Apparently “slush pile” is the technical term for unsolicited manuscripts sent to a publisher, as in “have a wade through the slush pile and see if there’s anything decent.” It must be a daunting experience for first-time or unpublished authors to submit their creations to publishers in the knowledge that the default reaction of the latter will probably be to assume that what they have been sent is rubbish. I suppose it is understandable really, given that of the thousands of manuscripts sent to a publisher there are probably only a handful that are worth reading let alone publishing. This undoubtedly makes the publisher’s role a difficult one: how to be selectively dismissive without missing the real gems out there? It is not a new problem, nor is it confined to literature. When Beethoven’s Fifth was first performed it was variously called a “vulgar din” and “the end of music”; Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring started a riot on its opening night in 1913. Clearly, human beings are not enormous enthusiasts of novelty, and it can take decades for an artist’s work to be fully appreciated.
Sticking to literature though I thought it might be amusing to collect a few quotes of publishers’ initial reactions to classic novels, partly as a way of encouraging budding authors not to take criticism too seriously and partly because they’re sometimes quite a hilarious reflection of human ignorance and misunderstanding. I owe most of them to the recent book This Is Not The End of The Book, in which Umberto Eco and Jean-Claude Carrière discuss, among other things, the history of human stupidity. If anyone has any others (or personal experiences), we want to know about them – firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Proust’s In Search of Lost Time: “It may be a lack of intelligence on my part, but I fail to understand why it should take thirty pages to describe how someone tosses and turns in their bed, unable to sleep.”
On Hemingway’s Fiesta: “Sir, you have written a travel book.”
On Flaubert’s Madame Bovary: “Sir, you have buried your novel beneath a hotchpotch of detail that is very well done, but utterly superfluous.”
On Melville’s Moby Dick: “There is little chance that a book such as this would interest a young readership.”
On Emily Dickinson: “Your rhymes don’t work.”
On Orwell’s Animal Farm: “It’s no good trying to sell the Americans a novel about animals.”