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We Find Your Manuscript Hopelessly Bad

8 September, 2007

From The NY Times Sunday Book Review. David Oshinsky: No Thanks, Mr. Nabokov. 9 Sept, 2007.

In 1950, the Alfred A. Knopf publishing company turned down the English-language rights to a Dutch manuscript. The reader’s report said the book gave ‘a dreary record of typical family bickering, petty annoyances and adolescent emotions’, and sales would not be great because the main characters were neither familiar to Americans nor appealing. The manuscript was rejected by 15 others before Doubleday published it in 1952. More than 30 million copies of the book are currently in print. Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl is one of the best-selling books in history.

Other works turned down by Knopf or other publishers:

· Pearl Buck’s The Good Earth: Americans aren’t interested in anything on China.

· George Orwell’s Animal Farm: It’s impossible to sell animal stories in the USA.

· Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita: Too racy.

· James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room: Hopelessly bad

The Knopf archive, housed at the University of Texas, includes the publisher’s rejection files from the 1940s-1970s, which scholars are examining. Although Knopf published the works of 17 Nobel-Prize winning authors and 47 Pulitzer Prize-winning works, scholars are surprised by the number of readers’ reports that gave what turned out to be very bad advice. The rejection files dismiss the following:

· Jorge Luis Borges: utterly untranslatable

· Isaac Bashevis Singer: It’s Poland and the rich Jews again

· Anais Nin: no commercial value in acquiring her and…no artistic merit

· Slyvia Plath: there certainly isn’t enough genuine talent

· Jack Kerouac: His frenetic and scrambling prose perfectly express the feverish travels of the Beat Generation. But is that enough? I don’t think so.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Marsha Durham permalink
    10 September, 2007 2:46 pm

    It DOES give you hope when you realize how many great works have been rejected–not once but countless times before going on to become best-sellers. But what is a worry is that although more fiction works are being published, the range of fiction that reaches the bookshop shelves seems to be shrinking.

    Like

  2. 9 September, 2007 1:01 am

    As someone who has received over 1500 rejections for my work (and that’s a conservative estimate), I love snippets like these. It helps renew my faith so I can do battle against the forces of stupidity and in-breeding (sorry, I mean publishers and editors), and keep putting one word ahead of the other “in defiance of all the world’s muteness” (Nabokov).

    Like

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