15th April 2016
We have all gone through the thoroughly humiliating process of opening that thin envelope containing a rejection letter. If you're lucky, it starts with a few words of kindness, and then comes the inevitable "but." And the reasons for rejection always have to do with their "list." Not right for our list. Doesn't fit our list. There is no space on our list. It leaves you wondering why you want to be reduced to anyone's "list" in the first place. But take heart - I was knocking off dust on books the other day in search of some forgotten tome, when I came across a book entitled, "Pushcart's Rotten Reviews and Rejections." a funny (in retrospect) collection of the brutal rejections received by some of our most eminent literary figures and their most famous books.
Cyril Connolly once said, "As repressed sadists are supposed to become policemen or butchers, so those with irrational fear of life become publishers." Well, that's a little harsh, but some of our greatest literary works have met with the equivalent of a pitchfork to the eye. What is most surprising is the determination a lot of authors display in the face of said pitchfork. In my karate studio, there used to hang a plaque that read, "A black belt is just a white belt who didn't give up." Many of the books that made literary history did so because the author despite the odds simply wouldn't give up. I always picture the twelve publishers that turned down Harry Potter - somewhere, some furniture must bear the teeth marks of these haughty rejecters. And well they deserve their pain.
James Joyce's "Dubliners" was rejected twenty-eight times. "Gone With the Wind" received thirty-eight rejections. Of course, the prime example is "Zen Buddhism and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" which was rejected a mind-boggling one hundred and twenty-one times.
I decided to look up in this book a couple of my favourite authors: Dylan Thomas, about whom Kingsley Amis wrote: "A pernicious figure, one who has helped to give Wales and welsh poetry a bad name...and done lasting harm to both." Me thinks not, Mr. Amis who wrote...mmm, I can't remember. And dear Emily received this from The Examiner over "Wuthering Heights": "Here all the faults of Jane Eyre are magnified a thousand fold, and the only consolation..is that it will never be generally read." To which history says, "Ha!"
Dear Emily went to her grave with this judgement on her and never knew the reach her lovely novel would have down the ages. So, you have to hang on, and you have to believe in your vision, like a dog believes in the bone. Sink your teeth in and don't let go.