From rejection to riches

There are writers and there are writers. One: the celebrity variety, whose faces are more recognisable than the covers of their books, who are pampered by their publishers, who earn invitations to all the respectable lit fests across the country. The other: the unpublished variety, those who have accumulated dozens of we-are-sorry and better-luck-elsewhere notes over the years but still haven’t given up.

There is another variety, though: writers to whom both struggle as well as success comes in small measures — people who routinely get published and yet never achieve celebrity, at the most a small set of dedicated readers. I am not going to dwell on this category because I see myself belonging to it and I find it embarrassing to talk about myself as a writer. The idea here is to look at the thorny fence that divides the published and the unpublished.

So who decides whether your manuscript is fit for an advance of Rs. 50 lakh or for the bin? The publisher, of course. And how do you know the publisher’s judgment is correct?

There is no way of knowing that, but history will tell you that a publisher’s opinion is often clouded by factors that may have nothing to do with your writing skills.

Graham Greene quit his job as a sub-editor at  The Times  in London to become a full-time writer, but it was the manuscript of his third novel that eventually became his first book. Only after he became successful did the first two manuscripts, previously rejected, get published: today they are considered classics.

The same  Times , in its Sunday edition on January 1, 2006, published a scoop, headlined: “Reject! Booker winners get tossed in the slush pile.” The paper had sent out chapters from some of the Booker-winning novels to 20 agents and publishers, changing the names of the authors and of the principal characters in the books — only to be flooded with rejection slips.

After reading the opening chapter of V.S. Naipaul’s In a Free State , one agent had responded: “In order to take on a new author, several of us here would need to be extremely enthusiastic about both the content and writing style. I’m sorry to say we don’t feel strongly about your work.”

It is not at all surprising, therefore, that some of the most successful (read richest) Indian writers today are those who ran pillar to post once upon a time to find a publisher. So hang on to your manuscript: later than sooner some publisher will see gold in what others thought was trash.

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Printable version | May 29, 2022 3:26:48 pm |