It was first brought to my attention last Friday, and seems to have stayed in the public eye for most of this week. Then I saw it was on a couple of news websites and in several newspapers, and I understand it started on Twitter, which I avoid like the plague; I don’t know if this qualifies as going viral, but I think a lot of people saw it.
Yes, folks, I appear to be one of the publishers (ex-publisher in my case) who rejected J K Rowling. In case you take as little notice as I do of what circulates around the World Wide Web, the good lady posted a couple of rejection letters she received when she was trying to sell her first Robert Galbraith book without letting on who she really was. One of them, the rather patronizing one which suggested she join a writers’ group or take a creative writing course, wasn’t from me. The other one was.
A point or two in my defence.
One, all my letter said was that my little company now belonged to a larger company, and we were unable to accept new submissions. The absolute truth, my friends. Only a few weeks earlier I had signed the paperwork and placed my tiny empire in better funded hands; my only connection with them since the deal was done has been to edit some books for them.
Two, it’s unlikely I actually read the extract she sent me. By that point I had begun to distance myself; it would have been so, so disheartening to find the work of genius that would have put our name up there on the publishing map, but too late to benefit from it. Well, yeah, OK, that’s what did almost happen, I suppose.
Three, the finished novel, which currently resides on my bookshelf having been acquired and read when the rest of the world acquired and read it some three years later because it was by J K Rowling, was about a third longer than our maximum length. And that maximum length was clearly flagged up in the guidelines on our website. So, strictly speaking, the lady hadn’t done her homework. (Though to be fair, she had done enough homework to suss out that we didn’t require new submissions to come via an agent; most publishers, especially large ones, do require this this days, and did back in 2010. Which is maybe why she chose us.) So it’s not beyond possible I would have turned it down on purely practical grounds.
But all the above notwithstanding, I haven’t been able to stop myself daydreaming and ‘what iffing’ over the past few days. What if she had submitted it six months earlier, before I decided to sell? What if I had looked at it, loved it, and suggested she cut it back to fit our length remit – and she had agreed? What if – and this is the big one – she had somehow worked out a way to agree to our marketing policy, which was completely author-centric and relied on bookshop visits, local media coverage and fronting publicity events like our murder mystery evenings?
And then, what if after a few months her real identity had leaked, pretty much as it did anyway? It would either have made our fortune, or bankrupted us, depending on how understanding the bank, the printers etc were about swift payment. Larger publishers can weather that kind of storm, but many a small company has become the victim of its own success.
Nearly six years on, I can look back with only a little nostalgia, and regret for what might just possibly have been. I’m very glad indeed Ms Rowling didn’t decide to go public with those letters a few months after I sold up. That might have hurt.
Meanwhile, do I qualify as the Decca of the book world? (The record company that turned down the Beatles, for those with shorter memories than mine.) Or do Constable Robinson, authors of the other letter she posted, enjoy that honour? After all, I think I can say I didn’t really reject J K Rowling. In one way at least, I didn’t get the chance.