Sep 14 2012

HarperCollins Imprint, Harper Voyager Opens Up For Submissions – My Thoughts

It was kind of exciting when I heard that Harper Voyager was opening itself up for direct submissions for its e-book publishing department.  Harper Voyager, the Sci-Fi & Fantasy imprint of HarperCollins, is looking for, according to its site, submissions to fill an apparently gaping void in publication schedules of ebooks.

“Currently, we are looking to acquire enough content to release a new Harper Voyager digital title each month,” the company announced.  How many months however is a mystery.  It could be a year, two years, or a couple of months.  No one knows how many books they are looking to acquire.  Even so, expect Harper Voyager to get flooded by authors with big dreams when they open up the submission process on October 1st.  The submission period ends October 14th.

However, my initial excitement has been kind of tempered since reading this.  What follows are my thoughts as I have worked through whether or not Under the Darkened Moon, if polished in time, might in fact get submitted.

THIS IS GREAT!  DIRECT CONTACT WITH A PUBLISHER!

We authors always gripe about the gatekeepers.  Traditional publishing often requires us to jump through the hoops of many such persons. Usually it means starting with finding a literary agent to represent us.  Then comes waiting for them to be given the chance to pitch our manuscript to various publishers.  Then comes the next step of getting in front of various other people within the publisher’s hierarchy once the foot is in the door.

The fact that you can now cut out one of the middle men means you can be one step further forward of where you were.  This is a great benefit and why I was initially so happy to hear about it, vowed to buckle down, and get my manuscript done in the next thirty days.

A SIGN THAT THE AGENT PROCESS IS BROKEN?

I thought, after thinking for a few moments about the open call for submissions, that perhaps it was a sign that the process of using literary agents to feed the publishing industry is broken.  I am not the first to think this.  And other of my friends who are writers have pondered the same thing.

There are hundreds, nay thousands of literary agents out there.  They all have several books I am sure they would love to pitch to a major publishing house like HarperCollins.  Are they not doing their jobs?  Are they bringing in too many bad proposals?  Are the clients they represent chasing trends HarperCollins sees as dying and not innovating?  Does Harper Voyager want to see if working around agents gets them some fresh talent that the agents are not willing to take on?  Are agents demanding too much and scuttling deals that would otherwise go through?  What, I ask again, is wrong?

You would think, with all the literary agents out there, that they would be able to feed enough projects to companies like Harper Voyager so that they would not worry about having enough up coming titles for release.  That is, as I said, unless the process of using literary agents, or at least literary agents as the sole source of incoming projects, is broken.

This thought actually makes me shudder.  I’m not sure if it is a shudder of fear or joy at this point.

THE CRITERIA IS PRETTY VAGUE AND BROAD!

This bothers me and has also tempered my enthusiasm.  Harper Voyager says that, “We’re actively seeking speculative fiction genres, especially epic fantasy, science fiction, urban fantasy, horror, dystopia, supernatural and YA.”

They are covering a whole gambit of genres.  This seems like a shotgun approach to get as many submissions as possible.  I am sure that they are not equally interested in all of these genres and there are some preferences to some over others.  It is also vague as to whether or not they are going to seek to print a certain number of each or just the absolute best regardless of category.  The later rewards talent, the former rewards talent, but also requires luck and leaves some talent invariably discarded.

Think about it.  You could have a great horror novel.  But what if Harper Voyager has decided internally that they only want one such title over the next two years?  What if yes, your books is great, but someone else’s is greater?  You see my point?  You are now rejected!  Well, if there is a quota system.  What if your book is good but they only have so many slots total and you are simply that number of slots plus one?

That rejection could have consequences.  First of all, Harper Voyager notes that for this open submission process, “If a manuscript has previously been submitted and declined for Harper Voyager, please do not resubmit unless it has been extensively rewritten.  You are welcome to submit other works, however.”  Well, that sure is a kick in the teeth, especially if they do this again!  You were rejected this time based on some quota that they did not reveal?  So much for resubmitting!  You can only hope that maybe, someone, somewhere, kept your manuscript in the, “yes it was rejected but as soon as we have a publishing opening we want to jump on this one pile.”  But, without feedback, you will never know.

What if you later try to get an agent, land one, and he or she tries to pitch it to Harper Voyager through “traditional” channels?  Will it get rejected again automatically?

Too many ifs.  I don’t like clauses like this.  No, I don’t like them one little bit. Especially not when the criteria are vague.  You could conceivably be shut out from one of the major publishers in Fantasy & Sci-Fi if you do submit and are rejected for a reason other than the actually quality of the manuscript itself.

COULD A REJECTION HURT WITH SEARCH FOR A LITERARY AGENT?

Think about this, because I did.  You have a literary agent interested in your book.  This is the same book you submitted to Harper Voyager, but had it rejected.  You don’t know why it was rejected, only that it was.  Was it really a piece of crap?  Was there a quota and you just didn’t make the cut?  Who knows!

Let’s say the agent who is interested finds out that you submitted to Harper Voyager and were rejected.  Maybe you offer it up in the interest of full disclosure, or maybe he/she learns about it through other channels.  The agent might love your manuscript.  But now he/she has to think about whether it is worth representing or not after now knowing it was already being rejected by one of the major publishing houses before it even landed on his/her desk.  Could the agent decide that if it was already rejected, even though he/she loves it, that it simply is not what publishers want and pass?

Scary thoughts and thoughts that I base on a similar experience a friend of mine went through.  He submitted on of his works directly to several publishers, was rejected, and then found getting an agent to push the book later very difficult.  Some showed enthusiastic interest until they found out that the book had already been rejected.  Then the interest dried up.

There wasn’t even an attempt when all it needed was perhaps the right person pitching it?

COULD HARPER VOYAGER JUST BE TROLLING FOR SOME ESTABLISHED E-AUTHORS?

You can bet that tons of the submissions during the announced open submissions period are going to be already published e-books.  You get the sense that it is possible that Harper Voyager could be hoping to snag some semi-successful authors who have already done the grunt work of getting at least some sales for their novels.  Looking to skim the cream, one might call it.

In their FAQ, the company states:

“Do you accept manuscripts that have been previously published, including self-published?
Yes, we will consider work that has been previously published if the author has retained full volume rights or had full volume rights revert to them.  Please provide the publication details.”

It would be a smart move on Harper Voyager’s part to look long and hard at established e-book authors.  If someone was able to sell 1,000 or 2,000 copies of their books alone, without the support of a big company promoting them, it stands to reason that maybe, just maybe, once HarperCollins steps in they can do even better with the work in question.  The issue however is will Harper Voyager give a higher weight to these sorts of authors over the truly green author who has not even gone the route of e-publishing yet?

People like myself for example.   I am going to give traditional publishing a few years to work and then start self-publishing if it doesn’t.  Am I at a competitive disadvantage?  I can’t say for sure.  But I know that if I were Harper Voyager I would be.

SUGGESTED WORD COUNT IS 80,000 to 120,000 WORDS!

Under the Darkened Moon, when all is said and done, is very likely to be about 143,500 words.  While Harper Voyager did not say this 80k to 120k range was a hard limit, it is still a range that is preferred.  Not really sure why when they are looking for primarily e-books.  Those don’t have some of the same size restrictions as traditionally published books do.  But this is what they have said.  I am outside the “ideal” range.  That is a strike against me.  It may not be a large swing and a miss, perhaps just a foul tip, but it is still a strike.

Yes, I did design Under the Darkened Moon to be split into two books if necessary, but I am not sure that I would ever get the chance to explain that if I go directly to the publisher in a process like the one that is now open before me.  I am sure that this submission process is going to be very bland and vanilla: fill out this form, attach manuscript, hit send, and wait.  Without someone sitting face to face to explain that, hey, the first book is the first 85,000 words or so and the second book can be the same size once much of what was cut is put back in, I don’t know if that strike is one that I am willing to take.  Bunting might be better.

80,000 – 120,000 words just seems light for epic fantasy, at least epic fantasy designed to be told in a single volume.  I could understand that if we are talking a trilogy where each book is 100,000 words, but not a single book like Under the Darkened Moon was designed to be.

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Those have basically been my thoughts.  I haven’t made up my mind if the potential benefits outweigh the potential downsides yet, and I am still toying with the idea of submitting.  Under the Darkened Moon is about 2/3rds of the way through the live read edit and about half way through the FINAL edit.  There is basically one month to get it done if I want to submit it.

As much as my life’s philosophy is akin to the adage of, “go big or go home,” my thoughts are thus:

  1. There are A LOT of question marks that simply are not addressed by this generic call for submissions.
  2. I am NOT going to rush my editing just to make sure it gets done before the October 14th deadline.  If it takes longer and I miss an opportunity, then I miss the opportunity.
  3. I am VERY apprehensive about submitting my very first ever completed novel directly to a potential publisher.  I am leaning towards not doing it just because it is my first novel that I have completed.
  4. IF Under the Darkened Moon is completed before the deadline I may still consider submitting it.  Honestly, there is a sense of thrill at the thought of seeing what happens.  The problem is that this is a big door that might get slammed if I misjudge and leap too soon.
  5. I think for struggling authors who have been working for years to be noticed, and who have been down the literary agent rejection path far too many times to count, that this is an excellent opportunity for another bite at the apple.  I actually encourage authors who have been beaten down by years of rejection to pursue the process.  What else do they have to loose?

Any one else who has thoughts is welcome to share them!

2 Responses to “HarperCollins Imprint, Harper Voyager Opens Up For Submissions – My Thoughts”

  1. J. Cameron McClain Says:

    Read about this as well. There’s a lot going on in the print side of the industry, as the Big 6-types try to figure out to keep revenue going. These publishers already have in-house reviewers and agents, why not just bring more in, cut away the rest, and focus more on sifting through the mass that’s coming out on the self-published side? Somebody has to be.

    From a bloated quarter of a million words, I was able to get my novel The Five Watchers down to 132,000, but much as I would have liked to get it down more, it wouldn’t budge. So, like you I’m out of the running on this. I’m unwilling and unable to take another 12K. Alliance, my second, looks to be coming in around 80-90K, and that’s intentional on my part. If you have an idea about getting hard copies out, keeping it under 100K gives you a better chance–pulp and printing is not getting cheaper, and thicker books increase in cost geometrically. Sure the contest is e-print, but you know they’re still pushing hard copies. I doubt they’d not consider printing somewhere down the line.

    And yeah, the consequences of rejection. One of my writing professors added to the misery you described. As a friend of his found out, even getting a book published can become a liability if it doesn’t perform to expectations. Underperform, and you have no chance getting a second published with the publishing house, unless you’re already contracted to do so.

    Traditional publishing still has an infrastructure and reach self-published authors can’t match, but other infrastructures are being built that parallel the process, or maybe circumvent is a better word.

  2. Mathias Says:

    See, I’m not so much hung up on the word count issue. It’s the other things that bother me more.

    I’ve got enough books sitting on my shelves to see that publishers and their type setters have creative ways of getting page counts down if they want to publish something that goes off the high end of the word count spectrum. One thing is that I see is that the old “250” word per page rule is generally very light when it comes to how books, particularly fantasy novels, are laid out.

    I’ve got a post I’ve been working on for a while dealing with this. Looks like I’ll have to finish it up and get it posted.

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