Last Sunday there was an amusing New York Times article by David Oshinsky
. The topic was how at least one publisher - Alfred A. Knopf, whose long-time editor Ashbel Green is retiring at the end of this year
- had managed to turn down a host of promising books, including Anne Frank's diary ("a dreary record of typical family bickering, petty annoyances and adolescent emotions"), Pearl S. Buck's The Good Earth
(Americans weren't "interested in anything on China"), and George Orwell's Animal Farm
("impossible to sell animal stories in the U.S.A."). Other rejects? Jean-Paul Sartre, Mordecai Richler, historians A. J. P. Taylor and Barbara Tuchman, Vladimir Nabokov, Jorge Luis Borges, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Anaïs Nin, Sylvia Plath, and Jack Kerouac.
What is interesting is to remember that this type of article appears periodically, and people always seem tickled by the fallibility of publishers' sensibilities. But the story is hardly new. Walt Whitman had to self-publish Leaves of Grass
at first. Dozens of publishers snubbed the original Chicken Soup for the Soul and What Color is Your Parachute - neither on the same literary level, but evidence that the publishing world can't even reliably predict tastes of the mass market. And with the growing demand for authors that have a "platform," it makes me wonder how many resoundingly good books, stories, poems, essays, biographies, histories, and other works of the mind fall to the wayside, never to be seen other than by friends and family.
Labels: authors, books, New York Times, publishers, rejection