Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Throw The Publishers Into The Bin

I had always suspected that it happens.

Write a reasonably decent passage or a poem and show it to a friend and ask: "Do you think this is good enough to get published?" The reply is likely to be: "Nicely written and all, but you see..." If the friend likes to be blunt, the reply could be: "You call this a poem?!"

Now steal a passage from, say Henry Miller or Salinger, and show it to the same friend, saying you have written it. "Do you think this is good enough to get published?" The replies are likely to be more or less the same.

Now take another of your own pieces and show it to the same friend, saying: "Look, how beautifully Henry Miller writes! This passage is so awesome that I jotted it down, here..." The friend is likely to say: "Brilliant. Really awesome. If you write like this you will have publishers queueing up."

Today, my suspicion was confirmed after I saw the latest issue of London's Sunday Times, whose top story screamed: "Reject! Booker winners get tossed in the slush pile."

The paper recently sent out the opening chapter of V.S. Naipaul's 1971 Booker-winning In A Free State to 20 agents and publishers. Only the name of the author and the names of the principle characters were changed in the 'manuscript'.

But it only got rejection slips.

One agency apologised saying: "In order to take on a new author, several of us here would need to be extremely enthusiastic about both the content and writing style. I'm sorry to say we don't feel strongly about your work." The other replies were on the same lines.

Rejection slips poured in similarly for Stanley Middleton's Booker-winner Holiday, whose opening chapter was also submitted by the newspaper to the same set of publishers and agents.

To me, the scoop is of far more importance than the petty sting operations carried out by our TV channels from time to time. The channels only show men taking a few thousands rupees in bribe, which is commonplace in India. They never go for the big fish.

But when a book that has won the Booker gets rejected by publishers, what message do we get? That the publishers go only for big names even if they churn out trash? And that talented writers get trashed even if they turn out something that matches the calibre of a Booker winner?

If the judgment of seasoned publishers can be clouded, can you blame your literarily-illiterate (if there exists such a term) friend for finding your piece unworthy of publication?

But there is a ray of hope emerging from all this. Publishers in India are now going to be pretty careful, in case a newspaper or TV channel tries to pull off the same stunt here. In their eagerness to be fair and objective, they might even end up considering manuscripts that are average. So guys, I am going to try my luck.


Anonymous said...

Heard people say writing a book is like bearing a child. If it is true, wish to see your twins soon. Good Luck

Visithra said...

ah so the old suspicion on publishers is true

good luck on your venture though ;)

Medical Blog said...

Only the name of the author and the names of the
principle characters were changed in the manuscript.