Thank you for considering our publishing house for your manuscript of Les Miserables. (That is the working title, correct? You’re going to come up with something easier to pronounce in the final draft, I assume.)
Unfortunately, we find several problems with the manuscript in its present form.
One of the major objections expressed by our editors was the sympathetic depiction of a convicted thief and nascent revolutionary as the main character. I know it is currently all the rage to “go against type” by creating one of these so-called “antiheroes” to appeal to a younger readership, but we pride ourselves as a publishing house that respects traditional values.
There are several rather implausible episodes in the narrative that will have to go if the book is to find any sort of beach vacation readership.
In short, Victor, I am talking about the chase that you describe through the sewers of Paris. The sewers? Really? And while carrying a young man with an open wound and pursued by a police officer? Two words come to mind: “impossible” and “yuck.”
You should also think seriously about some name changes for your characters. Javert works nicely. It sounds sharp and threatening. But you are never going to get away with a male hero named “Jean.” You might as well have called him Leslie. The consensus around the office is that Nick or Josh would be better fits. Also, precisely what kind of name is Eponine? It sounds like a breed of horse. How about Jennifer?
Please kick these ideas around, have a revised draft to us in two weeks and we’ll give it a second look. And remember: no book ever went unread because it was too short. Lose some of the long descriptions. Everybody knows what Paris looks like.
P.S.: In your cover letter you also talk about working this thing up for the stage. Forget it. You could set this thing to music and nobody would come.
Dear Miss Bronte:
We received your manuscript and are, to put it candidly, troubled. You seem to suggest a hero without a last name who simply turns up in the Yorkshire moors and begins a romantic pursuit of a woman who is, if I am following the story, his adoptive sister.
It is hard to tell if this is some kind of ghost story, romance novel or one of those ghastly dysfunctional family portraits tossed off by Mary Karr. Whatever it is, the thing won’t work in its present form.
Books about cats are very popular just now. Why not start there and build as you get the hang of writing a narrative?
Dear Mr Dickens:
Thank you for offering your new story for our December issue. Unfortunately, we find it altogether unsuitable for a holiday audience. Christmas is supposed to be a happy time of year, when our readers unburden themselves of cares and worries. Anyone would know that.
But, instead of a heartwarming tale you offer up a black-hearted old miser whose greed and alienation guarantee he’ll die alone, and then you pile a trio of ghosts into the plot. That is not Christmas, it’s Halloween.
We simply will not subject our readership to a Christmas story that celebrates this sort of occult nonsense.
Stylistically, I think you show the beginnings of talent and should pick another subject and try again. How about something with a plucky orphan lad?
Dear Mr. Joyce:
I will be blunt. When your manuscript arrived at our office the discussion alternated between whether to call a psychiatrist or the police. We had great hopes, thinking this book was about the Ulysses who sailed in a boat. People love adventures.
The narrative is bizarre, the style rococo, and the punctuation eclectic on levels that confounded even our senior editors.
Is English your first language?
Dear Miss Alcott:
Too many sisters. Kill one off and forward us the revised version.
This is just the speech outline, right? I only counted 270words. Please tell me these are the main points and you’re going to build on them. If you’re having some problem organizing your thoughts, I could have Eric or Dennis from our communications team swing over to help you.
I get your general thrust, but don’t be grandiose. Just start it with, “Eighty-seven years ago, our fathers … .” Don’t make the audience struggle. It’s a cemetery dedication. Nobody’s going to remember what you say on an occasion like this.
Also, you don’t mention a single person by name. Why not have some family members on the stage as honored guests. You could say something like, “I’m reminded of the courage of private Joe Adams from Ohio, who, after he ran out of ammunition, swung the butt of his rifle at the oncoming confederates, holding them off long enough for his comrades to retrench.” Then you note that his widow or parents or whomever are there and ask them to stand up.
Work the crowd on this one. Let them know you care.
I’m pretty sure the advance team can round up one or two families. Just make sure their taxes are up-to-date and they don’t have any problems with southern sympathizers in the family. That business with Mrs. Lincoln was too close to bear a repeat.
Also, I notice that Edward Everett is on the program as the featured speaker and you are expected to follow him. Really, Abe, you need better staff work here. Everett is considered the greatest orator since Cicero. He’s going to swallow all the applause lines. It’s his speech everyone’s going to remember. Couldn’t you just send a proclamation of some kind and have the vice-president read it?
Just let me know. Whatever.
P.S. — How many times do I have to tell you it’s “cannot” not “can not.”