Hype Over The Jane Austen Hoax - Are Interns That Stupid?

As many of us already know, David Lassman, director of the annual Jane Austen Festival in Bath, pulled a cute little prank on American publishers by typing up opening chapters of some Jane Austen books (Pride and Prejudice, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion), adding a cover letter with plot synopses, and mailing them to a total of 18 publishers and literary agents. Course, Lassman changed the titles and the character names before sending them out.

The sad tale of what happened next was well covered by The Guardian--the most embarrassing rejction coming in a letter from Penguin Publishing (publishing Austen's books in "Penguin Classics"), saying "Thank you for your recent letter and chapters from your book First Impressions. It seems like a really original and interesting read." Later, a Penguin spokesman said, “We don’t take anything that is not agency-led so I doubt the person would even have read it.” No kidding! And how can you blame them when you consider that on any given day in the U.S. thousands of manuscripts (mostly bad ones) are circulating in the mail? More rejections piled up from big names Random House, Hodder and Stroughton, Simon and Schuster and HarperCollins.

So what does this all prove? That the poorly paid and overworked support staff at agencies and publishers, the interns at the gate, are either really NOT reading the manuscripts that come their way or they are "reading" them and not getting it, or some of column A and B. The Austen hoax isn't the first to reveal this. As far back in the 80's, Doris Lessing executed an identical hoax by sending around her latest novel under a pseudo. 13 publishers rejected it with comments equally as boilerplate. An editor at Viking finally recognized the style and contacted Lessing to put an end to it.

Do we shoot the interns or just spike their Starbucks with cyanide?

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