with the terse and maddeningly familiar phrasing of a rejection letter – “read with interest” and “regret to inform you” and “doesn’t meet our needs” and “good luck with your project” – had to feel that some of their worst suspicions are justified about the people who write publishers’ rejection letters.

Since I am, as I said, trying to find a publisher, I'll pass on inserting my personal worst suspicions. I know there's at least one publisher out there who is above suspicion.


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John Miglis said...


Nice looking blog. My e-mail's been down for about six weeks, so everything went to some cyberlimbo until I finally cracked the code, and messages cascaded. Congrats. Enjoyed the Jane Autin piece. You are right about not getting discouraged. Perseverance counts, in some cses, as much as talent. I persevered and finally found an L.A. agent whom I like. Gimme a call when you get a chance and we'll catch up.