It's here again... the Cafe Aphra November Challenge!

Greetings all! 

So this year we thought we'd do something a little different for our Cafe Aphra November Challenge... a touch of tongue-in-cheek, a pinch of parody, something to make us smile in these dark and shortening Autumn days.

Ever wondered whether your favourite classic novel would get published nowadays? 

Well now's your chance to write that imaginary rejection letter from the publisher sent to the author of a famous classic, explaining exactly why their manuscript is unsellable, unpublishable or unreadable. 

Or, if you'd rather, you can try and 'pitch' your classic manuscript to a sceptical modern-day publisher and see what he or she has to say in response.

It doesn't have to be long, and you can either make it obvious what the classic in question is, or you can keep us guessing.

Perhaps this all sounds a little confusing... A parody of a rejection of a pitch?! 
What on earth does that look like??

Well if you want an example of what I mean, here is one from long-time Cafe Aphra contributor, Frances Hay:

In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit... 
A what? Is the hobbit in danger? Has the antagonist shown up in the first pages? What do you mean, a Necromancer? How old? What is his motive? Why are those dwarves knocking one by one? Can't we have a proper chase scene? And in terms of reading more material.... Really, do we need a whole chapter where they tell each other riddles? Where's the pinch point?

You can either post yours as a comment below or you are very welcome to email it to us if you run into technical difficulties with that, and we will post it up for you.

Of course, if you'd like to set yourself a 'proper' writing target for the month of November and share it with us, we'd also be delighted to cheerlead you to success with that, so again just email us or post a comment below with the details of your own personal challenge and we will do our best to help you keep motivated and on track. :)

Happy writing and we look forward to hearing from you!


  1. I have been working on a collection of connected short stories. The main characters remain the same in the stories, and putting all the pieces together, the end result could be the life story of the main character. By the end of November, I would like to have finished the rewriting of one of the story, slightly longer than the other ones, which is called The Villa, about 10 000 words.
    I have also been working on rewriting another story, "I am not moving my car tonight"about 3 000 words, which I cannot seem to get right. I would like to finish this one too by the end of November.

    My aim : getting up at 6 in the morning ( except on Sundays !) and writing for an hour, before going to work.
    Help me get there!
    Thank you

    1. Wow, this sounds like a fantastic goal for your writing month! I love short stories that are connected, I think that can work so well and I am already intrigued and amused by the title of your shorter piece. Early morning starts are tough especially in the dark, so very good luck with that and let us know how you go!

  2. Dear Mr Bell,
    Thank you for your manuscript. Before I discuss it may I offer a word of advice. It is not a good idea to enclose with a badly written script a Tupperware box full of sausage rolls as some sort of sweetener. We ate them and they were delicious but did not influence our decisions.
    I am afraid the decision is sadly a negative one. I don’t know if you are open to criticism so will be gentle with you.
    The idea of an immature ex pupil of an improbable orphanage being employed as a governess/nanny just doesn’t convince. Mad women in attics has been done before as has a jilting at the altar. We liked the fire and its consequences but the idea of the (returning) governess falling madly in love with a disfigured lying adulterer just does not ring true.
    If you would like more caustic comments please feel free to send cookies or mince pies as it is December.
    GrAnnie Annie

  3. Dear Mr Tolstoy,
    We thank you for letting us have sight of your manuscript. We are rather surprised that you consider it to be a novel. While the stories of certain members of various aristocratic families and their love affairs may be of mild interest to those of weak mind and females, the vast majority of your voluminous prose seems to be an attempt to write a history of the Franco-Russian wars that does not reflect positively on our great Russian nation and has neither accuracy nor balance. Your portrayal of our heroic army as ineffective and riven with indecision we consider to be most unpatriotic, particularly since you reserve your praise only for the disgraced General, Kutozov, and the foreign invader Bonaparte.
    We trust you will reconsider whether you wish to publish this work. If you do, you might wish to rewrite it as a light novel for younger women focused on family life. In that event we will happily refer you to one of our editors for suggestions as to how to rework the plot lines to make them stronger, more plausible and of greater appeal to that audience.
    Yours etc.,

    1. Wonderful. I am reading it again at the moment and this rejection letter made me laugh aloud in my office.

  4. Dear Mr Lermontov,

    Thank you for your manuscript TAMARA, which I read with great interest. However, while I enjoyed your descriptions of the Caucasus mountain scenery, I do feel that your romanticised depiction of the peoples resident therein and the negative portrayal of eunuchs are out of keeping with current sensibilities.

    I appreciate your attempt to subvert the traditional fairytale stereotype of the princess in a tower into one of femme fatale, but, while I fully support the liberation of women and would of course hesitate to call your protagonist a murderous slut, I do feel that she takes her empowerment to an extreme which may be distasteful to readers. Despite the outrage induced by recent Hollywood exposés, the seduction and brutal murder of male strangers by women of clichéd feminine wiles and beauty would appear to be swinging the literary pendulum too far in the direction of vengeance. Our company has a policy of not publishing any work which may require a trigger warning.

    Regretfully, therefore, we cannot accept your poem for publication.

    Yours sincerely,

    Ed Itor
    Bland Books Ltd.

  5. Dear Mr Hardy
    Whilst I commend the minutely observed environmental detail that characterises your recently submitted manuscript, I must point out that we are not a publisher of I Spy Books of English Heathland.

    I would further mention my regret that the central characters are, in turn, bland, shifty, irritating, boring and bright red. Their sexual shenanigans have potential to be mildly interesting if only they could muster one attractive feature or credible motive between them.

    You might also like to introduce modern forms of transport to the heath, thus facilitating a reduction in journey time sufficient to suit your story to our new novella-in-a-flash series.

    Kind regards

    N. O. Chance

    1. Hilarious! Love it.

    2. I used to love Thomas Hardy but now I don't have the patience!

    3. I can understand that.

  6. Dear Mr Eliot,

    Many thanks for your submission and the small fee for my critique.

    I am sorry to say that I will not be offering you representation. I would however, like to offer you some advice.

    Firstly, no publisher will ever consider a novel of over 300,000 words. In actual fact anything over 120,000 words is unlikely to be of interest. I suggest therefore, that you consider splitting this novel into three parts. In any event you should most certainly consider a radical edit.

    Though your writing demonstrates an excellent grasp of the English language, you have a tendency to include extraneous detail. For example the dress, character traits and social circumstances of Miss Brooke could be summed up in in a few paragraphs, rather than six pages. In writing it is always preferable to ‘show not tell’. Your first six pages therefore, could be entirely disposed of.

    Though your references to obscure and complicated texts throughout the novel are interesting, they will not appeal to the general public and they interrupt the narrative flow. Delete them.

    Regarding the overall structure of your novel, you should consider what the inciting incident is propelling Miss Brooke towards marriage? Where is the conflict? Readers want to feel a sense of drama and be gripped within the first three pages of your novel.

    Overall your novel is a confusion of feminist lectures, intertwining romances and comments on political and scientific developments. I strongly suggest you focus on character arcs and dramatic structure and limit your use of extended metaphors.

    Other agents may feel differently, I wish you the best of luck.


    Mr R. E. Jection

  7. Dear Mr. John Steinbeck,

    Though your manuscript entitled “Of Mice and Men” has some merit because it tackles big issues––treatment of the mentally challenged, adult male empathy, assisted suicide––to be honest, the whole idea of a mouse petting fetish simply isn’t provocative enough for today’s salacious reader. Yes, the implication made by the chivalrous featherweight boxer, Curly, that he consistently lubricates his hand for his wife’s pleasure offers some titillating reprieve, but it doesn’t make up for the main character’s lame predilection for stroking small rodents.

    Could you revisit the overall level of indecency in the piece? Ratchet up the improprieties? Perhaps Lennie’s fixation could be with a larger, hairless mammal, such as an armadillo or a warthog. Or what about something more reptilian, like a crocodile or a tortoise? Yes, a tortoise! Now that’s saucy! Imagine Lennie sneaking off into the barn to caress the hard shell of a hundred and fifty-year old creature instead of some unsexy vermin. Think about all those concentric rings and that wrinkly, ancient face. So racy. Besides, they can lay up to thirty eggs at a time––a special treat for hungry migrant workers after a twelve-hour shift. So as you can see, beyond the more obvious sensuality, it’s a more practical plot line, too. It just makes sense, John.

    Though I recognize and appreciate the tackling of uncomfortable issues, without some gratuitous proclivities, or at the bare minimum, a less pesky object of affection, your fiction will not reach a wide enough audience. Think about it, John, it’s purely marketing… doesn’t a title like “Of Tortoises and Men” just naturally tickle a reader’s fancy?

    Just too damn bland, sir. You may as well write a book about grapes, it would have more allure.

    Best wishes.

  8. Dear Mr. Vonnegut,

    Before I launch into a critique of your “submission,” I would be remiss if I did not note, I have heard you are dead--at least someone with the same name and identical countenance of the photo you attached is dead. However, I allow for strange coincidences in this universe, including the possibility there are two of you.

    In reference to your manuscript, “How to Get Valerie Perrine to Time Travel Naked,” I had considerable difficulty tying the “story” to the title. After all, your novel is about three large, loquacious dogs who share a condo in Manhattan. (To be candid, character development entails more than describing how hirsute the creatures are and how much the salivate.) I appreciated the notion these were genetically modified canines, but I doubt a widespread audience would comprehend the technical information provided detailing which chromosomes were altered to imbue these dogs with intelligible human speech and the ability to use underground mass transit. And seriously, riding the same subway as Michael Bloomberg every morning to feign proletariat status? Also, why the multitude of references to the billionaire scratching the ears of one while conspicuously ignoring the other two dogs? A circuitous attempt to flesh out the characters via the response of others?

    I confess, I skipped a few pages between 10 through 657, though I did read the closing paragraph; neither the mutts nor Mr. Bloomberg would be alive December 31, 2099, unless I missed some magical machinations of gene altering beyond those I referenced previously. Also, celebrating the change of a century in a subway, though creative, is a bit of a stretch, even for “Vonnegut.”

    I suspect there are people interested in seeing a younger Valerie Perrine disrobe, but the novel fails to instruct the reader in this regard. Perhaps a different title and less verbiage about “phantasmagorical slobbering.?”


    K. Curtis Vonnegut

  9. Dear JK,

    Despite the eagerness with which you have described the features of your novel, and despite the fact that you are prepared to write several more in the same vein, I cannot agree with your supposition that this would be entertaining and “spellbinding” for children of all ages.
    I would suggest that you simplify the elements of the story as it is far too complicated for children and even adults would struggle with the number of characters (which however, I do think you draw admirably) and certainly the number of strange sounding names and incidents supposedly of a magical nature. I know Roald Dahl was popular with his strange language but his stories are shorter and quite frankly more readable.
    PI would be pleased to re-consider if you re-submit with suitable change of names and less magic and overall a much shorter novel as befits the children’s market.

    Yours, etc.

  10. Most Esteemed Madam,
    It is my sad duty to inform you that, with the very deepest regret, my respected colleagues at the publishing house have arrived at an unanimous decision that your manuscript entitled ‘Pride and Prejudice’, though undoubtedly charmingly written, must be rejected for publication.
    The reasons are several, primary amongst them the title. Whoever would want to read about one of the deadliest of the seven deadly sins, of which the Bible speaks, or of a concept, which, in circumstances of criminal behaviour or variations from the norm in the colour of a person’s skin, might come near to being a virtue?
    Should you be desirous of, or open to, changing the title, it would not move us to greater sympathy with this submission, again on grounds of what is or is not appealing to putative readers.
    The basic plot is uninteresting, being largely confined to minor domestic issues of marriageable daughters, poverty stricken spinsters and louche members of the military, who should know better, among the gentry, at a time when major political events are threatening to overturn that mostly privileged class, probably, and even desirably, to extinction.
    Then to the characters: well, the heroine is a most irritating, domineering woman, who seems to think she can arrange the lives of others, while being singularly obtuse about how to direct her own. And, as to the hero, never was a more tedious, overweening and awkward man invented by human imagination. Moreover, the minor characters are mostly incredible or repellent.
    You will not have failed to remark that on no occasion have I mentioned the names of the various personages to which I referred. This is because my judgment is based on a rather brief synopsis from a colleague who could scarcely bear to read the manuscript to its conclusion and recalled few details of either plot or participants in this less than exciting or interesting narrative, which I cannot, in all conscience, describe as an example of that lately-emerging and distinguished literary form, the novel.
    I remain yours very sincerely,
    Algernon Harrington – Forbes, Esq

  11. Dear Mr Nabokov,
    We regret that we are unable to publish you novel, Lolita. We consider that there is too great a risk that readers will be persuaded by the narrator that there is such a thing as a ‘nymphet’ and that society will blame young girls of ten and twelve for being abused instead of understanding that Dolores Haze is the innocent victim of predatory men.
    With best wishes,
    Simon and Schuster

  12. Dear Sirs,

    Thank you for your submission, which I am sorry to tell you we cannot consider for publication. The committee was somewhat taken aback at the sheer volume of material offered and it has taken some time to form an opinion. Discussing the content, the committee frequently found itself arguing not just about the book itself but about the ethical and moral matters it raises regarding.

    The book is too discursive and impossible to categorise for the reader: how can a realistic love story conclude with one man shaking down a whole palace? This lacks contextual credibility. There are many sections like this which would need to be addressed to be acceptable, although the pure fantasy sections do work very well (the man in the whale, for example).

    The book is also unnecessarily encumbered by turgid lists of family lineage. This contributes nothing to the wider story, and creates a considerable barrier to further reading.

    While some of these matters could be addressed with good editing and rewriting, this would be insufficient for us to reconsider our decision. If published, this book would be divisive and has the potential to damage the fabric of society. While it purports to offer guidance for living and relating in a social context, in fact this can be too easily interpreted to the selfish ends of the individual reader.

    The committee, having spent many hours arguing over the meaning and interpretation of the content, unanimously concluded that this book is simply too dangerous to be made widely available. This is the only occasion when the committee has gone so far as to recommend that all copies are destroyed.

    Yours, etc.

  13. Dear Miss du Maurier,

    We are sorry that we do not feel able to publish your latest submission, Rebecca. Although we found some of the writing charming, especially the descriptions of the Cornish coast, we consider the story to be implausible and the characters unconvincing. Having helped to establish you as a writer of romantic fiction, we find many themes in this novel distasteful. Your unnamed heroine is unlikely to appeal to a modern audience, nor will her milksop attitude and collusion with a self-proclaimed wife murderer find favour.

    There are underlying tones of a highly disturbed nature, not just in the marriage of a manipulative older man to an ingénue woman young enough to be his daughter, but also in the portrayal of his first wife. The deviant behaviour of the housekeeper obsessed with her dead employer is suggestive of something unnatural with which we would not wish to be associated. Our experience over many years in the publishing industry suggests that a lighter touch and a sense of humour is more likely to bring you success than this heavy brooding on the dark side of life.

    We hope that you will not be too disappointed but will continue with your writing.

    Yours sincerely,
    Victor Gollancz


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