Thursday, 14 May 2009
Came across an interesting section in The Drunkard's Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives and thought to share it:
"Could it be that publishing success is so unpredictable that even if our novel is destined for the best-seller list, numerous publishers could miss the point and send those letters that say thanks but no thanks? One book in the 1950s was rejected by publishers, who responded with such comments as "very dull," "a dreary record of typical family bickering, petty annoyances ad adolescent emotions," and "even if the work had come to light five years ago, when the subject [World War II] was timely, I don't see that there would have been a chance for it." That book, The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank, has 30 million copies, making it one of the best-selling books in history. Rejection letters were also sent to Sylvia Plath because "there certainly isn't enough genuine talent for us to take notice," to George Orwell for Animal Farm because "it is impossible to sell animal stories in the U.S.," and to Isaac Bashevis Singer because "it's Poland and the rich Jews again." Before he hit it big, Tony Hillerman's agent dumped him, advising that he should "get rid of all that Indian stuff."
Those were not isolated misjudgments. In fact, many books destined for great success had to survive not just rejection, but repeated rejection. For example, few books today are considered to have more obvious and nearly universal appeal than the works of John Grisham, Theodor Geisel (Dr. Seuss), and J.K. Rowling. Yet the manuscripts they wrote before they became famous - all eventually hugely successful - were all repeatedly rejected. John Grisham's manuscript for A Time to Kill was rejected by twenty-six publishers; his second manuscript, for The Firm, drew interest from publishers only after a bootleg copy circulating in Hollywood drew a $600,000 offer for the movie rights. Dr Seuss's first children's book, And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, was rejected by twenty-seven publishers. And J.K. Rowling's first Harry Potter manuscript was rejected by nine. Then there is the other side of the coin - the side anyone in the business knows all too well: the many authors who had great potential but never made it, John Grishams who quit after the first twenty rejections or J.K. Rowlings who gave up after the first five. After his many rejections, one such writer, John Kennedy Toole, lost hope of ever getting his novel published and committed suicide. His mother persevered, however, and eleven years later A Confederacy of Dunces was published; it won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and has sold nearly 2 million copies."