Maxwell Perkins Declines

A REJECTION LETTER FROM 1944, written by Maxwell Perkins. I have not been able to ascertain if he actually sent it, and if so, to whom. But no writer will read this without a wince and a smile. (This came by way of An Eudæmonist, the fine, if infrequently updated, blog of M.F. Corwin.)

Your novel has been read by several of us, and we are very sorry that we have had to conclude that we cannot make an offer of publication. It is quite readable and has vitality, but, in general, it is our impression that you have not yet sufficiently mastered the technique which is necessary to present its thesis impressively and logically. Apart from this general consideration, your conception of publishing houses and their function in society is quite contrary to reality – at least, you have not established its validity. It is clear that publishing houses, even as churches and hospitals, etc., can function only on a stable financial basis. The ideal of publishing would be a forum where all sections of humanity could have their say, whether their object was to instruct, entertain, horrify, etc. Nevertheless, there are certain rules of quality and relevance, which can only be determined by some sort of selection and this the publisher, representing humanity at large, attempts – with many mistakes – to make. Or, to put it differently, artists, saints, and the other more sentient representatives of the human race are, as it were, on the frontiers of time – pioneers and guides to the future. And the publisher, in the capacity mentioned, must make some sort of estimate of the importance and validity of their reports, and there is nothing he can base this on but the abilities to judge that God has given him.

I realize that our correspondence is futile and had better be ended, but I should like to say, if you'll let me, that I knew from your face that you were an utterly sincere and good person.

We are returning the manuscript to you under separate cover.