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Puddle-headed publishers pick a plot and pray. . ..

April 21st, 2011

Wandy150riting a novel requires stamina, perseverance and great imagination. Technically, it requires that the author has exemplary skills of characterisation, description, dialogue, wit, originality and the patience to do meticulous research in order to attain a level of realism which will draw readers in. Sadly, it doesn’t mean, given that you have all of these qualities, that you will be an instant hit. Stop-Press: Publishers don’t always get it right!

Probably the biggest player in this litany of literary qualities is…luck. Right place, right time and a publisher who’s just had a good lunch and therefore feels happy with the world, probably plays a bigger role in getting your book published than any of the other laudable attributes. ‘Surely not’ I hear you cry. Well, read on, and don’t call me Shirely. . ..

Publisher Bloopers

A publisher replied to George Orwell after he had submitted Animal Farm for publication with the following comment: ‘It is impossible to sell animal stories in the USA.’ It makes you wonder if he later swapped suicide options with the guy who rejected the Beatles.

In addition to being what can only be described as being thick as a plank, publishers can also be incredibly short sighted. When the Diary of Anne Frank was first submitted for publication in 1952, the publisher responded thus: ‘The girl doesn’t, it seems to me, have a special perception or feeling which would lift that book above the ‘curiosity’ level.

Talent Spotting

As for ‘talent spotting’. . ..Of Zane Grey a publisher once commented: ‘I do not see anything in this to convince me you can write either narrative or fiction.’ Between 1903 and 1939 Grey had 102 books published selling in excess of 150 million copies worldwide.

Publishers need new writers; we are their life blood and next month’s mortgage payment but more than that, this brief but humorous history teaches two things:

If you get a rejection you’re in very good company, and, Publishers aren’t infallible; a rejection from one doesn’t mean your book isn’t any good – it just means you haven’t found the right publisher!

Believe in yourself, persevere. If you don’t buy a ticket, you can’t win a prize.


Andy Ellis started his working life as a miner, qualified as a journalist aged 30, (any excuse to get out of taking daily showers) and worked for a series of local and national newspapers before going freelance in 1992. Several thousand articles and stories later, published in the USA, Australia, Japan, China and Little Snoring, Andy bumped into the Writers Bureau in 1994 and a happy partnership was born.

Today Andy works only by commission, mainly on policy documents, press announcements and PR campaigns for big business and central government.


‘Believe it or not, the work I do now is actually really rewarding and nowhere near as dry as it might seem. Writing a report for government is every bit as creative and demanding as writing a good novel, with just about the same amount of truth. . ..

My greatest joy though is seeing one of my students attain their first publication.’

Claim to Fame: Appearing on the Richard & Judy breakfast show to talk about his article on ‘Invisible Fathers’ published in Practical Parenting.

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