Publisher Rejection Letters From Sophocles to Hitler

04/29/2015 03:55 pm ET | Updated Jun 28, 2015

When I became a literary agent, I wasn't ready for the flood of publisher rejection letters flowing into my office in response to my submissions. It felt a little like my social life in high school. I can only imagine the shame and humiliation that my clients must experience from these letters. Four years of work on a novel reduced to a single line, a formula really: "I just didn't fall in love with it." Or: "We all felt it didn't quite have the right narrative arc." I decided to engage in a mental exercise of employing the standard rejection templates as they might have been used for some of the great (or notorious) classics of Western Civilization.

Oedipus Rex by Sophocles


Thank you for your submission of Mr. Sophocles' drama, Oedipus Rex. Your author is an exceptional dramatist with many fine works to his credit that have been both critical and commercial successes. And we feel privileged that you gave us the chance to consider his work. That said, I'm afraid we are not going to publish this book. Although I am a personal admirer of Mr. Sophocles, I feel that Oedipus is a minor work and, quite frankly, a little jejune. The implicit theme, the idea that "from suffering comes wisdom," has become a little hackneyed and frayed at the edges, as it were. I think that after seeing James Cameron's Avatar, there really isn't much left to say on this subject. But we would be delighted to look at anything newer and fresher that Mr. Sophocles might create in the future.

Macbeth by William Shakespeare


Thank you for sending us Macbeth by William Shakespeare. Mr. Shakespeare certainly brings a fresh voice to the modern theatre and has a commendable mastery of plot and character. That said, I am not going to make an offer on this book. I think that the author has a certain inelegance of style and his language skills could use some refining. I also noticed a number of careless misspellings in this work. The extensive "scholarly" footnoting with its endless references to "folios" and "quartos" was annoying and distracting.

I feel compelled to say, and I hope neither you nor your client take offense at this, that some of his "speeches" are just plain pretentious. For instance: Macbeth says: "It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing." Don't you think this could be stated more clearly and succinctly? How about: "Life can be pretty tough. Sometimes I just want to shake my head and cry." Furthermore, I could not help but note an obvious unattributed locution from William Faulkner. Your author should try to be more careful.

The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann


I don't quite know what to make of this book. A six hundred page novel about people in a tuberculosis sanitarium on top of a mountain? Really! I'm afraid that modern American readers need a little more action and excitement in their lives. They don't want to come home and read about the over-ripe decadence of Central European culture in the early Twentieth Century. I certainly don't mean to sound snarky, but in my humble opinion (and I have been known to be wrong before), Herr Mann is nothing but a gas bag.

Ulysses by James Joyce


I'm sorry. I just don't get it.

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy


Thank you for your submission of Count Tolstoy's War and Peace. I found it to be a very well researched and polished novel. And I can certainly see how it would appeal to the same readers who enjoy the works of Leon Uris. But, just between you and me, this manuscript isn't quite ready for prime time. For starters, it is a real door-stopper. 1500 pages plus change! I think the author needs to face the facts that he could do with some judicious freelance editing. If the author could cut the text by, say, 900 pages; if, for example, he could take out the sub-plot of the Napoleonic invasion of Russia, we would be happy to review this submission again.

Mein Kampf by Adolph Hitler


I have to tell you that this one came pretty close. Personally, I loved this book. But when I took it to the editorial board, they reluctantly decided to pass. There is much to admire in Herr Hitler's writing. We were particularly impressed by the author's passion, and his robust voice. Some of us were moved to tears by the YouTube clips from the Nürnberg Parteitag rallies. Herr Hitler's platform is most impressive, indeed. And our sales director was inspired by the book proposal that offered so many innovative marketing strategies. The concept of summarily executing any citizen of the Third Reich who didn't purchase this book was refreshing and indicates that your client is a very savvy and highly motivated marketer.

At the end of the day though, there was no agreement on how we could position this book in the marketplace. Some of us wanted to treat it as a kind of how-to book for people who were seeking to improve their public speaking and, at the same time, pick up some useful tips for world conquest. Others felt that the ideas were just a little too "weighty" for a trade house like ours. After some brain storming about possible merchandise spin-offs, we decided that we were the wrong home for this remarkable book.

We wish Herr Hitler the best of luck in his career as a writer and as a public figure.