Publisher Trips On Own Ego, Saved By Le Guinn

Cover of "The Left Hand of Darkness"

Ursula Le Guin has long been an icon in the science fiction/fantasy genre. Her name and her work are immediately recognizable and universally praised. Well, almost universally.

Her novel, The Left Hand of Darkness, was much more than a bestseller. In 1970, it won the prestigious Hugo Award. A year earlier, in 1969, it was selected for the Nebula Award for Best Novel. It quickly became a classic and has remained so.

Le Guin went on to create a stunning collection of captivating literature, strong on themes that promoted meaningful, memorable female characters. She was a prolific writer, also creating poetry and essays that offered her unique style and voice. Le Guin gave birth to futuristic and fantasy worlds that are unparalleled in the genre.

However, like all writers, she suffered rejection early in her career. In Le Guin’s case, the publisher didn’t just miss the target but shot itself right in the creditability piehole and pocketbook.

Here is a classic example of a publisher stumbling over ego. True to the style of her life, Le Guin never allowed the name of the editor or publishing house to be identified when this rejection letter was finally released. It was written to her literary agent. She was certainly more generous and prescient than the author of this letter.

So, the next time you receive a rejection letter, just consider the source and motive. Publishers have a very long history of wrong-headed decisions.

Ursula K. Le Guin

Dear Miss Kidd, 

Ursula K. Le Guin writes extremely well, but I’m sorry to have to say that on the basis of that one highly distinguishing quality alone I cannot make you an offer for the novel. The book is so endlessly complicated by details of reference and information, the interim legends become so much of a nuisance despite their relevance, that the very action of the story seems to be to become hopelessly bogged down and the book, eventually, unreadable. The whole is so dry and airless, so lacking in pace, that whatever drama and excitement the novel might have had is entirely dissipated by what does seem, a great deal of the time, to be extraneous material. My thanks nonetheless for having thought of us. The manuscript of The Left Hand of Darkness returned herewith. Yours sincerely,

The Editor
21 June, 1968


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