Harper Voyager have during last week put up another post, saying they have completed the first round sift on their open call as of last October. That means they have evaluated 4,543 submissions, rejected 3595 as being not right for them and kept 948 for further consideration. That’s about 1 in 5 submissions!
Those are the facts, now for the observations and comments.
Their call was for the full range of speculative fiction that included horror and fantasy. From the graph below, which is the number of new printed books published by genre, you could say the ratios are science fiction 1, horror 1, fantasy 3, paranormal romance 2. Of course this ratio may not extend to what Harper Voyager intend, but if they did and if those ratios were reflected in what they’ve kept back for further consideration, then we are talking about talking about only 1 in 7 being science fiction, or only 136 books.
But let’s look at this the other way around. There are 136 science fiction books of good enough quality for one of the big 5 publishing houses to seriously consider taking them on, and all of them are UNAGENTED!
The implications of this are, in a business sense, staggering. There has to be at least a serious fault somewhere in the publishing process if the agents cannot match what the publishers are looking for. Where that fault lies and exactly what it is, I don’t know.
[Yes, I know there will always be some unagented authors because new authors continually come along, but they are a small percentage of this.]
I have long since said there was a mismatch between what the science fiction readership wanted to see and what was being published… and I say good on Harper Voyager for trying to do something about it.
They got a lot more submissions than they expected. They initially said they would get in contact with those authors they wanted to take further by 15th January, but it took another four months to finish the first reads. One consequence I anticipate from all this is that they will NOT be holding an open door later on this year as they initially anticipated, because they are still dealing with last October’s. Another consequence is that they are likely to take two year’s worth of novels up for publication to backfill the year they are missing out on.
But there have been immediate consequences. For instance, Tor UK has opened its doors to unagented submissions, though if I remember correctly, they said they were swamped at one time.
So, with more opportunities for the unagented authors to put their work before the publishing houses, where does this leave the industry as a whole? Obviously there will be less reliance on agents putting forward sifted good books by the publishing houses, even if it means more work for them. As to what else will change, well that is dependent on which unagented books the publishers decide to put out for the general public to read and what takes the public’s fancy. But whatever happens, the what I now call traditional science fiction themes will be joined by new ones. After all, why else would Harper Voyager have had an open call?