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Open submission - a fad or an opportunity?

23 February 2015

Are things changing in terms of publishers accepting submissions or is the latest fashion for ‘open submissions' just a fashion? Big publishers abandoned what was rudely called ‘the slush pile' some years ago, so why are some imprints now having open submission periods, mostly of only two weeks or so?

Partly this is because of the publicity value for editors of making a publishing list, perhaps especially a new imprint, seem open to all comers. There's always the chance - and in fact the probability - of finding a publishable manuscript if the editors sift through enough manuscripts. What put them off doing this in the first place is that editors in publishing houses don't have enough time to read unsolicited submissions, so it's easier to use agents as filters. And as everyone knows, agents are hard to get to, because they too have large numbers of submissions and not enough time to deal with them.

Alex Bowler at Jonathan Cape is still sifting through 5,000 manuscripts from their open submission Jonathan Cape open submission. He thinks that three have real promise. Next month Tinder Press, Headline's literary imprint, is having an open submission period, which we'll cover more fully next week (no submissions before 2 March). What does Mary-Anne Harrington, its publisher, hope to find? ‘We all feel that it's incumbent on us not just to sit waiting for agents to send us things. We have to take the initiative.'

It's easy to be sceptical about this, given publishers' refusal to look at unsolicited submissions over the years, and their lack of manpower to do so now. Jonathan Lloyd, chairman of the Curtis BrownSee Curtis Brown listing Agency in London, says: ‘They don't have the resources, time and energy to deal with the flood of manuscripts that they're going to get. And they won't be filtered.'

So what's changed? Well, actually a great deal. Now any author can decide to self-publish their own work and it's not being particularly cynical to suggest that it may be better for publishers to wait until they've done so and built an audience, before scooping them up.

The world has changed and authors have a much better range of options.

The Slush Pile by Kay GaleWritersServices editor who has worked for many years as a freelance editor for number of publishers. She is also a practising homeopath and her website is www.twickenhamhomeopathy.co.uk offers a view from six years ago, but it still has some useful tips on submissions.

Making submissions

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