Austen Wouldn’t Get Published Today

I read this cute article on page 3 of The Guardian today about a disgruntled unpublished author who submitted three slightly altered Jane Austen novels to various publishers and agents to see if they would get published today. As it turns out, they wouldn’t, and only two publishers seem to have noticed that they were Jane Austens.

Then he played his trump card, sending off Pride and Prejudice, calling it First Impressions, again an early title Austen had used for it. The names of the main characters and places were changed, but with no great guile.

Mr Bennet became Mr Barnett while the estate Netherfield becomes Weatherfield, the fictional setting for the TV soap Coronation Street.

And he did not change the opening line, one of the most famous in world literature: “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.”

Still 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.”

Penguin later claimed that their internal notes indicate that they noticed the “possible plagiarism.” Perhaps all the publishers merely sent form rejections, not considering it worth their time to call Lassman on his little joke. I don’t suppose this experiment proves much, but it certainly has gotten one unpublished author more free publicity than he could hope for!

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6 comments on “Austen Wouldn’t Get Published Today

  1. wil says:

    This sort of thing has been done before. Last year, the London Times submitted two Booker-winning novels from the 70's to various publishers and didn't get much interest. Like you said, I don't know that it proves much.

  2. turtlebella says:

    That's pretty funny. Like Penguin thought it might be plagiarism but they weren't going to say anything. RIGHT.
    Honestly, sometimes I read (published) books and wonder why they got anywhere near being published and why unpublished books I've read that are great reads can't get published to save the author's life. Ah well, publishing- it's about more than whether a book is good or not. What that more is, or whether it should be a factor, I don't know!
    Reminds me a bit of the old story where the Gettysburg Address is put through spell/grammar check and comes out a mangled mess….

  3. Sylvia says:

    Wil: There really is nothing new under the sun, eh?

  4. If David Lassman did it for publicity I suspect it backfired. Publishers will remember his name and his lack of professionalism. Find a new nome-de-plume David!

  5. Stefanie says:

    This is sad on so many levels. An internal Penguin note says it “might” be plagiarism? Have none of their editors read enough Austen to know what they were reading? Oy. Thank goodness for independent presses.

  6. […] the tradition of David Lassman, Aussie Tim Stearne decided to send the first tablet of the Epic of Gilgamesh to some publishers […]

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