An informal investigation conducted by British newspaper The Sunday Times has an amusing and surprising result. Disguising them as manuscripts for new books, the paper sent typewritten copies of the first chapters of two novels that won Booker Prizes in the 1970s — V.S. Naipaul’s In a Free State and Holiday, by Stanley Middleton — to publishers and agents throughout Britain. Neither submission appears to have been recognized by its recipients, and, according to Jonathan Calvert and Will Iredale of the Times, all but one of the 21 replies from publishers and agencies were rejections.
Calvert and Iredale suggest that the study may lend credence to criticisms of the acquisition practices of publishing houses that reflect an “obsess[ion] with celebrity authors and ‘bright marketable young things’ at the expense of serious writers.” The rejected novelists, as one may expect, showed the unsurprised disgust of two men lamenting a bygone era. Says Middleton, “People don’t seem to know what a good novel is nowadays.” Adds Naipaul, “With all the other forms of entertainment today there are very few people around who would understand what a good paragraph is.”
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