Friday 9 December 2016

Don't get dejected by publishers' rejections

John Boland

Published 04/06/2011 | 05:00

If you've just written a masterpiece worthy of Tolstoy, Proust or Cecelia Ahern and it's been turned down by five agents and 10 publishers, don't despair because that's been the fate of many subsequently famous authors.

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Up to now, the record for rejections seemed to belong to Frederick Forsyth, whose 1971 first novel, The Day of the Jackal, was reputed to have been turned down by 17 publishing houses ("Has no reader interest," one told him) before Hutchinson took a chance on it.

However, American novelist Lionel Shriver has revealed that her breakthrough bestseller, We Need to Talk About Kevin (her eighth published book as it happened), "went to 30 different British houses before the little publisher that could, Serpent's Tail, picked up the title with a tiny advance but great compensatory enthusiasm."

And she warned: "Writers should have some grasp of publishing's brutality, and this morose process of having your beloved creations stepped on comes with the territory."

She also maintains that it was enthusiastic word-of-mouth among readers, rather than critical praise or publicity, that made the book a bestseller, resulting in Lynne Ramsay's movie adaptation, which was acclaimed at the recent Cannes film festival.

*****

Keats or Dylan? Or can songs ever attain the quality of poetry? That's the question being raised yet again, this time occasioned by the American singer-songwriter's recent 70th birthday.

One contributor to the Guardian books blog points out that "once upon a time poetry would have been sung or recited rather than written down", that the Iliad and the Odyssey began in oral form and that "a lot of poetry only really comes to life when it is recited" (though preferably not in the funereal drone of Yeats or Eliot).

Another blogger observes that while Dylan is "one of the greatest songwriters of all time, there are some very bad poets out there". And very bad songwriters, too.

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