I often think of Herman Melville’s editor presenting this doorstopper novel about whaling to his colleagues: “But it’s also an allegory and an adventure and with deep characterization. Totally unique.” MOBY DICK was grudgingly accepted.
At the final level in a closed door meeting in a publishing house, a project may be accepted—many are not—and a few might be held for more information or stronger reading reports.
Stephen King’s first showing was a script called GETTING IT ON, the story of a maverick student who held his class at gunpoint. More character study than plot, the action was mostly interior, with the nerd proving himself or the football captain wimping out. I’d asked Mr. King to do a rewrite on it, prior to circulating the script for those crucial early critiques. He delivered beautifully, but the book was deemed too quiet, too insular, too unrealistic (!), and I had to tell this author his work was declined.
By this time, we’d developed a professional friendship. Since he had no phone, we exchanged great letters (which were looted from the Doubleday files). When he sent CARRIE, I once again had to ask him to do a rewrite on spec, and once again he came through. Carrie no longer had horns or zapped an airplane. But seeking approval on this internal go-round, I skipped my editor colleagues and asked for reviews from the foreign rights department, our advertising and promotion chief, and the people in charge of potential paperback sales.
These worked. CARRIE got the green light