Publishers Reject Retitled 'Yearling'AP , Associated Press
Aug. 15, 1991 3:24 PM ET
ORLANDO, FLA. ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) _ It's a famous story about a boy and a fawn - but apparently not famous enough. A magazine sent an outline and the first three chapters of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings' classic novel ''The Yearling'' to 22 publishers and all but one rejected or ignored it.
Rawlings' 1938 novel of the boy in a poor rural Florida family who adopts a fawn, then is ordered to kill it, was even rejected by Charles Scribner's Sons, the modern-day version of the original publisher.
David Wilkening, a reporter for the Orlando magazine The Weekly, submitted work to publishers under the tongue-in-cheek title ''A Cracker Comes of Age.''
The immensely popular novel won a Pulitzer Prize, was even made into a 1946 movie starring Gregory Peck - but rejection in 1991 was swift in coming, Wilkening said Thursday.
''Unfortunately, I lack the necessary enthusiasm for the project to recommend its publication here at Scribner's,'' wrote Joy Smith, an editor for the New York-based company.
Also spurning the book was Jackie Onassis at Doubleday.
''Due to the large number of manuscripts received in this office, Mrs. Onassis is able to review only those proposals submitted by a literary agent,'' said a letter signed only ''The Editorial Department.''
In all, 13 publishers rejected the novel outright, and eight didn't bother to respond, said Wilkening.
The only publisher to recognize the book was the small Pineapple Press of Sarasota. Owner David Cussen said the company specializes in Florida books.
''We caught it in the first few pages because it was so obvious,'' he said.
Ms. Smith, the Scribner's editor, defended her rejection of the book in an telephone interview Thursday.
''It's not surprising - there's a huge load of unsolicited books coming in,'' she said. ''They usually go through the normal means of getting an agent. We don't spend a lot of time on any one manuscript.''
When asked if she had read the original novel, she responded: ''That's all I have to say'' and hung up.
A Doubleday spokesman who did not identify himself said the publisher rarely if ever published a novel that did not go through a literary agent.
The Weekly reporter said he was inspired - or driven - to the experiment after buying ''American Psycho'' and immediately regretting the purchase of the highly publicized, violent novel.
''I started wondering if a Hemingway could be published now,'' he said. The newspaper decided on ''The Yearling'' because it is a Florida novel, and is included in school libraries across the country.
Publishers and authors agree things have changed since 1938. Now it is rare that a newcomer's book is snapped up unless it has the backing of a literary agent or famous author.
In the case of Rawlings, Scribner's editor Maxwell Perkins read a short story of hers in a magazine. He began corresponding with her and got her an agent, and eventually ''The Yearling'' was published by Scribner's.
Rawlings biographer Elizabeth Silverthorne said she was not surprised by the rejection.
''A lot of books that are classics could not be published today,'' she said. ''The attitude in publishing has changed completely. In the old days, the publishers were more independent, and they could look into quality. Now they're concerned only with how much a book will sell.''
Iris Bass, assistant editor at Ballantine Books, said it will continue to be rare for unknown authors to get published.
''There are very, very few slots for undiscovered authors of original fiction,'' she said. ''We will accept new manuscripts, but it's very difficult in these times to launch people that have not really gotten much publicity.''