Unagented Speculative Fiction Publishers Worth Your Time

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Still haven’t landed an agent? There are a few publishers that will still take you seriously, and while there are listings upon listings out there in the vast ocean of Cyberspace, relying on experience is better than reading submission guidelines, going through the motions, and waiting months (or years) for your work to be ignored.

What’s my experience? See Rejection: Greatest Hits. While I haven’t listed the names of the offenders, I’ve been considered (and beaten up by) some of the biggest names in Sci-Fi/ Fantasy publishing. What’s more, I’ve often waited three times as long as the posted reporting times because my work was held for a second read or third read. Even my current publisher, albeit for legitimate reasons, is holding a novel well beyond the submission period.

Life’s too short. You don’t want to wait ten years to know who’s worth your time. So spend ten minutes reading this post. You’ll thank me later.

Tor Books

The editors at Tor might take awhile, and it might take a couple passes through their physical mail room in New York to reach the right person, but their acquisitions department does actively read and consider unagented manuscripts. If they feel your story has merit, they will respond with an e-mail and ask to read the entire novel. In my experience, if you get this far, you’ll at least manage some notes from several different editors that will give you insight into how to make your fiction more marketable.

The other reasons for wanting to go with Tor are obvious. When an imprint of Macmillan sporting some of the biggest names in the field (Robert Jordan, Orson Scott Card, Terry Goodkind, etc.) and twenty consecutive Locus publisher of the year awards actively reads unagented submissions, you submit your work.

Harper Voyager

Keep an eye on Harper Collins. While the editors don’t normally accept unsolicited submissions, they opened the floodgates to around 4,500 manuscripts for a two-week period in October of 2012. The plan was to find new voices for their upcoming digital line. Initially, the editors were only going to contact the authors in the running for publication, but as of December, this has changed. A recent press release indicates that they’re planning to respond to everyone on some level, even if it’s just a form rejection letter. This is progress, and to me it represents a potential paradigm shift in the way these mega-publishers plan to do business in the future. (I’ll keep you posted, Dear Reader. Two of those 4,500 manuscripts are mine.)

Pyr

Let’s start with an image:

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I just grabbed the first book out of Pyr’s now-expansive catalog. Impressive, right? Now imagine it in high gloss as a wraparound image. That old cliche about never judging a book by its cover doesn’t actually hold up in the industry. While this publisher has been around for a comparatively short amount of time, sales are up and new authors are being discovered monthly. I sent Pyr a novel a few years ago that, in retrospect, was nowhere near ready for publication. The editor I dealt with read the entire manuscript, corresponded with me over e-mail, and even asked a few questions about my world during his reading. You can’t ask for more than that.

Well, at this point, I can. My best material is all Sci Fi. Pyr currently only accepts unagented submissions in the genre of Fantasy. Check their list of sub genres, though. You might still qualify.

ChiZine

This Canadian press seems to be expanding, and the editors are nice people who will provide you with notes on a partial if you catch their attention. Unfortunately, they’re currently swamped and closed to submissions. Their yearly reading period typically begins in July, but it looks like they’re now shooting for July 2014. Still, ChiZine is a great place to try after you’ve waited the prerequisite 6-12 months at one of the bigger U.S. houses, and your odds of at least getting feedback on your writing–which is crucial–are much higher.

Writers of the Future

Yes, L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology, started this contest decades ago. The contest itself has nothing (in my experience, and other bloggers who have placed and attended the workshops have confirmed this) whatsoever to do with personal religious beliefs. It is, believe it or not, one of the most viable ways to be discovered because the contest judges are all successful writers from the industry.

All entries must be under 17,000 words, but the judges will consider novel excerpts if they feel like they have a sense of closure. Each quarter, those who place in the top three are awarded 1,000, 750, and 500 dollar prizes respectively and flown out to Los Angeles to workshop with major authors. There’s also a yearly prize of 5,000 dollars for the top winner, not to mention publication in a very visible anthology.

One of my favorite new authors, Patrick Rothfuss, landed his agent through this contest after being rejected by the universe. Now he has two bestsellers, The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man’s Fear. (I also know they read what you send them because I managed an honorable mention last year. Dave Wolverton, best known to me for his contributions to the Star Wars universe, sent me a signed award in the mail. The child in me thought this was pretty cool. I’ve also heard reports of feedback from finalists and those who have placed.)

Anyone who has yet to publish a novel professionally (less than 5,000 copies doesn’t count), two novelettes, or three short stories is eligible to compete. I’m making a point to enter this contest every quarter in 2013 until I’m ineligible.

Zharmae (TZPP)

A list of publishers wouldn’t be complete without the press that discovered my novelette in a competition last spring. Zharmae is an up-and-coming publisher that has recently acquired the rights to William Tedford’s TimeQuest series. The editors are actively seeking new and established writers through general submissions and their annual competition, which has far fewer restrictions than Writers of the Future. (Some of the writers I was up against have several publications under their belts.)

Though 2012 saw only two books roll off this publisher’s presses, Zharmae is doubling this in the first quarter of 2013 alone with two anthologies (RealLies and Irony of Survival), a novel (TimeQuest: Star Rashannon), and a memoir (Twat). I’d like to see this indie press, which seems mainly focused on speculative fiction, enjoy some of the same successes as Pyr, but only time will tell.

Are there other presses out there that accept unsolicited speculative fiction? There are plenty that claim to have opened their doors. These are the ones that will give you a fair shake. While I’m not planning on raining down fire and brimstone on my blog about their competitors, there’s probably a reason I haven’t listed them here.

It’s a cut-throat business, fledgling writers. But it gets an awful lot easier when someone believes in you, and there are people with clout out there willing to do so. The trick is finding them. Good luck.

13 Comments

Filed under Fantasy, My Writing, Publishing, Reading, Science Fiction, Writing

13 responses to “Unagented Speculative Fiction Publishers Worth Your Time

  1. TAE

    Wow. That’s quite the list. I admire that you put so much effort into this. The people I know, who’d like to be writers are either at a loss about where to start or they (seem to) think that they’ll be discovered (somehow) without seeking much exposure.

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    • 80% of it is the struggle until you’ve established yourself. I’m still not quite there, but I feel like if a few people read this and have an easier time than I did, my time won’t have been wasted.

      And yes, it would have been much easier to just give a list of the publishers who will blow you off. Burning bridges doesn’t get you anywhere, though. From what I’ve read, some of these editors magically love your previously rejected work once you’re established.

      I’ve also read that Ray Bradbury, up until a few years before his death, still received rejection slips. -.-

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      • TAE

        I have to admit that I had never heard that name before…
        When I was a teenager I devoured fantasy and science fiction, but nowadays I can hardly read any of it, or I have a really hard time finding a book that I find genuinely pleasing (from beginning to end).

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      • Bradbury wrote Fahrenheit 451, which given your sensibilities and politics, you would probably love. It’s all about censorship and the repression of art in a dystopian future.

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      • TAE

        I’ve heard about that book before (I have to admit I’m really bad with names, too).
        Maybe I’ll give it a shot some time. I tried Brave New World a while ago, but I failed – the language was my problem here. It’s not that I have an issue understanding (being a non-native), it’s a focus issue. Some writers have a way that makes it really hard for me to stay engaged, or to even be sucked in.

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      • Huxley was a Brit, and stylistically, British writers can differ vastly from American writers (I prefer British writers, personally). Bradbury is a bit easier to follow, once you adjust to his love of adjectives and rhetoric.

        In any case, both of these guys are legends. Only an idiot of an editor would reject either of them.

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      • TAE

        I dunno. Personally, I don’t have more patience for an author, whether he’s known/renowned, popular or not (*cough* Twilight *cough*), but as an editor/publisher you have to somehow detach yourself from your personal taste. Not sure I could do it.

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      • TAE

        Speaking of which: have you thought about editing as a career? You seem to know your genre(s) well enough to read and judge even those stories that don’t suit your personal taste.

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      • When I’m old and have no more ideas and little of my own to say anymore, I will definitely consider helping other writers by working as an editor.

        Right now, I’d like to avoid it because I have a great disdain (with few exceptions) for those who found presses as an underhanded way of publishing themselves. To be truthful, there are several publishers that didn’t make this list today because I see them as basically one person’s attempt to legitimize his/her own fiction by surrounding it with the works of others. These kinds of presses usually don’t last long.

        Then there are those editors like Slushmaster Weirdo from my previous post who can’t get their work published at their own major presses despite their years of service. I noticed that this guy in particular entered the Writers of the Future contest and also received an honorable mention–this tells me that despite working at mega press, he’s no better off than I am working in Podunk, AZ.

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      • TAE

        “Podunk” made me lol…

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  2. Nice list. Kudos for putting it up.

    And, yeah, do keep the Harper Voyager thing in the radar. I’d completely missed their update. (I’m also one of the 4,500.)

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  3. Pingback: Homepage

  4. Reblogged this on Living in a Small World and commented:
    Extremely helpful article on Spec Fic publishers.

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