Office of the Editor
Putman and Skipners, Publishers
911 Fifth Avenue
New York, N.Y.
January 20, 2004

Dear Mr. Herman Melville

In our instruction sheet we specify that short portions of a MS be submitted in double-spaced Times font, along with an outline of the book with a description of its market applicability, and we normally do not look at submissions which do not follow our rules. But since you went to the trouble of having the whole book printed up in three large ring-binders, we felt it would be decent for us to give it a read and see if there was anything in it which we could use.

We regret having to tell you that your whaling narrative is wholly unpublishable, an opinion which three of our senior editors have confirmed to my office. I understand that there may be errors in the typed copy, but please don't send the handwritten MS to this office. We do sometimes like to look at handwritten text in hope of finding a certain kind of publishable "primitive", but that won't be necessary in this case.

First of all, this is not a Novel in any modern sense of the word. It seems to have been written in very short episodes, and does not tell a story in a coherent and concatenated manner. If some of the episodes were joined together in a reasonable manner, they might make good submissions to magazines dealing with boats, boat-building and coastal marine history. But this is not a publishable novel, and we cannot think of any other classification to which it could better assigned.

You constantly refer to biblical passages, and in certain places you invoke God as a primal actor in the string of events you outline. Yes, that can be done in a novel oriented toward the Fundamentalist population, where there have been successful ventures into that readership. But then the writing must be clear and simple, in short sentences with no fancy wording, with no unconnected excursuses into peripheralities. Readers of religious novels expect the same kind of simplicity which they are used to in the Gospels, and could never survive your long and over-stretched sentences.

I must ask you where you got your ideas about sentences structure and especially of punctuation. The use of the semicolon in not favored nowadays; you seem to use it as a variant to the comma, but in an arbitrary and unpredictable fashion. This would be interesting if you were not a native English speaker, or were writing as through the mouth of your character Queeq-queeq, but apparently that is not your intention. It is especially the long periods, containing within them various incomplete sentences with no verb, which are entirely too difficult to follow. Apparently you do not believe in the protocols of English grammar.

The long sections on whale-lore are not only tedious but our science editor says they are largely unfounded, and we suggest your finding a good manual on Cetology as taught in a college curriculum to inform you better about this area. But it is the heedless slaughter of the great and gentle creatures which offended our editors most strongly. We live in a slowly 'greening' world in which we are at last learning to respect all forms of life as part of the great chain of being. Whale hunting is now strictly regulated by international law, people have learned the pleasure of watching whales pods in their natural environment from cruise ships floating on distant waters, and we are finding respect for the mysteries of Evolution at last. How can you rejoice in a man who claims to have slaughtered over three hundred of these giant creatures, casting their dismembered bodies on the seas while boiling down a few barrels of watch and instrument oil?

There are various improprieties in your book which would be sure to offend sensitive readers, in fact too many and too various to mention here. Even the title of Moby Dick can be taken in a wrong way to have a sexual sub-meaning. And the homosexual bed-episode with the Native-Polynesian man at the beginning of the book is not only immoral but also a direct offense to the world's native populations, which we have at last learned to treat with understanding, not with idle curiosity.

We do feel we should give you a serious crit. on your writing, in hopes that you will take our remarks seriously and improve your writing skills in time. It is clear that you do not have the benefit of a college education, so we suggest taking a course in Creative Writing at one of the excellent Community Colleges in your area, as a first step toward becoming a professional author at some future point. Please take our recommendations in the spirit in which they are offered.

I might add that the best rule for Aspirant Writers has always been to tear up the first book, write another and throw that into the fire, and then proceed with caution and experience to a better effort which may possibly be publishable after all. Have courage, Mr Melville, few authors have succeeded on a first try.

If you do want your copy back, please send your check for twenty dollars for shipping and handling to our Mailing Department, rather than the pint of spermaceti oil you generously offered our Editorial Board. And best wishes for your future writing projects, we hope you take our suggestions seriously and wish you the best.

Sincerely,

Edgar J. Bartleby
Senior Editor
Putman and Skipners, Publishers





William Harris
www.middlebury.edu/~harris