Further to Brian Marggraf’s post about Kurt Vonnegut’s “Breakfast of Champions” being rejected by 99 of 100 literary agents (the other recognised the book) when submitted by Samuel Moffie as “The Perfect Martini” (http://indieheroblog.wordpress.com/2014/03/16/agents-qualified-literary-gatekeepers/), a similar case happened here in Australia a number of years ago.
The Weekend Australian sent a sample chapter (chapter three) of the book, “The Eye of the Storm”, by Australia author Patrick White to nine leading publishers and three literary agents back in 2006. The book was actually published in 1973, his ninth published novel and the one that clinched him his Nobel Prize in Literature in the same year. He was named Australian of the Year in 1974.
The newspaper called its submission “Eye of the Cyclone” by “Wraith Picket” and changed the character names. Seven publishers and the three agents replied but all rejected the work. One publisher didn’t reply and another wanted three months to review the work. Results were published on 15 July 2006 in an article called “Publishers reject Nobel prize writing” by Jennifer Sexton.
One publisher said, “What I read left me puzzled”, and that the “plot got lost through an aspiration to be a literary novel”.
Another gave tips on getting the work evaluated, suggesting the author “join a writers’ centre” with “access to proofreaders, mentor programs, and inside information about the publishing industry”.
The manuscript wasn’t “suitable for the emerging list” of another publisher.
One literary agent thought the manuscript “was in need of work” and suggested the author read “The Art of Fiction” by David Lodge.
In rejecting it, another agent said that “an agent must be totally committed to a work to sell it enthusiastically to a publisher”.
The experiment may have been inspired by an exercise in January 2006 when two Booker prize winning novels, “In a Free State” by V. S. Naipaul and “Holiday” by Stanley Middleton, were sent to 20 publishers and agents by the Sunday Times of London. It was rejections all round except for one agent who showed a bit of interest in Middleton’s novel.
I think it goes to show that fiction is very subjective and that finding an agent or traditional publisher is a lottery. If the writing of authors of major prizes gets rejected, what hope is there for the unknown author?