Monday, February 11, 2008

Win a Copy of Rotten Reviews and Rejections

Last September at ACFW, keynote speaker James Scott Bell occasionally quoted from a book called Rotten Rejections. I couldn't believe there was actually a book called that, but if was real, I wanted it.

Sure enough, I found it on Actually, the version I bought is called Pushcart's Complete Rotten Reviews and Rejections. It combines three smaller volumes that were published earlier and it's just what it sounds like--a compilation of bad reviews and mean rejection letters of books that have since become classics. Or at least sold lots of copies.

I love it! What a morale booster. To know that reviewers said that Emily Dickinson was destined for oblivion, that Faulkner was a "minor talent," and that Dickens would not be remembered in 50 years' time . I love the statement about Wuthering Heights: "the only consolation which we have in reflecting upon it is that it will never be generally read." Those are from the reviews.

The rejection letters are even better. Having had many editors explain to me why my books will never sell, I wanted to laugh with glee when I saw that editors in the past said the same thing about books that went on to sell millions--that are still selling after decades.

My favorite story was about a journalist who typed up a "manuscript" of a novel that had won the National Book Award only a few months earlier. He then submitted it to editors and literary agents under his own name, as an experiment. All of them rejected it--and lots of them explained why it would never sell. Even the publishing company who originally published it rejected it!

In another story, a publishing company accepted a book for publication and sent it to an artist to do illustrations. After completing the illustrations, the artist sent the manuscript back to them. The publishers apparently thought he was submitting the manuscript, because they sent him a rejection letter for it!

But here is my personal favorite, from a Chinese economic journal (p. 212): "We have read your manuscript with boundless delight. If we were to publish your paper, it would be impossible for us to publish any work of lower standard. And as it is unthinkable that in the next thousand years we shall see its equal, we are, to our regret, compelled to return your divine composition, and to beg you a thousand times to overlook our short sight and timidity." None of the rejection letters I've received used those exact words, but I'm sure that's what they meant.

I'd love to share this little morale booster with one of you out there, particularly if you're a writer in need of encouragement. Even if you're not a writer, the book is fun. If you'd like to win a copy for yourself, leave a comment ON THIS POST to that effect, and I'll hold a drawing on February 29th.

Good luck! I simply must end with one more, from page 56 about Rudyard Kipling: "I'm sorry, Mr. Kipling, but you just don't know how to use the English language."
Quotes are from Pushcart's Complete Rotten Reviews & Rejections, edited by BillHenderson & Andre Bernard. New York: Pushcart Press, 1998.