Could Jane Austen, one of the most celebrated and popular writers in the English language, get published today? To find out, David Lassman, director of the Jane Austen Festival in Bath, typed up some opening chapters of her books, added a cover letter with plot synopses, and sent them off to publishers. He changed the titles of the works, renamed the characters, and called himself "Alison Laydee," but otherwise he didn't change Austen's prose. Here's the rather predictable result of Lassman's experiment, as described by the Guardian
the deception was not spotted and the rejection letters thudded on to Mr Lassman's doormat, most notably one from Penguin. Its letter read: "Thank you for your recent letter and chapters from your book First Impressions. It seems like a really original and interesting read." Only one person appeared to have spotted the deception, Alex Bowler, of Jonathan Cape. His reply read: "Thank-you for sending us the first two chapters of First Impressions; my first impression on reading these were ones of disbelief and mild annoyance, along, of course, with a moment's laughter. "I suggest you reach for your copy of Pride and Prejudice, which I'd guess lives in close proximity to your typewriter, and make sure that your opening pages don't too closely mimic that book's opening."
If Lassman's prose was not original to himself, neither was the hoax itself. This type of hoax has definitely been done before. It's periodically perpetrated by disgruntled authors hoping to reveal the superficiality of the publishing industry. Lassman, for instance, is nursing a grudge because his novel Freedom's Temple, "a modern take on the story of Theseus and the Minotaur," has failed to find a publisher. But though the hoax has been done before, the lesson it teaches is one that's worth repeating -- namely that relying on talent alone is probably not enough to guarantee getting published. A little bit of luck is also necessary (and having contacts inside the publishing industry doesn't hurt either).
Some recent examples of this genre of hoax, reported here: The Wraith Picket Experiment
, in which chapters from the award-winning Australian writer Patrick White's novels were submitted to publishers and rejected; and Booker Prize Winners rejected
, in which chapters from the works of V.S. Naipaul and Stanley Middleton were rejected by 20 publishers.