Impolite rejections

The Weekend Australian conducted an interesting experiment. It sent out a sample chapter from Nobel prize winner, Patrick White’s novel The Eye of the Storm; changing only character names. All of the Australian publishers it was sent to rejected. The interesting thing about all this is not the rejections themselves (the sample chapter may have been chosen strategically) but how impolite some of them were. For example:

In his rejection letter Nicholas Hudson of Hudson Publishing said the writing left him perplexed.

“We regret that we cannot make an offer for publication. Why? The first and easy answer is that we try to curb all desire to publish novels. This is a matter of self-preservation: the Harold Park Trots are by comparison a rational way of earning a living.

“As a result I cannot really give any sensible critique of the work, but what I read left me puzzled,” Mr Hudson said. “I found it hard to get involved with the characters, so it was not character-driven, nor in the ideas, so it was not idea-driven. It seemed like a plot-driven novel whose plot got lost through an aspiration to be a literary novel. It was very clever, but I was not compelled to read on.”

And this came not just from small publishers. Here is Pan Macmillan …

“If you are after critical analysis, it may be a good idea to join a writers’ centre. There are centres in each state and these communities provide access to proofreaders, mentor programs and inside information about the publishing industry.”

One wonders what the publishers have to gain by this. After all, if the same author keeps submitting they can always choose to ignore it. But at worst they have now sent a signal to all authors regarding their responsiveness.

2 thoughts on “Impolite rejections”

  1. I think the reason behind the open disdain of publishers for unsolicited manuscripters is hinted at in the article.

    The sheer cost to many of these publishers of reading all the unsolicited manuscripts they receive seems to be prohibitive. If each manuscript needs just two hours time to evaluate, and each publisher receives a thousand a year, that is at least 2,000 hours of staff time a year for publishers who might only have a dozen full time staff.

    From a market perspective, that cost would suggest there is a strong incentive for someone to find a better way of evaluating manuscripts – maybe self-publishing (which transfers the risk to the writer) is one way, maybe some kind of online network based evaluation system, where books are evaluated by volunteers with a passion for literature, is another.

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  2. Joel – Literary agents do this kind of work, and some publishers only deal with agents. The agends get a cut of the author’s royalties, thus transferring the cost of the search process from publisher to author.

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