Second chance saloon.

In 1951, the acclaimed novel From Here to Eternity was published. Many readers were unaware that James Jones fought to keep in sexual content and profanity, but he was forced to give in to the demands of his publishers.

It was only in 2011 that the deleted content was restored by e-publisher Open Road, who also released his book To the End of the War for the first time. Unfortunately, it came too late for Jones as he died in 1977.

In the same month in 2011, Kate Bush was allowed to use text from Ulysses in an album, having originally been refused permission in 1989. A little-known Tennessee Williams play from 1983 was also given its premiere.

Perhaps it was just a golden year for second chances. But attitudes and standards are constantly reshaping, editors come and go, and even individuals change their minds. What was unacceptable or clichéd several decades ago might be in fashion right now.

Major delays are extremely common in the screenwriting industry, where ideas can knock around for several years waiting for the right producer and director to pick up the project, not to mention the protracted process of re-drafting the script – often dozens of times – plus the actual filming.

Phone Booth (film)
Phone Booth (film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the 1960s, Larry Cohen first had an idea for a film set entirely inside a phone booth and he pitched it to Alfred Hitchcock. At the time, neither of them could think of a good reason to keep the character in the same place for an entire movie. When Cohen revisited the idea in the 1990s, he had the idea of using a sniper; the mobile phone had also been invented by then, and this is a major plot point. Within a month, he’d written the script for Phone Booth.

I’m aware that last week I discussed when to let go of work. But if you’ve had a manuscript languishing in a drawer or an unopened computer file from years ago, bring it out. Can you look over it with more experienced eyes? Have those who rejected it now moved on? Is the subject matter acceptable today, or perhaps even more pertinent than when it was written?

If you’ve answered yes to these, it might be worth another shot.

A minor word of warning, however. If Victor Nabokov had written Lolita today, it’s unlikely any publisher would have taken it on. And when an uncensored version of The Picture of Dorian Gray was published in that aforementioned golden year, many critics felt it inferior to the original.

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Game over. Try again?

Over the last three weeks, I’ve received two similar e-mails from two completely different publishers. They were both rejections, but each invited me to submit another piece for their respective next issues.

The first of these was a bulk message, but sent only to selected writers. This group invite experimental and unclassifiable work, so while I’m particularly pleased they liked what they saw, I’m unsure if I’ll have anything else quite so nonconformist. The other place sent a personal thanks, and as it’s more mainstream, it shouldn’t be too difficult to resubmit.

I’m reminded of when I submitted one of my novels to a publisher. They liked the first three chapters enough to ask for the rest of it. They ultimately turned me down as they felt the plot didn’t place the character in enough peril. But they did it in such a constructive manner that I felt I could raise my game and resubmit it, even when I thought it couldn’t be improved upon.

Sometimes it’s just a matter of waiting before a second chance comes along, although James Jones didn’t live to see his reprieve. In 1951, he fought to keep the swearing and gay content in his novel From Here to Eternity, but his publishers wouldn’t allow it. By 2011, times and attitudes had changed, and the uncensored book was finally made available.