Saturday 16 February 2019

Publishers reject Austen's work in writer's prank

Simone de Bruxelles

A FRUSTRATED author has confirmed what other unpublished writers have long suspected: even Jane Austen would have difficulty finding a book deal in the 21st Century.

But what really astonished David Lassman was that only one of 18 publishers and literary agents recognised her work when it was submitted to them under a false name.

Mr Lassman (43) had spent months trying without success to find a publisher for his own novel, 'Freedom's Temple'. Out of frustration - and to test whether today's publishers could spot great literature - he retyped the opening chapters of three Austen classics: Pride and Prejudice, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion.

He changed only the titles, the names of the characters and his own name - calling himself Alison Laydee, after Austen's early pseudonym "A Lady" - then waited for the offers to roll in.

Instead, he received yet another sheaf of rejection letters, including one from Penguin, which republished 'Pride and Prejudice' last year, describing his plagiarised chapters as "a really original and interesting read" but not right for Penguin.

That was one of the gentler rejections. But Mr Lassman said: "Penguin neither requested to see the rest of the novel nor did they recognise a work they already publish.

"I wasn't surprised that the publishing process rejects people out of hand, but I was staggered that no one recognised the work. Here is one of the greatest writers that has lived, yet only one recipient recognised them as Austen's work.

Mr Lassman concocted his plan after returning from the Greek island where he had been writing his own novel and found himself facing a brick wall.

"I was having a hard time getting it published and I was chatting to friends about it, saying I wondered how Jane would have fared today."

Literary agency Christopher Little, which represents J.K. Rowling, regretted it was "not confident of placing this material".

Jennifer Vale of Bloomsbury publishers turned down Northanger Abbey, renamed Susan, saying "I didn't feel the book was suited to our list."

The one publisher to recognise it was Alex Bowler, assistant editor at Jonathan Cape, who reacted with "disbelief".

Last night, a spokeswoman for Penguin admitted Mr Lassman's submission may not have been read. (© The Times, London)

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