Discussion in 'Traditional Publishing' started by deadrats, Aug 19, 2016.
another rejection.... Baltimore Review....
I'm amazed at how differently the same work of art can be viewed across different eras. Below are two contrasting responses to Sylvia Plath's 'The Bell Jar'- contemptuous dismissal of vs. rhapsodies:
5. THE BOOK WAS REJECTED BY AMERICAN PUBLISHERS.
When Plath received a $2,080 novel-writing fellowship associated with publishers Harper & Row, she must have thought that publication was a sure thing. But Harper & Row rejected The Bell Jar, calling it "disappointing, juvenile and overwrought." While British publisher William Heinemann accepted the book, Plath still had trouble finding an American publisher. “We didn’t feel that you had managed to use your materials successfully in a novelistic way,” one editor wrote.
From various online sources:
"The 100 best novels: No 85 – The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath (1966)" ... "acclaimed and enduring masterwork, Sylvia Plath brilliantly draws the reader into Esther's breakdown with such intensity that..." ... "The Bell Jar is an extraordinary accomplishment and a haunting American classic"... "The woman clearly knew how to write, and the imagery is utterly mind-blowing"... "The Bell Jar is so carefully constructed and considered. Despite the messy tangle of subject matter, Plath never rambles; and for all it's flowery and poetic language there is not an unconsidered word in the entire book." ..." It has long been recognized that Plath was one of the most articulate minds of her generation"... "Clearly she emerges as a ruthless observer of the human condition, and a fantastic wordsmith".
I guess the opposite happens too - a work that is fulsomely praised at the time then sinks into obscurity in the fullness of time. Does anyone know of any such examples? I have a book on my shelf that won a "BOOK OF THE DECADE" award from a UK county that shall remain unnamed; but I found this book superlatively bad (rushed or unthought-through, childish, bulging with 'creative writing class' adornments), and Amazon reviews concurred. (How many of us are glad our first efforts weren't snapped up?! I know this happened to Ted Hughes who was once mortified by a play that went out with his name on it over the airwaves).
What does this suggest? (1) That we are unequipped to judge contemporary artworks in our own day and age - we can only judge artworks by looking back in history? (We need the distance of time). (2) That views of artworks are fundamentally subjective - that we project our own psyches onto whatever artworks we are judging? (3) That they are subjected to social-political processes (including political correctness) that have nothing to do with their creative or artistic properties? i.e., we have 'motivated cognitions' and as soon as someone gets cachet (as Plath did when she gained fame from the tragedy of her suicide), our cognitions bow to the 'halo effect'.
One review online said they prefer "childbirth" to reading 'The Bell Jar'; I personally found it had many LOL moments and was full of dry wit e.g.,
"I had read one of Mrs. Guinea’s books in the town library— the college library didn’t stock them for some reason— and it was crammed from beginning to end with long, suspenseful questions: ‘Would Evelyn discern that Gladys knew Roger in her past? wondered Hector feverishly’ and ‘How could Donald marry her when he learned of the child Elsie, hidden away with Mrs. Rollmop on the secluded country farm? Griselda demanded of her bleak, moonlit pillow.’ These books earned Philomena Guinea, who later told me she had been very stupid at college, millions and millions of dollars." ~ Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar.
Another instance of 'motivated cognitions' is the difference in evaluations between creative writing courses vs. literary agents. From my experience, creative writing instructors tend to lavish praise on every simile and metaphor, and see potential everywhere . Strange then that the same combination of words is viewed so sourly and stonily by literary agents, who can see nothing in your writing except that it's "not for us".
A form rejection from an agency I’d marked on my list as one to beware- the agent used to charge an expedited reading fee! Yeah no chance I was going with him, regardless.
Just getting frustrated at those with full MS for not responding!
It's not a no yet!
The arts isn't something easy to break into. Just consider it as it is, a lottery ticket. Do I buy lottery tickets? Yes, occasional because you have a 100% chance of not winning without one. It doesn't bother me when I don't win and I'll still get a few here and there.
I write and do it for myself. It's for my own enjoyment and hopefully it brings enjoyment to others. I'm just happy to have the opportunity to write full-time at the moment.
If you write for the desire to financially succeed or to receive praise then quit now. I'm sure they do not read everything they receive. The manuscript gets dated so they know when to send the denial response. Even getting to that takes time because of the high amount of work sent in.
Ouch! One of the agents who had the full MS has rejected- sent a lovely several page set of helpful comments but ultimately it’s ‘not there yet’.
So I’ve got my 2nd book to finish anyway but the quandary arises whether to go back in 6 months and improve this one and try again (but most agents don’t want to see rejected stuff) or just trunk it!
I would like to push back on this advice.
Specifically, I think there's a place in the world for people who pursue writing as a profession and career.
I don't think people (like myself) who want to 'financially succeed' should 'quit now'.
Bummer on the rejection. Since you're getting requests, I have to think the premise of MS#1 is solid and marketable. My $.02 is that it's probably worth tweaking the first one [eventually, at least], if you have the stomach/interest in doing it. The feedback I got on my #1 suggests to me that I probably have the same problem with everything else I have in the works. I'm generally describing this as "needing to find/hone my voice" --- the feedback was that the plot is great, characters are great, general writing is clean/crisp, but the voice of the writing doesn't match the rest. This jives with my own sense that something felt off, but not being about to pinpoint it. So I'm literally rewriting a 112K MS (again) using all the same plot/bones/characters, but trying different things with the voice until I feel like it's right. Good times.
But I'm a newbie trying to figure things out still. And not sure what your agent thought "wasn't there yet," but I vote to try to improve. I hate throwing work away!
Yeah he was happy with my style/voice- it was more a couple of character traits and one thread of the story.
It’d still be a lot of work and I’ve already been via most of the good agents- usually they don’t want to see previously rejected stuff again so I’m worrying I’d be wasting my time.
I think I’m going to see what happens with the other agents for MS1 and just plough on with MS2 and then see how I feel in a few months time.
I do have an idea for a 3rd story and one of the set pieces (which I was praised for) from MS1 could be pinched and re-used so I will see
Separate names with a comma.