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rejections

Fabio

I’ll be in Washington this weekend to survey more protesters, but I’ll leave you with the following New York Times article about the treasure trove of rejection letters to be found at the Knopf Archive at the University of Texas. David Oshinsky set out to find rejection letters of famous novelists and fellow historians. Here’s a doozy:

In the summer of 1950, Alfred A. Knopf Inc. turned down the English-language rights to a Dutch manuscript after receiving a particularly harsh reader report. The work was “very dull,” the reader insisted, “a dreary record of typical family bickering, petty annoyances and adolescent emotions.” Sales would be small because the main characters were neither familiar to Americans nor especially appealing. “Even if the work had come to light five years ago, when the subject was timely,” the reader wrote, “I don’t see that there would have been a chance for it.”

Knopf wasn’t alone. “The Diary of a Young Girl,” by Anne Frank, would be rejected by 15 others before Doubleday published it in 1952. More than 30 million copies are currently in print, making it one of the best-selling books in history.

Other winners: Peal S. Buck’s book was rejected because they didn’t think China would sell as a topic and “Animal Farm” was rejected because the publisher didn’t think animal stories would go over in America. Of course, the lesson isn’t that rejections are arbitrary and unfair – lots of manuscripts are rejected simply because they are bad – but publishing is a human process and mistakes are made. Oshinsky also reports on the chicanery behind academics reviewing each other’s work and this gem of a rejection letter written by Alfred Knopf himself to an Ivy league historian: “This time there’s no point in trying to be kind,” it said. “Your manuscript is utterly hopeless as a candidate for our list. I never thought the subject worth a damn to begin with and I don’t think it’s worth a damn now. Lay off, MacDuff.” Ouch!!

Written by fabiorojas

September 14, 2007 at 1:21 am

Posted in academia, books, fabio

2 Responses

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  1. This may only interest the economist readers out there, but the Journal of Economic Perspectives had an interesting piece a few years ago about the publication history of famous papers:

    Gans, J.S., Shepherd, G.B. (1994), “How are the mighty fallen: rejected classic articles by leading economists”, Journal of Economic Perspectives, Vol. 8 No.1, pp.165-80.

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    Peter Klein

    September 17, 2007 at 3:13 pm

  2. Peter – There is also another nice article called “Do Prominent Economists Have their articles rejects?” By Hammermech, in JEP as well. The answer is “yes,” except for Richard Posner, who freely admits that his friends accept nearly everything he writes.

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    fabiorojas

    September 17, 2007 at 3:16 pm


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