A string of publishers failed to spot blatant plagiarism of one of English literature’s most famous authors, in a cheeky test to see if she would have secured a book deal today, a report said Thursday.

David Lassman, head of the Jane Austen Festival in Bath, sent manuscripts to 18 editors seeking a publishing contract, using only slightly disguised versions of chapters from the iconic novelist’s most famous works.

But only one publisher spotted the fakes, which included perhaps the most famous line in all English literature, the opening sentence of her 1813 work “Pride and Prejudice”…. which he renamed “First Impressions”.

“Thank you for your recent letter and chapters from your book ‘First Impressions’. It seems like a really original and interesting read,” wrote Penguin. Harry Potter author J. K. Rowling’s agents Christopher Little said they were “not confident” of being able to place the work.

The only editor to spot the ruse was apparently Alex Bowler of Jonathan Cape. —AFP (Yahoo | AFP (will expire))

This story illustrates the level of attention paid to the “slush pile” — the flood of unsolicited manuscripts that entry-level editors sift through. The editors would have had to take the extra time to write a personalized rejection letter, and my guess is that even the editors who noticed the prank didn’t feel motivated to take that extra time.