Is Jane Austen worth a book deal?

A reader emails me with this fascinating story:

A string of publishers failed to spot blatant plagiarism of one of English literature's most famous authors, in a cheeky test to see if she would have secured a book deal today [...]

David Lassman, head of the Jane Austen Festival in Bath, sent manuscripts to 18 editors seeking a publishing contract, using only slightly disguised versions of chapters from the iconic novelist's most famous works.

But only one publisher spotted the fakes, which included perhaps the most famous line in all English literature, the opening sentence of her 1813 work "Pride and Prejudice".

My reader's accompanying comments are spot on:

Publishing houses are notoriously snooty/snobbish but don’t even know the work of one of the most famous English writers of all time. The attempted cover-ups are indicative of the superior attitude held and most publishing houses are notoriously closed shops for non-celebrities whilst publishing large amounts of rubbish books from people who have become famous in other fields but are mediocre writers.

It's a sad, sad situation, but I can't really blame the publishers. Whether a book turns out to be a success is notoriously difficult to predict; going with a famous name removes a lot of the risk to a publisher's bottom line. And as for not being aware of 'that truth universally acknowledged', well, they would probably rather spend their fortune on something more modern.

Would Jane Austen fare better as a blogger?

by datacharmer | Thursday, July 19, 2007
  | | Is Jane Austen worth a book deal? @bluematterblogtwitter


  1. Anonymous Says:

    Nowadays Jane Austen would have to have a long successful run on the stand-up comic circuit followed by getting a spot hosting a chat show before having a chance of being published.

    I would also hope that moral hazard between the publishing houses (employers) and editors vetting new manuscripts (employees) would help good literature get published even if it doesn't pay off well to start with. Even if the publishing houses want to profit maximise, you'd hope that idealistic young editors fresh off English Lit degrees and working hard for low wages might have sufficient incentive to find good literature rather than finding what would sell to the masses.