Over the Transom & onto the Table: Lee Harris on Angry Robot’s Open Call for Submissions

Angry Robot Books has opened the doors to unsolicited manuscripts for March.  That’s right, they’ve put out an open call.  This month.  There’s only one week left, so hurry, hurry, and read the submission guidelines.

Angry Robot is an England-based, global imprint specializing in “modern adult science fiction, fantasy and everything in between.”  (It’s that “everything in between” that gets me excited.)  Their roster includes Dan Abnett, Guy Adams, Lauren Beukes, Maurice Broaddus, Aliette de Bodard, Matt Forbeck, J Robert King, Chris Roberson, Gav Thorpe, Lavie Tidhar, and Kaaron Warren.

I am irrationally excited about Angry Robot’s open call, not because I plan to send in a manuscript, but because I’ve yet to read an Angry Robot book that I didn’t thoroughly enjoy.  Likewise, I’ve yet to even see an Angry Robot book that I did not want to snatch up, rush home, and read.  Right then.  Right now.

A couple of days ago, I got in touch with Lee Harris, an editor at Angry Robot, and asked him why Angry Robot was opening the doors to unsolicited manuscripts.

It’s pretty common for publishers to work only through agents, or with authors they already know,” said Harris. “This can make it difficult for some authors to get their work seen–finding an agent is almost as difficult as finding a publisher for your work. So, we decided to open our doors for a month and see what we were missing.”

See what they were missing! The Angry Robots (Marc Gascoigne, Harris, and Mike Ramalho and their team) have an uncanny ability to select extraordinary books written by established authors, under-appreciated authors, forgotten masters.  Check out the Angry Robot mission statement:

We know many readers are madly passionate about their genres. Angry Robot is too. If anything, we’re too passionate. We are fans, given at any moment to break into a lengthy harangue about why book X is a lost classic or author Y really should give it up already. The sheer joy, though, of being able to jump onto a table (only sometimes metaphorically) and tell the world about how bloody great a chosen writer or novel is, is what drives Angry Robot.

Too passionate?  Can you imagine what will happen when they start selecting manuscripts from new-comers?  And that is why I am so excited about this open call.  I want to see who rises up out of the slush onto the shelves and into my “to read” stack.

Below, Harris and I talk about the particulars of Angry Robot and the Open Door.  We also cover such things as voice, character, and intensity in fiction.

How’re things going with Open Door Month? Are you seeing any patterns to the submissions?

Lee Harris: Things appear to be going well, but it’s difficult to tell from this side of the fence. We have a team of dedicated (and trusted) readers working their way through the submissions. We couldn’t possibly do all that, ourselves–there just aren’t enough hours in the day. So, until we’ve done some statistical work at the end of the reading period, it’ll be difficult to gauge any true patterns. W can tell you that approximately 46% of the submissions have been fantasy, 41% science fiction and the remainder horror. This is about what we would have expected.

From the guidelines, it seems you are looking for strong “voice”, “characters that live”, and “intensity”. Are these the big three? And what do each of these things mean to each of you?

Lee Harris: The voice is the tone that the author brings to the novel. There are some authors whose work you would recognize by reading an unpublished passage of theirs. It’s the lyricism–or lack of–in their prose; the way they describe things; the way in which events are told.

By “characters that live” we mean we expect the characters to behave in a way consistent with real people. When we leave a character in one scene, we expect them to continue to be doing even though the spotlight is on someone else. We also expect the characters to learn. They might not necessarily act upon what they’ve learned, but it will inform their actions or thoughts in one way or another.

And “intensity” – that’s really leading back into voice, I think. It’s the reason the reader will be drawn back to the book when they’ve put it down. It can describe the story, the dialogue, the way the character behave–it’ll mean something different to different people, and that’s fine.

What aren’t you looking for?

Lee Harris: Children’s fiction, short stories, novellas, anything that’s not strongly tied into science fiction, fantasy or horror, anything that’s already been published (including self-published in eBook format), sequels, books that are 1,000 pages long, the list goes on…

How are the acquisition decisions made? What do you look for beyond a great book?

Lee Harris: Well, the great book is the big thing, here. We also look at the author–have they sold anything recently? Are they active online? Do they understand the importance of self-promotion? Do we feel they are someone we’d like to work with? What are the forecast sales of the book, worldwide (including eBooks)? Do we have anything else on the list that’s too similar?

In what ways is Angry Robot Books… different?

Lee Harris: This is such a difficult question to ask–perhaps the most difficult one (and we get asked it a lot). We can’t claim it’s the passion we put into our work–all editors are passionate. We can’t claim it’s the quality of our authors–all publishers have faith in the people whose books they buy. We can’t claim it’s the fact that we publish worldwide in multiple formats–many publishers do this, or are starting to do this. We can’t claim it’s the way in which we engage directly with our readers–many publishers are beginning to do this, too. Oh, to hell with it! It’s all of the above.

And my jackets–I have pretty awesome jackets.

Any parting bits of advice to writers considering submitting to Angry Robot this month?

Lee Harris: For goodness’ sake, read the submission guidelines! They’re pretty straightforward.


Jeremy L. C. Jones is a freelance writer, editor, and teacher.  He is the staff Interviewer for Clarkesworld Magazine and a frequent contributor to Kobold Quarterly.  He teaches at Wofford College and Montessori Academy in Spartanburg, SC.  He is also the director of Shared Worlds, a creative writing and world-building camp for teenagers that he and Jeff VanderMeer designed in 2006.

2 thoughts on “Over the Transom & onto the Table: Lee Harris on Angry Robot’s Open Call for Submissions

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