l will spare you the agony of guessing. Both groups were authors who published approximately during the same time period; however the first group were all awarded the Nobel Prize for literature and the second group not.
It even gets worse than this as there was something of a scandal when Tolstoy was snubbed for the inaugural Nobel Prize for Literature in 1901, which resulted in 42 Swedish writers and artists (among them the playwright August Strindberg) writing to the Academy complaining about their misjudgement. But in spite of this he was he was nominated no less than 10 times for the prize but was passed over each time, and thus never received it.
But it isn’t only the Academy who get it wrong – publishers are sometimes not much better as the following example will illustrate.
In 1900 Miss Beatrice Potter, a London spinster with a penchant for painting watercolours of toadstools, wrote a book called Peter Rabit which was rejected by six publishers. She then published it herself, whereupon one of the publishers who initially rejected the manuscript, decided to publish any further editions but on condition that she had to finance it herself – well, she did, and three years later the sales topped 75 000 copies. I’m sure there was a publisher who could kick himelf. However, in later years some of her coleagues didn’t do much better. For instance
M.A.S.H. was turned down by 21 publishers
Lorna Doone was turned down by 18 publishers
The Silent Spring was turned down by 5 publishers
Jonathan Livingstone Seagull was turned down by 18 publishers
Kon Tiki was turned down by 20 publishers
The Peter Principle was turned down by 16 publishers
But the biggest miscalculation of all was when Frederick Forsyth gave up his job in the News Department of the BBC and wrote a thriller which he submitted to the publishers W.H. Auden. Eight weeks later they rejected it as they were of the view that it had “no reader interest”. He then tried his luck with four other publishers, also with no luck. Eventually one of these publishers, Hutchinsons, changed their mind and agreed to publish it. By 1982 The Day of the Jackal had sold over 8 million copies. Just the American rights were sold to Vicking Press for $365 000 (the equivalent of over $2 000 000 today) - the money being shared 50/50 between Forsyth and Hutchinson. Since then it has been translated into 30 languages.
We even have an example of this type of misjudgement in our own publishing world. Kook en Geniet was originally published by Mrs S.J.A. de Villiers in 1951 in her private capacity after South African publishers had expressed disinterest in it. In 1961 an English version appeared and it is estimated that by 2005 over half a million Afrikaans copies had been sold. Until 1990 she handled everything from printing to distributing of these immensely popular recipe books and at the time of her death in 2010, sales in both languages far exceeded a million copies, making it the most successful South African cookbook ever.
But sometimes even publishers in fact get it right.
On the 1st of June 1938 there appeared the first issue of ‘Action Comics’ which introduced the character of Superman. Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel who created the character believed that “a birdman in the hand is better than two in the bush” and sold all their rights for $130, $65 each. In 2014 a pristine edition of Action Comics No. 1, which had introduced Superman, and had cost a dime (10 cents) in 1938, was sold for $3.2 million in an auction conducted on eBay.
Did you know: Edgar Allan Poe, Margaret Mitchell, and Oscar Wilde each had only one traditional novel published
David Frost’s Book of the World’s Worst Decisions, Andre Deutsch, 1982
Contributed by senior member Dan Steyn of Somerset West. ( Professor emeritus)