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Rejecting Harry

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As Robert Peake noted in a comment to a previous post about David Lassman’s somewhat pointless exercise in submitting Jane Austen’s work for (re-)publication, publishers’ manuscript screening processes are flawed, “and such flaws are only exacerbated in a deluge. The current fiction publishing markets, like the poetry markets, are just flooded.”

That is true — at Mercury House I published maybe a couple dozen books a year, against something like 3,000 submissions. Such a flood of submissions strains resources, and it is difficult as an editor to sustain top-level judgment; at least, I know I had lapses.

That’s why on this Harry Potter weekend it’s good to recall that eight publishers passed on the first Potter book before it was accepted by Bloomsbury. (And 27 publishers rejected the first Dr. Seuss, 22 rejected Joyce’s Dubliners, etc. etc.) It’s a frustrating process, but authors should not obsess over rejection — you don’t know what was going on at the other end of the transaction. If you have lost a sale it is better to move on than to linger over the loss or despair of ever succeeding. Life under the stairs might not be forever; Hogwarts awaits.

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1 Comment

  1. It is heartening to remember the stacks of rejections Joyce, for example, collected. More heartening to me is to hear from those behind the scenes of independent and university presses – because just as writing is a labor of love, likewise nobody goes into small press publishing for the fame, wealth and glory.

    In the end, though we hate to admit it, so much often does come down to a matter of taste. Still, hearing about the dedication, commitment and ideals of editors and publishers can help frame the writer-publisher relationship as something greater than a battle of wills or a form of lottery.

    It can be easy to forget, after so much rejection, that editors and publishers have made a commitment to literature not unlike the commitment a writer makes. Poring over such daunting slush piles and stacks of manuscripts says a lot about the people who believe enough in that one great piece of writing to endure so much else in order to find it.

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