Monday, May 24, 2010

Famous Rejection Letter in History by Kris Kahrs

For those writers among us who are inspired by the rejection letters of the big dogs, here is one of Herman Melville’s from his British publisher, just after the publication of Moby Dick in New York, but before its subsequently botched release.

May 18, 1851

Mr. Herman Melville
104 E. 26th St.
New York, New York

My Dear Sir,
We have read with great interest your intriguing effort of Moby Dick, or The Whale, and while it fortified us greatly, despite the somewhat vision-impairing length of the manuscript, we were wondering if changing certain of the story’s elements might not buoy its purchases at the shop, as it were?
First, we must ask, does it have to be a whale?
While this is a rather delightful, if somewhat esoteric, plot device, we recommend an antagonist with a more popular visage among the younger readers. For instance, could not the Captain be struggling with a depravity towards young, perhaps voluptuous, maidens? We are sure that your most genial friend and fine author, Nathaniel Hawthorne, would be instructive in this matter? Mr. Hawthorne has much experience introducing a delicate bosom heaving with burning secrets into popular literature.
I’m afraid that while we can appreciate the heartiness with which Captain Ahab pursues his passion for fishing, we would find it estimably helpful on your behalf to leave out his personal belief system. Let us not identify one faith over another, in such sense, that were it to prove an offense to our readers, this would most certainly thin shillings from our purse. If this development affects your character’s motivation disagreeably, then would it not suffice to make him a Lutheran? Everyone knows that Lutherans always have a “bee in their bonnet” anyway and there are not quite so many of them in London.
Bentley & Son appeals to your more libertine nature and requests that (for heaven’s sake, we are trying to sell books here) you discard the employment of ‘thou” and “thee” as it will put the reader too much in mind of the Vicar’s sermon on Sunday, and thus, ruin a good Saturday night read as being just “too much of a good thing”.
All in all we were quite delighted with your previous efforts, Typee and Omoo. They were just the thing, what with the cannibalism and native non-state of dress and all. We remain hopeful for more of the same.
Yours in commercial endeavors,
Peter J. Bentley
Bentley & Son Publishing House
New Burlington St.
London, England


  1. "For instance, could not the Captain be struggling with a depravity towards young, perhaps voluptuous, maidens?"

    Hear! Hear! I quite agree. I myself engage in a bit of struggle with young, voluptuous maidens from time to time when my constitution permits.

    Your Servant,
    Sir L. Libertine, Retired

  2. Reminds me of Fred Astaire's rejection. "Balding, Skinny, Can dance a little.

    Here is something else I found

    Jack London's stories were rejected for publication over 600 times. Here is a Jack London rejection letter, on display at The House of Happy Walls, Jack London State Park, Glen Elen, California, USA. Editorial Rooms / The Saturday Evening Post The oldest Paper in America / The Curtis Publishing Company Philadelphia, December 4, 1901
    Dear Sir: We have found the Sunlanders a story of exceptional interest, and we should wish to give it a place in our columns were it not for our policy to exclude the tragic from the magazine. We thank you cordially for giving us an opportunity to examine this manuscript, and hope that you have in hand some tales of a more cheerful character. Very truly yours
    The Editor
    Saturday Evening Post

  3. So true. The more things change the more they stay the same.

  4. something very fishy about those editors...

  5. Sam & Janet--I'm glad you enjoyed. Thanks for reading!

  6. Hey Sue--Thanks for the comment!See you on the 15th.

  7. Sir Libertine--I am at a loss for words (a rare event). I am sure your constitution will prevail.

  8. I agree with janetsquires. It's both very amazing and not so amazing how little things have changed in regards to the minds of publishers. "Young, perhaps voluptuous, maidens," I am going to remember that line always.


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