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In order to test the editor, I typed out a complete chapter of Huckleberry Finn--a chapter from the middle of the book. Then I presented it, along with the statement, "I'm working on something new as you've convinced me that my current novel isn't any good."

"This is a perfect example of what I'm talking about," she started in after skimming Twain's work right in front of me. "You're telling the story instead of showing. As this stands now, you'd never get it published. Your use of English is deplorable, and the phrase is African-American--not nigger. And why would anyone want to read about the Mississippi River anyway?"

The next week I tried a chapter from Faulkner's Light in August.

"Boy, do you need to learn to write!" she said, settling onto the sofa. "You're lucky you came to me. I can really help you with this sort of thing. Do you even know what a sentence is supposed to sound like?"

Truman Capote's In Cold Blood was next.

"People don't generally like reading about this sort of thing," she said, her eyebrows up. "You'd be hard-pressed to find a publisher for it but if you agree to work with me for the next year-payment in advance-I should be able to help you whip it into shape. We have to start by taking out all the violence. That never sells." And then she added, "Just how many examples of your bad writing attempts do you have?"

Her response to three complete chapters from Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea, again typed out so as not to look suspicious, garnered the comment, "Didn't you do anything interesting at all on your summer vacation?"

In an attempt to see just how far I could push the envelope, I began to send samples of famous books to various publishers, reasoning that they were as inept as my editor. I attached my name and a different title, just to see how they would react. I knew that the samples would either be ignored, read by some ignorant twenty-year-old whose idea of great literature was the Peanuts comic strip, or given the proverbial "shove-off" letter. Strangely enough, I actually got back responses instead of the usual form letters. Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that I lied about having an agent and being wealthy enough to fund my own marketing campaign.

For the first three chapters of Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, which I called Morning Aubade, I received the response, "Works like this are generally not publishable and there has never really been a market for this type of thing."

In response to the complete Nine Short Stories by Salinger (it took me two weeks to retype them all), I received, "We are not in the habit of printing the work of fifth-graders. May we suggest a writing course at your local junior college?"

And then there was the response to Steinbeck's last three chapters from The Grapes of Wrath which I had re-titled California Dreamin'.

"We suggest you try one of the lesser-known publishing houses for a work of this genre as the market for this type of thing is usually small. Also, you may want to change the ending as the breast-feeding of the hobo is a bit over the top."

One acquisitions editor at a major house even had the intelligence to recognize the name Max Perkins and accuse me of pretending to be someone I wasn't. "I happen to know the real Max Perkins," she wrote, "and as soon as I put this letter in the post, I'm calling him up and letting him know that you're using his name." I wanted to wish the acquisitions editor luck as the Max Perkins she was referring to had been dead at that point for forty-three years.

But the best response was given by one of the city's most elite houses, which, after I had sent in the book of Genesis from the Bible-double-spaced and in twelve-point type, just as they had requested-wrote back with the pithy quip, "Dear Mr. Perkins, if you insist on plagiarizing Shakespeare, we suggest you at least give him credit for his 'creation' somewhere along the way."


by by Jackson Tippett McCrae

  • paperback: 359 pages
  • Publisher: Enolam Group Inc
  • ISBN-10: 0971553637
  • ISBN-13: 9780971553637