Saturday, July 21, 2007

Jane and the Slushpile

An experiment in England yields predictable results.

This Guardian story makes a big deal out of editors sending out form rejection letters to a writer who queried with lightly revised versions of some of Jane Austen's novels. But this article fails to understand how rejection letters work. They assume, without much evidence to back up the assumption, that the failure of editors to address the fairly obvious plagiarism proves that the editors not only didn't recognize Jane Austen's writing but found it unpublishable.

I'm sure there may have been one or two who didn't recognize the stories, but I wouldn't be surprised if most did and dealt with the plagiarism the way most busy editors deal with any project they know they can't pursue, for whatever reason--they sent out a form rejection letter. And I'm not sure that Jane's stories could get sold as written now because the language conventions of the early 1800s are not the language conventions of the present. At the very least, she would be heavily edited.

So, in the end, the results of the experiment prove very little of what it sought to prove about modern publishing.

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