MT McGuire Books

Why do so few British agents accept sci-fi or fantasy?

I’ve been wondering about this — why only a tiny handful of mostly huge and intimidating UK agencies will deal with my genre and the answer finally hit me. I write books for geeks and geeks don’t work in publishing. They work for computer companies or invent cures for cancer in their garden sheds.

The people who work in publishing have Oxbridge firsts in English Literature and read literary fiction through choice…

Yeh, I know it’s rubbish but it’s a thought…

Posted September 1, 2010 and visited 24654 times, 1 so far today

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  1. British sci-fi/fantasy industry is too stiff-upper-lip, but I often wonder when a British writer gets published in America-those arty guys like to make lots of money- if they ever get jealous and think, “Oh, I wish I had taken a chance on that author! Just look at the money getting flung about now! Still, I’ve always got daddies stipend when my business goes down hill.”

    America is the big-we can do anything-place because they are big and bold and take chances where making money is concerned. The British way is to be beaten at everything, not least in literary business.

    In this day and age of super technology, a simple compact disc does the job in word.doc format, but our publishing industry has not heard of CDrom technology yet, insisting on the old, Currier, size 12 font, doubleline spacing, etc, etc, etc., keeping the paper industry in big business while they chomp down all our forests for the paper, keeping royal insignia in loads of dosh, as each manuscript in novel format accrues to almost 2 reams of A4 costing around £47 to post off, keeping Mr. Publisher happy, unless you make just one mistake in say, your introductory letter, or your synopsis and the whole lot goes in file 13 — the bin! Well how do you do? Is it any wonder a would-be author just goes straight to America, sending his/her manuscript off per eMail attachment — how easy is that — no fuss, not even an ado?

    Remember, each submission will cost you, if you write books on sci-fi as I do, around 180,000 words, £10 for two reams of A4, 2 toner cartridges at £76 the both, £47 each post-off to say 20 literary agents — if you can find that many on this fair isle — bringing the total to £2.660… Well, you have to be quite a well-off person just to watch your manuscripts going into that file 13, I spoke of earlier.

    What a con this “Old-boy” network is in the UK. If you go by statistics based on the amount of years this system for manuscript writing has stayed the course, then by the year 50.000 we might just see a few changes… only a few mind, so we have a long, long way to yet good people! I do not think sci-fi/fantasy is on the back boiler as this industries literary agents suggest, they just have not got the globules to get stuck into the business.

    If one is successful, one can expect having made all the lazy people in the industry rich on the sweat-soaked back of one’s own endeavours. One will end up earning about 10% for all the work and hard labour while they all sun-off in their big villas in the south of Spain, while one can only afford to just about pay the weekly bills.

    I think it is about time authors organized a special committee to oversee the literary agents as well as the publishing industry to strike a far better deal for the author than they get at present. I think most of the literary agents and publishing houses should all perhaps, take up gardening and stand to one side and let their business’ be taken over by the Americans, they have taken over just about everything else in the world. What ever happened to the “Great” in Great Britian?

  2. Billy,

    I hear you. I think bits of Britain are still ‘great’ I’m not joking about the people doing things like inventing a cure for cancer in the shed. My partner is a technology lawyer and you wouldn’t believe the people he works with and the amazing things they have done in their spare time or because they ‘thought it would be fun’.

    Publishing though… perhaps I’m wrong but it strikes me as a stagnant, jumped-up industry.

    A long time ago, in a galaxy far away, I had a reasonably high-powered job. In the industry I worked in, treating your customers, or the general public, rudely or with high-handed arrogance got you sacked and boy you’d be amazed how high-handed and arrogant the General Public was with us.

    Sadly, in publishing, it seems that high-handed arrogance gets you ahead. When I was last looking for an agent and/or a publisher, I behaved in a manner which is standard for a job-seeker in any other industry. I targeted agents and rang before I approached them to check that my information was up to date, which member of staff I should send my manuscript to, whether the lists were still open, etc. Some were lovely but many others were defensive and rude and treated me as if the basic courtesy of calling them first to check my facts was brazen cheek on my part.

    I give you… no, I shouldn’t say exactly who they were but here’s what happened.

    I rang them in the first place because their website was a nightmare and I realised it would take me about a week to find the information I needed. The person I spoke to was downright unpleasant. The agency is very big and I didn’t want to waste either their or my time submitting to them if they were unlikely to take on a rookie. So I asked who dealt with fantasy and whether their lists were open. The woman I spoke to told me pretty brusquely that if I wanted to know that information I should I should read their website. I explained that I’d been experiencing difficulty getting to grips with their website and asked if she could tell me. She refused.

    I did as I was told and spent some hours trawling their enormous (70 pages plus) cumbersome, badly designed, unintuitive and slow to load website. The guy who handled the fantasy was the CEO and it was clear, from the authors he handled, that I wouldn’t be in with a shout until I was already established and selling well.

    There must be decent ones out there but most seem to treat writers like stalkers. Perhaps a lot of us are, I don’t know. What does seem obvious is that all the bits the agent used to do, like helping you get published and known are things I’ll probably have to do myself, in order to get an agent. Oh well. I’ll just do my own thing and see what happens.



  3. […] do so few UK agents handle sci-fi and fantasy” into their search engine and come up with this post or they’re actually looking for me. Or at least, they were. After reading Jim’s post I […]

  4. […] “why do so few UK agents handle sci-fi and fantasy” into their search engine and come up with this post or they’re actually looking for me. Or at least, they were. After reading Jim’s post I had […]

  5. Getting published in the UK is VERY hard — I have 20 e‑books (sci-fi) BUT they are pub. in the USA — and doing well.
    There is only one(as far as I know)British e‑book publisher, and that is sci-fi Their website is down at the moment as they are rebuilding it, but they shift some of my books !! I think they may be going into printing — but not sure yet.
    Good luck with getting published !!
    Kind regards, David