In the Independent, John Franklin offers “The real reason why publishers miss good books“:
The real reason that publishers miss good books is no secret, and it is nothing to do with literary judgement, knowledge of first lines or acquaintance with the classics. It is the same reason that film companies miss great scripts and record labels fail to sign up the most interesting bands. It is the numbers game – the sheer volumes of paper (and now, worse still, the email attachments), that cross our desk every day. Every year 200,000 books are published. This is far too many, and really the first duty of every publisher should be to publish fewer, rather than more, new titles.
Also, the lightly rewritten Austen manuscripts didn’t come through an agent:
That means the unsolicited fiction is now the leftovers. A terrifying proportion of these manuscripts come from people writing in green ink on scraps of Basildon Bond – surely its only use now. And if they aren’t in green ink, the manuscripts arrive handwritten in capital letters, or from prison, or from a secure mental hospital. Of course there may be lost masterpieces lurking in the mad rantings of the sad, the bad and the dangerous to know (to plagiarise again), but publishers are not social workers.