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Open submissions give writers a chance

25 August 2014

It looks as if open submissions are here to stay. Publishers, having for many years tried to stem the tide of unsolicited submissions, are now openly soliciting them within a time-limited and often genre- specific framework.

Some publishers have always worked this way. Harlequin Mills and Boon has been an example, encouraging unsolicited manuscripts in specific sub-genres of romance and going to some pains to encourage authors to send in what they were looking for to add to each of their lists. But most publishers have made it clear that they will not accept unsolicited submissions.

HarperVoyager has just announced that it has signed 15 full-length novels from mostly unagented writers, gathered in a two-week open submissions process in October 2012. They received over 5,000 entries. The 15 titles will be released digitally, beginning this winter and continuing throughout 2015. The imprint also has plans to follow the ebook releases with short-run paperback editions.

Natasha Bardon, editorial director of HarperVoyager UK said: "Being able to launch this much new talent is fantastic, especially in a genre which is so difficult to break into. It was great experience doing the open submissions, seeing the amount of voices out there was brilliant. Everyone here came into publishing because we were looking for good stories, so it was heartening to find so many. It was a lot of hard work, but we're not afraid of that... Voyager would "certainly" consider another open submissions process in future."

The Borough Press, another HarperFiction imprint, held its own open submissions earlier in the year and HarperCollins Killer Reads open submission sent out a call for submissions a couple of weeks ago. Killer Reads open submission.

Jonathan Cape open submission earlier this summer was an attempt by a much more literary publisher to widen its net.

So why is open submission an attractive proposition for publishers, who have long scorned unsolicited material and, even in easier times, only very rarely took on a book from ‘the slush-pile'? It is the internet which has made the difference and the specific change it has brought about is in the publishers' ability to shape and filter the submissions which are coming in. It's no accident that most of these ‘open submissions' have been from genre publishers, who are able to be extremely specific about what they're looking for. If an author taking part in a crime open submission sends in a romantic novel, the publisher will not consider it, nor will they feel obliged to respond.

So the most important thing is that the publisher sends out a call for submissions for a specific kind of book. The other thing is that the material is usually submitted online and can be easily sifted through by the editors to find what is worth considering seriously. If the publisher wants to publish a manuscript discovered through this process, there is unlikely to be an agent involved and the publisher may be able to acquire world rights, including a wide swathe of subsidiary rights usually controlled by the agent.

So all in all, open submission can be a good way for publishers to acquire new authors, whilst giving the world a pleasing impression of openness to new authors. For the authors themselves it can be a relatively easy short cut for those who are trying to get their work taken on by a publisher - and it's certainly worth trying.