Monday, 6 February 2012
Rejections x 54
Is the above, for a writer trying something newish, dispiriting or perversely encouraging? The image here is probably too small for you to read, but what it is is the list of publishers’ rejections kept by David Markson when he was sending out Wittgenstein’s Mistress – which was eventually published (by Dalkey Archive) in 1988. For many readers, this is the Markson novel. David Foster Wallace, in a long essay written in 1989, called WM ‘a work of genius’, not least because in the face of the ‘rabid anti-intellectualism of the contemporary fiction scene’ it brought together ‘cerebration & emotion, abstraction & lived life, transcendent truth-seeking & daily schlepping’.
There are 54 rejections on the list. (Which was printed, by the way, on the back of the programme for the memorial service for David Markson at NYU; and also by the way, CBe publishes his This Is Not a Novel.) Alongside the names of the publishers, and usually an editor’s name too, Markson has noted their responses – usually just ‘NO’, but sometimes more: ‘admire writing, not love’, ‘didn’t understand’, ‘hard to stay with’, ‘brilliant’ (eight times, including one ‘too brilliant’). Years later, when asked about the whole experience, Markson replied simply: ‘Some editors are not particularly bright.’
Some editors are bright but know that they can’t get certain books past the other folk at the acquisitions meeting. Some editors are bright but prefer white wine to red. (There are many examples of editors who have turned down books that have later, with another publisher, been hugely successful – which doesn’t mean that the rejecting editor was wrong, just that the book wasn’t up his/her street.) Some editors are going through a divorce, or have been temporarily struck blind, or aren’t really editors in the first place. It’s all a bit hit-or-miss.
When I turn down the book you’ve sent to CBe you do know – don’t you? – that I’m not saying the book isn’t worth publishing, or making a judgement on the way you lead your life? Though it can feel like that. No is not a kind word.