Publisher Rejection Letters From Plato to Hitler

When I became a literary agent three years ago, I simply wasn’t ready for the flood of publisher rejection letters flowing into my office in response to my submissions. It felt a little like my social life in high school. I can only imagine the shame and humiliation that my clients must experience from these letters. Four years of work on a novel reduced to a single line, a formula really: “I just didn’t fall in love with it.” Or: “We all felt it didn’t quite have the right narrative arc.” I decided to engage in a mental exercise of employing   the standard rejection templates as they might have been  used for some of the great  (or notorious) classics of Western Civilization.

Plato’s Republic

Andy,

Thank you so much for submitting The Republic by Plato. Certainly this book has much to recommend it. It asks some  serious questions and it doesn’t get bogged down in “jargon” like some of the philosophy books we see coming over the transom. That said, I am going to have to pass on this book. I’m not sure that the author has anything really new to say about the themes he discusses. The Good, the True, the Beautiful,  and the Just have been written about ad nauseum since the time of the ancient Greeks. There is really no new way to slice and dice this material. And although Mr. Plato seems quite adept at dialogue, I can’t help but wonder how he would hold up in the face of tough questioning by the likes of Bill O’Reilly.

The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann

Andy,

I don’t quite know what to make of this book. Six hundred pages of narrative about people in a tuberculosis sanitarium on top of a mountain, and for twenty years?  Really! I’m afraid that modern American readers need a little more action and excitement in their lives. They don’t want to come home and read about the over-ripe decadence of Central European culture in the early Twentieth Century. I certainly don’t mean to sound snarky, but in my humble opinion (and I have been  known to be wrong before), Herr Mann  is nothing but a gas bag.

 

Oedipus Rex by Sophocles

Andy,

Thank you for your submission of Mr. Sophocles’ drama, Oedipus Rex. Sophocles is an exceptional dramatist with many fine works to his credit  that have been both critical and commercial successes. And we feel privileged that you gave us the chance to consider this work. That said, I’m afraid we are not going to publish this book. Although I am a personal admirer of Mr. Sophocles, I feel that Oedipus is a minor work and, quite frankly, a little derivative. The  implicit theme, the idea that “from suffering comes wisdom,”  has become a little hackneyed and a little frayed at the edges, as it were. I think that after  seeing James Cameron’s Avatar, there really isn’t much left to say on this subject. But we would be delighted to look at anything newer and fresher that Mr. Sophocles might create in the future.

Ulysses by James Joyce

Andy,

I’m sorry. I just don’t get it.

 

 

Macbeth by William Shakespeare

Andy,

Thank you for sending us Macbeth by William Shakespeare. Mr. Shakespeare certainly brings a fresh voice to the modern theatre and has a commendable mastery of plot and character. That said, I am not going to make an offer on this book. I think that Mr. Shakespeare has a certain  inelegance of style and his language skills could use some refining. I also noticed a number of careless misspellings in this work. The extensive “scholarly” footnoting with its endless references to “folios” and “quartos” was annoying and distracting.

I feel compelled to say, and I hope neither you nor your client take offense at this, that some of his “speeches” are just plain pretentious and not suited to the more casual sensibilities of our upscale readers. For instance:  Macbeth says: “It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” Don’t you think this could be stated more clearly and succinctly? How about: “Life is pretty confusing. Sometimes I just want to shake my head and cry.”  Furthermore, I could not help but note an obvious unattributed locution from William Faulkner. Your author should try to be more careful.

Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain

I am a big fan of Mr. Twain’s work. In fact, his novel, Huckleberry Finn, was one of the best books I read last season. So I approached your submission with considerable excitement. I’m sorry to say that I was not thrilled with Tom Sawyer. Compared to Mr. Twain’s other works, I felt that this was merely a bagatelle and perhaps a little (shall we say) jejune. Still I sent it around for some more reads and  I took it to the editorial meeting. The sales director pointed out that all of Twain’s novels since Huckleberry Finn have shown steadily declining Bookscan numbers. He felt, and the committee agreed, that it was unlikely that the chains would take a position on this book. But I encourage you to show us any new projects the author might develop in the future.

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

Andy,

Thank you for your submission of  Count Tolstoy’s War and Peace. I found it to be a very well researched and polished  novel. And I can certainly see how it would appeal to the  same readers who enjoy the works of Herman Wouk.  But I am afraid that I won’t be making an offer. As you know, our imprint is always looking for quality genre fiction. And certainly War and Peace falls squarely within the conventions of the historical novel. But, just between you and me, this manuscript just isn’t ready for prime time. For starters, it is a real door-stopper. 1500 pages plus change! I think the author needs to face the facts that he could do with some judicious freelance editing. Our readers lead busy lives and are looking for a more, shall I say, intimate reading experience. If the author could cut the plot by, say, 900 pages; if, for example, he could take out the sub-plot of the Napoleonic invasion of Russia, we would be happy to review this submission again.

Mein Kampf by Adolph Hitler

Andy,

I have to tell you that this one came pretty close. Personally, I loved this book. I took it to the editorial board. We almost had consensus. But the committee reluctantly decided to pass. There is much to admire in this book. We were impressed by the author’s passion, his strong sense of purpose, and his robust voice.. Some of us were moved to tears by the Youtube clips from the Nürnberg Parteitag rallys. Herr Hitler’s platform is most impressive, indeed. One of the editors said, only half jokingly, that it was too bad we couldn’t bottle Herr Hitler’s charisma and give it to some of our more pedestrian authors. And our marketing director was inspired by the book proposal that offered so many  innovative marketing strategies. The concept of   summarily executing any citizen of the Third Reich who didn’t purchase this book was  refreshing and indicates that your client is a very savvy marketer.

At the end of the day though, there was no agreement on how we could position this book in the marketplace. Some of us wanted to treat it as a kind of how-to book for people who were seeking to improve their public speaking and, at the same time, pick up some useful tips for world conquest. Others felt that the ideas were just a little too “weighty” for a trade house like ours. After some brain storming about possible merchandise spin-offs, we decided that we were the wrong home for this remarkable book.

We wish Herr Hitler the best of luck in his career as a writer and as a public figure and expect to see great things from him in the future.

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21 Responses to “Publisher Rejection Letters From Plato to Hitler”

  1. Internet Says:

    Andy,

    Though normally we publish any blog by any persons who purchase a domain name, we just don’t think your ideas are a good fit with the direction we are headed. Perhaps you should consider posting pictures of topless women or free, illegal music and movie downloads.

    All the best,
    The Internet

  2. kim Says:

    Hilarious. Thanks.

  3. ideas expressed Says:

    Dear Mr. Ross,

    I’m sensing irony in your post — some of these titles ring a vague bell — but would you consider updating the titles and authors to ones our readers may have heard of? Sarah Palin, Dan Brown, Ms. Rowling. Recognizability may enhance the intended impact.

    Respectfully,

    BlogRater.biz

  4. Steve Lisansky Says:

    Hey Andy – a whiff of irritation perhaps with publishers and some time on your hands. I’m sure bookselling was maddening but you knew where you were. We find in head-hunting that it would be a lovely business but for the candidates and the clients. One of my maxims for my yet to be published (actually, yet to be written) how-to-succeed-at-business opus is that most businesses survive in spite of their management rather than because of it. Hope you are well. Steve

  5. christiphillips Says:

    Oh, Andy, you are wickedly funny. The rejection letter for Mein Kampf is priceless. You certainly have summed up the tenor of things. Perhaps there’s a book in you?

  6. sq Says:

    Your best blog post yet.
    Could there be a book in this?

  7. Donna Levin Says:

    This was so clever that I now have bloggers-block.

  8. Peter Says:

    Here’s a good one for Tolkien.

    http://blog.nathanbransford.com/2009/08/guest-blog-week-re-your-query-for.html

  9. Patrick Says:

    Brilliant Andy. It’s Ad Nauseam btw, not Ad Nauseum (from the Plato’s Republic spoof).

    OK my true motive – I am working on a novel “Hermia” (sort of freewheeling fantasy adventure, bit like Douglas Adams but more sex. Lots more). Has anyone dealt with The Writers’ Workshop, of Charlbury, Oxon?

    Patrick

  10. Patrick Says:

    Publish it (my e-mail) if you like! I did finish “Hermia” and sent it off to The Writers’ Workshop. It was promptly reviewed, for a modest fee as such things go, by a reviewer who shall remain nameless, but whose opinions I respect.

    Sample quotes —

    …it is my sorry but unavoidable duty to inform you that I can’t imagine any contemporary publishing house, or indeed literary agent, taking on this script as it stands, or very possibly even after the most radical editorial overhaul…

    …You wryly categorise the piece yourself at one point as ‘a string of boob jokes with a few bits of ripped-off poetry thrown in’. I myself would call it ‘an ambitious meshing together of tit-and-bum humour with philosophical reflection and a good deal of historical and quasi-historical re-enactment’…

    …the two main elements in your story, viz what you call the ‘rude bits’ and, for want of a better term, ‘the highbrow stuff’ work against and quite badly undermine each other…

    …Since I was paid to do so, I of course read your whole script. Agents and publishers and reviewers – and by extension, to a degree, book purchasers too – have no such obligation…

    …I wouldn’t imagine many, if any, thinking female readers getting much further than your page 42 with its ‘hand clutching her fanny’ then the fairly turgid shower-room doggerel that appears at the foot of the page…

    Hell, it might have worked. PWM.

  11. Unknown unknown Says:

    These are too funny!
    I laughed my head off to

    Ulysses by James Joyce
    “I’m sorry. I just don’t get it.”

  12. Marysia Trembecka Says:

    Genius😉 This is also very inspiring to keep on going, thanks for this!

  13. Dealing with Rejection (2) | FEU Training | The Federation of Entertainment Unions Says:

    […] out these spoof rejection letters created by Andy Ross a literary agent who was a bit frustrated by some of the rejections he was receiving on behalf of his writers. He […]

  14. How Not to Freak Out and Get Humiliated When Pitching to Agents By Andy Ross Says:

    […] When it comes to rejection, I’m a real wussy. I don’t think I could ever pitch my writing to an agent. I’m amazed at how courageous writers are, and I always feel shame when I know that I have hurt someone with a rejection. In my job, I get  plenty of rejection letters from editors  in response to my submissions. I estimate I have received over 5000 in my few years at this job. Sometimes it seems a little like my social life in high school.  (See my blog post on Publishers’ Rejection Letters From Plato to Hitler.) […]

  15. How Not to Freak Out and Get Humiliated When Pitching to Agents By Andy Ross - Creative Crossroads Says:

    […] When it comes to rejection, I’m a real wussy. I don’t think I could ever pitch my writing to an agent. I’m amazed at how courageous writers are, and I always feel shame when I know that I have hurt someone with a rejection. In my job, I get  plenty of rejection letters from editors  in response to my submissions. I estimate I have received over 5000 in my few years at this job. Sometimes it seems a little like my social life in high school.  (See my blog post on Publishers’ Rejection Letters From Plato to Hitler.) […]

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  17. ellenfrank Says:

    Yeah, the Hitler one was the best–but they’re all great. Now I’m glad I’m not an agent. (Not perhaps quite so glad about still being a writer.)

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