March 2011 – Open Door Month

This page is archived for reference purposes – our Open Door Month has now ended.

In March 2011 we are accepting submissions from unagented authors for the first time. The clock started ticking on March 1st, and we closed the doors again on March 31st. If things go well we might repeat the project later in the year.

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What we will be looking for:

We’re publishing novels, either standalone or as part of greater series. We’re not looking to publish your novellas, short stories (individually or collected in book form) or non-fiction at this time. Our novels are for adult readers; we’re not currently looking at work aimed at young teens or children.

All our books are “genre” fiction in one way or another — specifically fantasy, science fiction, horror, and that new catch-all urban or modern fantasy. Those are quite wide-ranging in themselves; we’re looking for all types of sub-genre, so for example, hard SF, space opera, cyberpunk, military SF, alternate future history, future crime, time travel, and more. We have no problem if your book mashes together two or more of these genres, but they must have that genre foundation – no thrillers with the merest touch of SF, for example.

Our books will be published in all English-language territories — notably the UK, US and Australia — so we’ll be buying rights to cover all those. If you are only offering rights in one territory, we will not be able to deal with you. We will be able to offer e-book and audio versions as standard too, plus limited edition and multiple physical formats where appropriate. We are not contracting any work-for-hire titles; we offer advances and royalties.

Beyond all of this, what we’re really looking for in your writing is this:
• A “voice”, that comes from…
• Confident writing
• Pacy writing
• Characters that live, have real relationships and emotions, even in extreme situations
• A sense of vision, a rounded universe that lives and breathes
• Clever construction, good plotting, a couple of surprises even for us jaded old read-it-alls
• Heightened experience – an intensity, extremity or just a way of treating plot or situation in a way we’ve not come across before. “Goes up to 11″, if you know what that means.

Do all those, and it will be almost irrelevant that your story is one or other sub-set of SF, fantasy or horror!

We require a brief (two pages max) summary of characters, plot and your intentions/inspiration, in that order — plus the opening five chapters. No more, no less. DO NOT send us the opening chapters of your unfinished manuscript – we’re only interested in novels that have been completed.

This should be emailed to us, either as Word, RTF or PDF files (we prefer RTFs). Please don’t just send us a complete manuscript. Please note that we do not accept hardcopy manuscripts. Single- or 1.5-line spaced please, in English.

Your opening chapters will then be read by one of our team of experienced readers. If they like what they read you will be asked to submit the full manuscript. If they absolutely adore your novel, they’ll pass it up to one of Angry Robot’s editors.

You say you want the first 5 chapters. Does that include the prologue I’ve written?
If your prologue is very short, send it, along with the first 5 chapters. If it’s chapter length, send it, along with the first 4 chapters.

What if my chapters are all very short?
Send us the first 10,000 words, or so.

What is your preferred length for submissions?
The ideal novel length depends on the genre in which you’re writing, as well as what is the right length for the specific book you’re writing. In general terms, we’re looking for (approximately) 70-110,000 for SF, or 95-140,000 for fantasy.

My book isn’t really science fiction, fantasy or horror, but…
Sorry – it’s not for us, then.

Hang on, I hadn’t finished yet. Even though it’s not scifi, fantasy or horror, it’s got a really cool…
Nope – still not for us. We publish science fiction, fantasy and horror. If it ain’t grounded in one of those (or a combination, thereof) we’re not interested. It can combine elements of other genres, of course, but it must have some sf, f or h.

Will I get a response?
Yes. You will definitely get a response, whether it’s “No, thank you – it’s not for us”, “No, thank you – but we’d like to read more of your work” or “Ooh, yes please – just what we’re looking for”.

Will I get feedback?
Possibly. Probably not much.

How long will it be before I hear from you?
You know – we’ve absolutely no idea. We don’t know how many manuscripts we’re likely to get during this month, as we’ve never accepted unsolicited novels, before. As a general rule of thumb, it generally takes us 3 months or more to respond to solicited manuscripts. Yours might take longer. On the other hand, with more readers in place, it might be sooner. You will get a response, though. Feel free to drop us a query if you’ve not heard anything after 6 months.

Six months? Seriously?
We never joke about time. Well, not unless we have a really great time-travel comedy, and then we might.

What happens if your reader likes my work?
If they like your work, you’ll get a polite rejection. You might even get feedback (but that’s not guaranteed).

Ok, ok, Mr Nitpicky – I meant love my work. What happens if they love my work?
Your novel will be sent to one of Angry Robot’s two editors, along with a note, somewhere along the lines of:
Omg, omg, you just *have* to read this!
which we’ll then do.

If we agree with the reader’s view of the book, and if we don’t have anything too similar in our list, and if it’s something we believe fits with the Angry Robot label, and if {insert another arbitrary condition} then we’ll take it to the rest of our acquisitions team, and recommend we make an offer. During this acquisitions meeting, we’ll discuss the pros and cons of the book, along with its chances of commercial and critical success, and if the concensus is thatwe should make an offer, that’s what we’ll probably do.

And then I can quit my day job?
Ummm… no. Well, only if you have an independent income stream. Most professional novelists hold down jobs in addition to their writing. At a later stage in your career you may decide to write full time, but we would not advise it at the outset, unless a life of poverty appeals (but hey – great research for your next novel!)

You guys are making it sound like the chances of my novel being accepted are really slim
We wouldn’t want you to submit under falsely high expectations. It’s amazing that you’ve managed to get all those words down in the first place, but the road to getting published is another, longer haul entirely. But if you’re brilliant, it will happen, either with us or another open-minded publisher.

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Meanwhile, this article our Lee wrote for SFX magazine’s website may provide more food for thought…

Pitch Perfect

So you’ve just finished writing your novel. Before I go any further, let me stand and applaud you – I have the utmost respect for any writer, new or established, who goes the whole mile and finishes a manuscript of novel length. Even those books that are less than excellent deserve a hearty round of congratulatory cheers for their creators. Finishing a novel is not easy.

Unfortunately, the hard work doesn’t stop there. Once the novel is written, the next phase of hard work begins. The first of which is to find an agent to represent you and/or a publisher to get your magnum opus out into the wild (or at least the bookshops, which are often mistaken for the same thing).

Here, then, are a few tips to help you on your way. To those of you who read the following and think “Well, that’s obvious”, you’re right. Unfortunately, the obvious is all-too-often overlooked in favour of the optimistic, or the downright foolhardy.

Tip number 1 – Research
Before you submit your work to an agent or a publisher, do some homework, first. It’s absolutely no use submitting a far-future sci-fi story to an agent who only represents romantic fiction. It doesn’t matter how good your story is, it’ll be rejected, and you will have wasted months waiting for the reply to your submission. It happens more than you would think – we receive many titles that are obviously aimed at the younger end of the young adult market, despite us not being a YA imprint.

Tip 2 – Don’t be impatient
The agent’s first priority is to the clients already on his/her list – the publisher’s is to the authors and books he has already committed to publish. New stories coming in are important, of course, but in the majority of cases it’ll be months before you get a response. How many months? Read the submission guidelines on the agent’s or publisher’s website – they’ll probably mention it there. If not, it’s perfectly permissible to ask the question when submitting your manuscript for consideration.

Tip 3 – Read the submission guidelines
“Submission guidelines” is a bit of a misnomer, actually. Whenever you read “submission guidelines”, substitute those words with “Rules of Engagement, Never to be Broken” (unless you’re already a successful author selling in the hundreds of thousands, in which case, “guidelines” means what it says).

A little more detail on this tip is warranted, I think:

* If the guidelines state “send your manuscript as a Word or RTF document, single-spaced”, DO NOT send a physical copy to the office, double-spaced because that’s what you read in a “how to get published” book you bought in the ’70s. Many editors and slushpile readers like to read submissions on electronic readers, these days – sending a physical copy will not only get you to the bottom of the reading pile, it may well keep you there.

* If the guidelines state “Send the first five chapters, along with a 2-page plot and character summary”, do that. Don’t send a 15-page synopsis, along with the entire manuscript. If the publisher or agent is impressed enough by your sample chapters, you’ll be asked to send in the rest.

* If the guidelines state “send your manuscript to the office address listed below”, that’s what you should do. I’ve had authors hunt down my home address and send copies there, without asking. That’s not showing initiative – that’s just downright creepy!

Tip 4 – Write a professional query letter
Your book may be the best thing ever written, but that does not mean you should forget the rules of written English when composing your introductory letter. Be polite, be professional (“Dear Mr Treeblossom”, rather than “Hi Steve”, unless you already have an existing relationship). Check your spelling and grammar. It’s astounding how many submissions are received accompanied by query letters that appear to have been written by a hedgehog with learning difficulties – your introductory letter is a sample of your writing, and will be treated as such, so don’t allow yourself to fall at the first hurdle.

Tip 5 – Don’t trash your genre
Seems sensible enough, doesn’t it? Yet it is not uncommon to receive query letters that do not just hype the manuscript, but also trash the competition: “this novel is much better written than any of the rubbish currently being published” – that presumably includes the rubbish being marketed by the publisher you’re currently courting…?

Tip 6 – Use sensible filenames
If submitting electronically, use a filename that tells the reader what it is they have – eg.”Final Conflict by Jimmy Johnson – first 5 chapters.doc”, rather than “FCv1 17-04-2007.doc”. It helps the publisher or agent when they’re looking for your file, and anything that helps them, helps you.

Tip 7 – Use endorsements wisely
If Famous Writer X has read your work and liked it, by all means mention this – for instance, “Jim Jones read the final draft of Mystery Mansion XIV and told me it was ‘the best example of a haunted house story’ he has ever read.” Needless to say, don’t invent endorsements, and don’t mention that your friends and mother thought it was great – they don’t count, and it’ll make you come across as an idiot, or at least a tad naive.

Tip 8 – If you have previously published work, mention it
It adds to your credibility as a writer. Though not essential, it may help you stand out a little from the next submission in the pile. Also mention any awards, or other relevant information. “I trained as a particle physicist before writing my novel” is relevant for sci-fi imprints; “I was employee of the month three months running at Acme Widget Corporation” isn’t (though, you know, well done).

Tip 9 – If a publisher is inviting submissions “through an agent only”, don’t send your manuscript direct
This rule may be ignored if you have been invited to do submit directly by the publisher (when you met them at a convention, or other event, for instance). Don’t be tempted to invent a fake agency – it often happens and it’s not difficult to spot. A fake agency tells the publisher that you’re not necessarily the most honest of people, suggesting you may not be the easiest person to work with.

Tip 10 – Check your manuscript before you send it
Your novel should be in its finished state. Sending a follow-up email three days later asking for the original to be deleted as you’ve made some changes doesn’t make a great impression.

Tip 11 – Include your contact details
Sounds daft? An enormous percentage of manuscripts are sent without contact details. Your manuscript is almost certainly going to get separated from your initial email by the time it gets read, so include on the first page, your name, address, telephone number, email address, title of the story, genre and wordcount. If you’re submitting through an agent, include their name, agency and contact details as well.

Tip 12 – If your manuscript is rejected, but you’re asked to submit something else, be elated
Your book is being rejected, but you are not – it means that the agency or publisher sees something in you they can work with, even though that particular book is not right for them. If it takes you a year to write your next piece, when you submit it again, make sure you state “though NOVEL X was not right for your agency/imprint, you asked to see my next work, which I am enclosing/attaching”. Most writers are not asked to submit something else – if you are, it’s great news!

There are many other pitfalls to avoid, and many other ways to get your story noticed, but if you take note of the above, your submission will be in a better condition than a lot of submissions received. First impressions really do count.

This article first appeared on the SFX blog in May 2009.