It is one of the most lauded novels in Australian literature, but when Patrick White's The Eye of the Storm was submitted to 10 Australian publishers, not one of them would have published it.
And in many cases the rejection letters received by The Weekend Australian for the book by the Nobel prize-winning author were insulting.
In one case the reply referred to British novelist and critic David Lodge's "how to" book on writing fiction.
Under the Patrick White anagram Wraith Picket, chapter three of the novel was submitted, with the title altered to The Eye of the Cyclone and with only the names of the characters changed.
At this point we are meant to nod sagely and agree that, yes, publishing has always been a matter of luck rather than talent and effort. If you know the right people, you might just have a chance; otherwise, publication isn't much different from winning the lottery.
What these stories persist in overlooking is the fact that publishers are not book critics. Their function is not to evaluate art, but to consider business propositions. Somehow publishers must divine whether the public is likely to line up to buy the novel in question. Whether or not the book is brilliant or groundbreaking is often beside the point.
Authors whose work has been rejected often point gleefully to these experiments to prove they're unlucky rather than unworthy of publication. But could we rein in those big egos for a minute? Maybe your work is good and maybe it isn't. A publisher's rejection can, but will not necessarily answer that question. Sometimes brilliant work simply isn't saleable--and sometimes inferior work is.
Poorly-written books are published every day because publishers saw something in those submissions that they believed would appeal to readers. Every writer would do well to bear that in mind. Being published does not necessarily mean you're a great writer. And being rejected does not necessarily mean you're a poor one.
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