Every writer who’s ever received a rejection (isn’t this redundant?) will get a shot of adrenaline from reading this essay in The New York Times, No Thanks Mr. Nabokov by David Oshinsky. It’s about the process of going through the Knopf file archives and some of the rejection that were discovered. You will be shocked and amazed at some of the writers Knopf rejected over the years.
Here’s a passage from the essay:
For almost a century, Knopf has been the gold standard in the book trade, publishing the works of 17 Nobel Prize-winning authors as well as 47 Pulitzer Prize-winning
volumes of fiction, nonfiction, biography and history. Recently,
however, scholars trolling through the Knopf archive have been struck
by the number of reader’s reports that badly missed the mark,
especially where new talent was concerned. The rejection files, which
run from the 1940s through the 1970s, include dismissive verdicts on
the likes of Jorge Luis Borges (“utterly untranslatable”), Isaac
Bashevis Singer (“It’s Poland and the rich Jews again”), Anaïs Nin
(“There is no commercial advantage in acquiring her, and, in my
opinion, no artistic”), Sylvia Plath (“There certainly isn’t enough
genuine talent for us to take notice”) and Jack Kerouac
(“His frenetic and scrambling prose perfectly express the feverish
travels of the Beat Generation. But is that enough? I don’t think so”).
In a two-year stretch beginning in 1955, Knopf turned down manuscripts
by Jean-Paul Sartre, Mordecai Richler, and the historians A. J. P.
Taylor and Barbara Tuchman, not to mention Vladimir Nabokov’s “Lolita” (too racy) and James Baldwin’s “Giovanni’s Room” (“hopelessly bad”).