Saturday, November 1, 2014

The Shakespeare Rejection Letters

Chapter 27 of the novel Peppercorn Cafe

The Shakespeare Rejection Letters

Dear Mr. Shakespeare,

Michael Morneau asked me to respond to your submission of Hamlet to Pyramid Publishing, which I have now reviewed.

Let me start by saying that you do show some skill in developing characters and plot.  Also, the amounts of carnage and blood spilled meet the quotas as set forth in the Pyramid Publishing guidelines for lurid content.  That said, I do think the story needs to be reworked before it will be ready for publication.

What struck me most was that the end should have been the beginning.  Give our readers the slaughter they crave right from page one.  Then, rather than having Horatio and Fortinbras recounting the events in retrospect, introduce a CSI detective to reconstruct the crimes.  With all the blood everywhere, it would be interesting to run the DNA to see if Hamlet, Gertrude and Claudius were actually related or not.  You could also blood test Ophelia, to see if she really drowned or if that manner of death was staged as a cover up to some nefarious poisoning.  Are you seeing all the same potential here that I do?

Since you mention in your cover letter that you have some other ideas for stories, this could be the first in a series of detective novels, which sometimes do quite well here at Pyramid Publishing.  If you decide to rework Hamlet with these thoughts in mind, please resubmit to Mr. Morneau’s office and I’ll be glad to take another look.

All best,

David Haverly
Assistant to Michael Morneau
Vice President
Pyramid Publishing

Dear Mr. Shakespeare,

Thank you very much for thinking of Pyramid Publishing as a potential publisher of your play Macbeth.  After much discussion and serious consideration, we are going to have to pass.  While you make use of some interesting imagery and quirky language, in the end I felt it was a confusing story that fell flat.

As a woman I was put off by your naming a character ‘Lady.’  Just last week I was walking along Fifth Avenue when this little scalawag plowed into me and then had the nerve to say:  “Hey lady, watch where you’re going!”  My name is not Lady, and he was the one not paying attention.  Since roughly half our readers are women, we need to be mindful of and appeasing to their sensibilities, part of which is calling them by identifiable names.  Consider Edna or Melissa or somesuch.

I also didn’t understand the part about Birnam Wood coming to Dunsinane.  Being rooted in the ground, trees can’t move.  However, should you decide to rework it into something more commercially viable, the forest setting does offer a suggestion.  Lately Pyramid Publishing has been doing very well with vampire and werewolf fiction.  We have to give our readers what they demand, which is vampirism and lycanthropy, as well as women with recognizable names.

I do wish you well.

Molly (not Lady) Dugall
Acquisitions Editor
Pyramid Publishing

Dear Mr. Shakespeare,

I’d like to thank you for submitting your cycle of plays about the Wars of the Roses to Pyramid Publishing.  Eight plays, that’s an impressive accomplishment!  I don’t know how you kept all the Richards and Henrys straight.

As you might know, the publication of history books is a tricky business, those murky waters being colored by many shades of doubtful scholarship.  Here at Pyramid Publishing our standard of excellence demands an excruciating degree of fact-checking and cross-referencing before we will publish anything we are comfortable declaring factually accurate by branding it with the Pyramid Publishing logo.  Because of this high bar whereto we strive, we can only consider history books written by authors who hold PhDs or are enrolled in doctoral programs at accredited institutions of higher learning.

Because you seem to really know your subject matter, I have enclosed a list of Pyramid Publishing approved universities whose faculty, students and alumni are qualified to write for us.  Should you decide to enroll in one of these programs we will be happy to consider your plays for publication; and if you already are, please submit proof of affiliation and we will proceed with your submission forthwith.

Warm regards,

Genevieve Blumquart
Acquisitions Editor
Pyramid Publishing

P.S.  Did you see the film The War of the Roses?  While I thought Michael Douglas’ performance left somewhat to be desired, Kathleen Turner was fabulous.

Dear Mr. Shakespeare,

Thank you for submitting your poetry collections to Pyramid Publishing.  While at times interesting, and displaying some degree of proficiency with the language, I’m afraid I’ll have to take a pass.  People stopped writing rhyming poetry years ago—think free verse, free association, and stream of consciousness.  And since the only people who buy poetry books are other poets, I don’t see how we could successfully create nor carve a niche for you in the limited and highly competitive market for poetry chapbooks.  You might try one of the smaller presses that specialize in that sort of thing.

Very best regards,

Lulu Pluma
Senior Editor
Pyramid Publishing

P.S.  The Rape of Lucrece and Venus and Adonis are rather longish, don’t you think?  I’d consider streamlining the stories by cutting a few verses here and there.  Just a thought. (smile).

Dear Mr. Shakespeare,

I’d like to thank you for the opportunity to consider your play, Othello, for publication here at Pyramid Publishing.  Ms. Lulu Pluma’s office forwarded it to mine.

Being in a biracial relationship—I am Latina and my husband is Irish—I was very empathetic to the plight of Othello and Desdemona and their romance.  If I only had a peso for every potato enchilada and whisky soaked taco joke I’ve ever heard….  But with the advances in race relations that have taken place over the last couple generations, it is my informed opinion that the troubles publication of Othello would stir up would not be worth the sales the resulting publicity would generate, so I am going to pass.

Also, I don’t think it’s necessary to refer to Othello’s blackness by calling him a Moor.  While I would prefer to call a spade a spade, we here at Pyramid Publishing are politically correct and refer to black people as African Americans.

Best wishes,

Pilar McGregor
Acquisitions Editor
Pyramid Publishing

Dear Mr. Shakespeare,

Thank you for submitting Romeo and Juliet to Pyramid Publishing Romance.  I’m afraid this doesn’t fit in with our current needs.    To be blunt, your play could not be more diametric to what we publish.  Two lovers who pine for each other only to commit suicide because they can’t be together really doesn’t make much sense.  Why didn’t they simply hook up?  I know families can cause problems when they disapprove of a loved one’s lover, but the Montagues and the Capulets carry it to an absurd extreme.

I also found the lack of physical description to be most annoying.  While they certainly would be no less than perfect physical specimens, you could throw a muscle and a breast in here and there to satisfy the reader.

We also prefer stories starring empowering women, not just some heartsick girl like Juliet who sits around her house whining to her maiden while waiting for Romeo.  Our heroines are self-possessed women with strong careers who not only know what they want from life and in their men, they take it.  For your future reference I have enclosed a copy of our guidelines, which you will find are similar to those of most publishers of romance novels.  While strong writing is a plus it’s not necessary, as we are more interested in adventurous, beautiful characters having erotic encounters in exotic settings with HAPPY endings.  And don’t feel obligated to limit yourself by being realistic—the sub-genres of paranormal, science fiction and time travel romances sell just as well, and often even better.

Also, if you’re going to get serious about writing romance, I’d suggest adopting a nom de plum (that’s French for ‘pen name’).  At the risk of offending you, Shakespeare sounds rather…tribal.  We actually have a staffer here, Amanda Van Skyhawk, who creates and assigns names for our authors whose God given names are too dull for a book cover.  Should you ever reach that point in a relationship with us, she would give your moniker a makeover.

In closing I will say that from my years of experience as an editor, I’ve found that men have a great deal of difficulty writing successful romance, but should you persist in your dream, I wish you well.


Pamela Der Hartenbrajker
Pyramid Publishing Romance

Dear Mr. Shakespeare,

Thank you so very, very much for submitting your wonderful play, The Two Gentlemen of Verona, to Pyramid Publishing.  I greatly enjoyed your charming drama, which only augments my regret that my employer, Pyramid Publishing, does not own the smallest imprint that will even dabble in gay and lesbian literature, wherefore I must pass on your project.  The lexicon lacks sufficient superlatives to describe my admiration for your writing about Two Gentle Men—we need more courageous artists like yourself openly celebrating and embracing our lifestyle—and it is my sincerest hope that you find a brave publisher willing to introduce your work to the wider audience it so richly deserves.

I especially enjoyed the delightful device of having Julia disguise herself in the dress of a boy.  Have you ever considered writing something about men dressing as women? Something that could be set to music and staged on Broadway?  How about a musical with a huge cast of men singing not to and about women, but as women?  Flamboyant costumes, dancing and song, men in makeup…my heart flutters just fantasizing.

I am a member of an informal group of drag queens called the Azaleas.  We perform pretty regularly in the karaoke bars in the West Village, and if your visage is as appealing to the eye as your words are to the mind, I suspect I would very much enjoy being in your company.  We can be found kicking it up around Christopher Street every weekend, and should you wish to come out and meet us some time, consider this a standing invitation.  We usually get together for drinks at Boots and Saddle on Friday nights, and Stonewall on Saturdays.

Thank you again, and in the hope of meeting you in person some day sooner than later, I remain affectionately yours,

Benjamin Donald “Ben Don” Yurnese
Senior Editor
Pyramid Publishing

Dear Mr. Shakespeare,

I write in response to your submission of your play, Julius Caesar, to Pyramid Publishing.  I’m afraid we’re not going to offer to publish it, which, to be perfectly frank, was a decision easily reached.  Countless thousands upon thousands of books have been written about the Roman Empire and the Caesars over the centuries.  What could you possibly have discovered that isn’t already known, and adds something worthwhile to the canon of historical writings?  To this end I found your work to be a pointless exercise in futility.

A small bit of advice, should you ever find a publisher willing to collaborate with you in bringing out your book.  Be sure to thoroughly check and credit your sources.  While I can’t cite them specifically offhand, I did recognize several of your phrases—‘Et tu, Brute,’ ‘Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend my your ears,’ and ‘Beware the ides of March,’ among others.  Plagiarism is a legal morass for the publisher, as well as an ethical burden for any author with the least shred of conscience.


Brian Hammond
Executive Editor
Pyramid Publishing

Dear Mr. Shakespeare,

Thank you very much for submitting your play, The Taming of the Shrew, to Pyramid Publishing, which I had the good fortune to have land on my desk.  Whether by insulting her, or starving her, or denying her clothing, or tying her up and forcing her to ride upon a decrepit old horse, the ways in which Petruchio berates and humiliates Kate into submission make for an excellent entertainment.

Therefore, it is with sincere disappointment that I must inform you that Pyramid Publishing will not be offering to publish your play.  As it went with several of my colleagues who read it, I’m afraid the average reader would misunderstand the comedy of the misogyny as a paradigm of domestic abuse instead of the parody that it really is, and that it would stir up controversy and resistance and denouncements for being politically incorrect, however unnecessarily.

Notwithstanding all that, if you’re ever available for drinks, I’m a very naughty, undisciplined girl.  You can reach me during normal business hours at the Pyramid Publishing general number; all the receptionists know my extension.

With great regard,

Catherine Abruzola
Assistant Executive Vice President
Pyramid Publishing

Dear Mr. Shakespeare,

Merci for sending along King Lear to Pyramid Publishing, which I’ve now reviewed.  Very interesting stuff, and I empathize on several levels.  Dementia is a sensitive topic, and having worked here at Pyramid Publishing since 1939, I’ve seen more than a bit of it pass through these halls.  As the mind reaches into the latter years, it flickers as it dims, like a dying fire.  With Lear you capture the madness of advanced years with exceptional lucidity.  Perhaps you could utilize this piece as a public service announcement on the subject.

I was also touched by the stories of the king’s three daughters.  At least Lear got one flowery apple of a child in Cordelia—all three of mine are rotten to the core, like Goneril and Regan.  Ever, to this very moment, it amazes me continually that my seed and Gladys’ womb produced three such wretched monsters as Melvinia, Delores and Velma.  Our only consolation is that they have long been out of the nest and flown—but only after gorging their bellies full of worms, of course.  But where the worm dwells, the worm turns, and so are they like upright graves walking.  As the gratitude of progeny is a blessing, so is the lack thereof a ravenous disease with an insatiable appetite for the spirit.  O my soul.  But enough of my troubles….

As always, it was fantastic to hear from you.  Next time don’t be so long between letters, and don’t be afraid to pick up the phone—they dial from both ends.  You really must get stateside for a New York visit someday soon.  I know, I know, planes cross the pond in both directions every day.  Do give my warmest regards to your latest wife.


Pyramid Publishing

Dear Mr. Shakespeare,

It is my great pleasure to inform you that Pyramid Publishing has accepted your play Titus Andronicus for publication!  All the tongue chopping and limb lopping made for some of the most awesome scenes of violence I have ever read.  My colleagues here at Pyramid Publishing Horror unanimously agree, and we are eager to add your talent to our team.

A few minor tweaks are needed before Titus will be publishable, which we’re confident you’ll be able to apply in short order.  Because most of our readers think Rome is a brand of spaghetti sauce, we want to advance him through history and into a contemporary setting.  We were thinking of Baltimore.  We also want him to be the psychotic product of a twisted childhood, and a serial killer named The Rampager, who is sometimes nicknamed The Baltimore Butcher.  We plan to publish him in a series of graphic novels—that’s graphic as in comic books, not graphic as in violent, though they will be, to be certain.  Juice him up on steroids, arm him to the teeth and cut him loose to run wild.

We especially loved the storyline where Titus baked Tamora’s murdered sons into a pie and fed them to her.  This gave us a brilliant marketing idea—a series of Rampager Cookbooks entitled:  Revenge Is A Dish Best Served…Curried.  Or, With Chicken.  Or, Ala Mode.  Or, Grilled.  You get the idea.  This will serve the twofold purpose of introducing your character while also selling food books to our gothic/vampire/zombie/monster/mindless murder markets.

If you want to come to New York, we’d be delighted to meet you in person.  And if you just want to get to work, the moment we get some acceptable stories and/or recipes from you, we have a set of contracts and checks with your name all over them.  Either way, welcome aboard!

Best regards,

Pierre Boucher
Senior Editor
Pyramid Publishing Horror

Dear Mr. Shakespeare,

I’ve been hearing your name chattered about the office for months now, as my various colleagues discuss the many plays you’ve been submitting to Pyramid.  I’ve always wondered if you had something up my alley up your sleeve, and I was instantly piqued with intrigue when I saw your name on an envelope addressed to me.

Thank you very much for submitting your play The Tempest to the Pyramid Fantasy line for publication consideration.  In the realm of fantasy your conceit is plausible, and the character Prospero a serviceable wizard.  I also enjoyed the troll Caliban, and his drunken post modern self loathing channeled into hating his master.  The sprite Ariel was a charming idea for a character, though I thought a bit thinly executed.  I couldn’t figure it out—is Ariel male or female?  Or is the ambiguity intentional?  The character’s name itself suggests androgyny.  Interesting.

Based upon my reading—which is subjective, to be certain—there are two major problems with The Tempest.  The first is Miranda as princess.  I realize that she falls in love with the son of a king when Prince Ferdinand charms her with his boyish naiveté, but she is only the daughter of a duke.  Our readers are generally forgiving when authors take license, but that is too great a leap up social strata to even consider asking them to accept.  We are partial to overtly throne oriented material.

The second and perhaps greater problem is the inconceivable and profound lack of a dragon.  Did you not read our guidelines?  Are you unfamiliar with the contemporary authors you aspire to join?  Do you have your head in the sixteenth century?  Without a crime there can be no mystery novel, and no romance without a love affair; even as without water there is no life, so without a dragon can there be no real fantasy.  It’s immutable.  On a related note, the way your play opened in the midst of a storm was dramatically clever, and I thought you could have prolonged the drama of that dark scene by casting the long shadows of war’s fearful pall upon the land.  We must slake our readers’ eternal thirst for violence, and you could tie that back to the dragon when the enraged beast is employed as a weapon of mass destruction by one of the warring kingdoms, incinerating the other with an angry roar of its fiery breath.

Those are my thoughts, and I appreciate your inspiring me to conjure and express them with your submission of The Tempest.

Fantastically yours,

Evan Doughty
Pyramid Fantasy

No comments:

Post a Comment