Shakespeare Can’t Get Published
When an 84-year-old retired professor says your writing is outdated
I was at a newly opened neighbourhood bar with my friend, Harry, and we were discussing rejection letters. Harry had just finished writing a novella and he had given the manuscript to his ex-professor who’s now retired.
‘What did he say?’ I said.
‘That my writing was like Lord Byron,’ he said.
‘That’s an incredible compliment, man. Congratulations.’
‘No,’ he said. ‘He meant my writing is outdated, by 200 years. Among other things.’
‘An 84-year-old retired professor said your writing is outdated,’ I said. ‘What did you say?’
Harry, like most writers, was sensitive to criticism, so I was curious as to how he responded. Turns out, surprisingly well.
‘I told him to stick his advice up his geriatric arsehole,’ he said.
I was also planning on launching my new book and had a regrettable experience at a small publishing house in Fremantle. I told Harry that, as instructed by the publisher, I sent a digital manuscript to them, but I didn’t hear from them for two months, so I decided to pop in with a physical copy and introduce myself. You know, to impress them. In the end, the pop-in lead to nothing, except for a series of paralysingly awkward moments, one of which included accidentally squirting hand sanitiser into the receptionist’s face.
‘I don’t know whether it’s a coincidence or not, I went on. ‘But the next day, after the whole sanitiser fiasco, I got a condolence-style letter saying they weren’t going to publish it.’
‘Do you think they even read the manuscript, though? It’s like anything. You have to know someone.’
‘Do you think?’
‘Sure. I mean, imagine. You’re sifting through that many books. Even if you came across Hamlet, you wouldn’t think much of it. You’d write back saying, “Thanks for the submission, Bill. You have an interesting style but don’t you think the premise of a son with an Oedipus complex avenging his father is a bit overdone?’ You should study The Book Thief by Markus Zusak or Harry Potter. Now there’s a book!”’
‘Yeah, you’re right.’ I said. Reassured, I finished my beer and continued to criticise the publishing world. Although we both knew our slamming was a mere front for the secret hope that a big agent would find us in that dim-lit corner and discover our genius.