Books Magazine

The Doris Lessing Novel That Got Rejected

By Robert Bruce @robertbruce76

As a writer who hopes to one day have a book published, I don’t find this story very encouraging.

Back in the early 1980s, Doris Lessing–Nobel Peace Prize winning author of The Golden Notebook–submitted a novel to a publisher under a pseudonym, or a fake name. Lessing is an incredible writer, and she’s one of the most respected authors still alive today.

But, because she used the pseudonym (Jane Somers), publishers had no idea they were reading Lessing’s work. Her proposed novel, The Diary of a Good Neighbour, was rejected.

The New Yorker explains it this way:

Of the half-dozen or so men and women paid to sit around in armchairs perusing new manuscripts, the one who plucked it from the shelf happened to be the youngest, an aspiring poet and fiction writer of twenty-three. He didn’t think much of it, and wrote a report saying so. After a brief discussion at the weekly editorial meeting, the book was turned down.

Some time later, it was revealed that “Jane Somers” was, in fact, Doris Lessing. She had written the book under a pseudonym, partly because she wanted it to be appraised purely on merit, partly out of solidarity with young writers, and partly to free herself from her own literary persona.

The writer of this article, James Lasdun, goes on to say that he was the 23-year-old that read the manuscript and turned it down.

Once Lessing’s story went public, the publisher obviously had egg on its face. Lessing even said the experience was a reminder of how “patronized and put-down new writers are.”

After years of running from Lessing’s work and that experience, Lasdun says he is finally ready to re-read the novel that he once turned down.

Keep in mind, this happened more than 30 years ago. Publishing has changed a lot since then. An author can easily self-publish as an alternative to getting noticed by publishers who received thousands of manuscripts a year.

But, still, you have to wonder how many would-be Stephen Kings and JK Rowlings get rejected every day because of an intern who doesn’t really know what he’s doing.

Here’s hoping we’re not one of those writers in the future.

More at the New Yorker.

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