Prior to the current digital publishing and self-publishing revolutions, the process for an author to get published was tedious, beginning with the very first gatekeeper: finding an agent. The literary agent, whose role may be shifting but by no means is disappearing, was often the first entity to pass judgment on a book’s merit, accepting or rejecting the title outright.
For many of the authors who have pursued self-publishing, the drive to do so was often caused by dozens of anonymous-sounding form letters, rejecting the authors’ manuscripts. For still others, the frustration with the traditional industry came at the hands of agents who quite clearly told them that their manuscripts were exceptionally stellar, but then ultimately refused to represent the book for a variety of reasons, notably a perceived lack of marketability.
But with so many options open to authors now, more and more publishers are joining the ranks of professionals who are willing to let the gate slip open slightly by agreeing to consider works that have not been “vetted” or approved by a literary agent. News came this week that Bloomsbury UK was the most recent publisher to realize that authors are tiring of the hoop-jumping, as the announcement that its new YA and New Adult imprint Bloomsbury Spark would accept submissions from unagented authors. But is this too little, too late for an industry in which authors are routinely thumbing their noses at giving up as much as 85% of their royalties for the privilege of being “accepted” by the traditional industry?
Some publishers, such as the ultra-disruptive Sourcebooks, have been accepting unagented submissions for some time, and have even welcomed the opportunity for authors to win the right to submit a manuscript as part of a writing contest. Tor UK, an imprint of Pan Macmillan SFF, announced its own policy earlier this year, encouraging authors to think that they have options besides self-publishing.
What is interesting to see in this new shift is that Bloomsbury’s submission guidelines for this new imprint include the requirement that authors provide information on their social media standings, meaning the publisher wants to see how much reach and influence (re: built-in consumer base) the author has before agreeing to publish the work. This is similar to the publishing houses who join sites like Wattpad, sweeping up authors whose books have a significant following on the free reading and sharing platform.
It will be interesting to see if authors are willing to buy into the concept of greenlight submissions as a way to bypass the first obstacle to publication, but with a host of options available to authors that don’t involve yielding their book rights and their royalties, it may prove to not be lucrative enough to convince many authors to bite.