William Faulkner once received a rejection letter that included this critique: “My chief objection is that you don’t seem to have any story to tell and I contend that a novel should tell a story and tell it well.”
Ouch, right? Twenty-nine-year-old Faulkner might have thought as much when he opened that letter from editor Horace Liveright of publishing house Boni & Liveright. Adding insult to, well, more insult, Liveright had published Faulkner’s two previous novels. But this time, he told the young writer, abandon ship.
Liveright wasn’t alone in his negative review. Faulkner showed his work to friends, who agreed with the publisher: drop the 596-paged Flags in the Dust.
But Faulkner refused. He knew he was on to something by writing about his native Mississippi. After working through edits on his own (a dismal task, as every writer knows), he eventually shipped the beleaguered and bandaged manuscript to his New York agent. “Will you please try to sell this for me?” he wrote. “I can’t afford all the postage it’s costing me.”
Temporarily relieved of his burden of a book, Faulkner turned to a new project: The Sound and the Fury. Perhaps you’ve heard of it.
Both manuscripts, of course, eventually published (Flags in the Dust originally debuted under the new name of Sartoris). Faulkner, meanwhile, went on to have many stories to tell and tell well — though never again with Boni & Liveright.
Novel, one-act play, short story, poem, and student short story — all are accepted in the William Faulkner Literary Competition. Win up to $2,000 and attend a luncheon in Faulkner’s home town of New Albany, Mississippi. All but the student short story category require an entry fee ($50 for novel submissions, $20 for playwriting, short story, and poem). Happy writing!