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So You Want to be an Open Door Success?

As some of you are no doubt aware, at Strange Chemistry we’re very keen to find new writing talent, and, as such, we have opened to unagented submissions for the second year running. The Open Door is something that Angry Robot began a couple of years back and they enjoyed enormous success, signing some immensely talented authors. We caught up with a few of them to ask them what the Open Door has meant for them and how their lives have changed.

Freya Robertson

Hi! I’m Freya Robertson and my first book with Angry Robot—an epic fantasy called Heartwood—comes out on October 29th this year.

My story starts in 2011. I’d finished Heartwood and touted it around a few agents, but had little interest. Then in April 2012 I saw that Angry Robot had an Open Door submission policy for two weeks. Bloggers were full of praise for the publisher, so I decided to take the plunge.

I read the first 10,000 words, polished, and worked hard on the two-sentence summary and synopsis. Then I emailed it off, put it to the back of my mind and carried on writing other things.

In September Amanda sent an email saying she’d enjoyed what she’d read and would like to read more. This is about when my head exploded. I had a request for a full! I read through the whole manuscript in two days, polishing and tweaking, and sent it off.

In October Amanda returned to say she had enjoyed the full and passed it onto Lee Harris. She said “You’ve basically reached the final stage – he’ll either reject or make an offer.”

Any writer will tell you that the hardest part of the submission process (apart from actually pressing Send!) is the waiting. I managed to make it until February before I queried. Lee came back to me to say he liked it and was taking the book to his colleagues, and could I send any plans I had for a follow-up novel please. After picking myself off the floor, I wrote up my ideas for a sequel and emailed it off. A week later Lee emailed back to offer me a two book contract with an option on a third.

Apart from my wedding day and the birth of my son, that was the happiest day of my life. A good friend announced it in the staff meeting of the school where I work, and all day people came in to congratulate me. That night we had a party and it’s possible I may have drunk too much :-)

I’d already had twenty digital romances published. But fantasy and sci-fi are my first love, and I put my heart and soul into Heartwood. To think it is going to be on the shelves soon as a real book is a dream come true.

I thank AR for the opportunity to submit without an agent from the bottom of my heart. The process now of seeing my cover, the map I drew by hand translated by a proper cartographer, and my story tightened and made better by Lee’s careful touch is just wonderful.

AR continues to go from strength to strength gaining spectacular reviews and praise, and I’m thrilled to be a part of the team. So if you’re wondering whether to push that Send button, I urge you to go for it! And may the luck of the ‘Verse be with you :-)

Cassandra Rose Clarke

I hate writing queries. Hate them, hate them, hate them. Moreover, I’m apparently bad at them, as evidenced by

the fact that I sent out almost a hundred of the things and only had two or three agents look at my work. The AR Open Door was a miracle to me.

The Mad Scientist’s Daughter was the second book I wrote and the first that I queried, which got me nowhere. I was about to give up on the whole writing professionally thing (yes, really) when I decided to submit The Mad Scientist’s Daughter to the first Open Door Month. I expected my submission to be rejected as my queries had, and every time it moved up the chain was a pleasant surprise.

I’ve written about and GIF-ified my experience on the day that I learned the novel had been accepted, so I won’t repeat that here. But I will say this: I received that initial Yes, we’ll take it! email in October 2011. In the not-quite-two years since, I’ve published three novels. Two more are on the way. And one of my novels, the first one, was nominated for YALSA’s 2014 Best Fiction for Young Adults list.

Not bad for someone who was ready to throw it all to the wayside and expend her creative energy on Harry Potter fanfiction, huh?

I’m still not convinced I’d have an agent, much less a publishing contract, if it weren’t for the Open Door Month. That one little decision to submit, made with the expectation of failure, completely opened up my writing career. Now, the process hasn’t been all sunshine and rainbows and starred Kirkus reviews—the increased anxiety in particular hasn’t been what I’d call fun—but at the same time, I’m fulfilling a dream I’ve had since elementary school, when I took a future career test on my school’s computer and got “novelist” as my top result (again, really). I know there aren’t a lot of people out there who get to say that, and I’m incredibly grateful for the team at Angry Robot and Strange Chemistry for giving me that opportunity.

Laura Lam

When I submitted to Angry Robot’s Open Door Month on March 30, 2011, I had no idea how much my life would change. I’d been writing for several years, but I knew nothing about the publishing industry. I was woefully ignorant, but learned from my mistakes (eventually). After subbing a manuscript that needed more editing than I knew how to give it at the time, I settled down for the wait. A few months later, I flew to the East Coast to meet my extended family and had a request for a full manuscript, which made me realise—hey, maybe I don’t suck at this writing thing. After the full manuscript was called in, I started learning more about the publishing industry, making friends via the forum Absolute Write. Then I found out I was going to the editors of AR. It was another AR author, Anne Lyle, who gave me the confidence to go to my first convention, and I angsted with the other people who had their full manuscripts called in (we dubbed ourselves the Anxious Appliances, though now we call ourselves the Inkbots). It was there I became friends with AR author Wesley Chu, who’s now one of my closest friends.

When I sent off that manuscript, I’d daydreamed about getting through the various rounds and getting a book deal, and sometimes I’m still amazed it happened. It wasn’t a bumpless road—that manuscript needed more work and so I had a revision request. They also thought it was more YA, and luckily they were deciding to go that way anyway, and my reader Amanda was promoted to the editor of Strange Chemistry. It was almost a year before I had my final decision about Pantomime, but that gave me time to grow. I learned so much more about writing by gutting Pantomime, re-arranging it, and making it shine. Now I’ve written a sequel, and I’m writing other books, and Pantomime is on the shelf, a real physical book. And that’s awesome.

Wesley Chu

Oh great Angry Robot Open Submission of 2011, you were a sneaky punk-ass bastard. I shall fondly remember you for the sources of my upset stomachs, mild cases of syphilitic crazed episodes (without the syphilis of course—I swear), and extended struggles with insomnia, but you were so fucking worth it you little sweet, sweet pain in the life-changing ass you.

I know what’s going through your head. If you think syphilis and insomnia sound like a crappy time, you’d be right. I mean, not that I know or anything about syphilis being unpleasant. I’m only assuming it ranks down there somewhere between getting tickled and getting kicked in the gut. Wait, what am I talking about again? Oh yes, back to the great Angry Robot Open Submission of 2011.

Hi, I’m Wesley Chu and I like to write, and through the gentle grace and heavily anodized fist of the mighty robot overlords, I’m the published author of The Lives of Tao and the upcoming The Deaths of Tao (October 29th).
How has the open sub changed my life? There’s something about that first time you make the bookstore pilgrimage to see your little newborn baby sitting on the shelf in its punch-you-in-the-face yellow glory right next to Arthur C. Clarke (because Ch is next to Cl) that you realize that “shit just got real.”

To be honest, I can barely remember what my life was like before the open submission. I was just a squatter who spent countless hours abusing the bottomless cup of coffee policies at cafes chasing a dream. Now…wait, that hasn’t change. What has changed is that now I have a career doing what I love. Someone actually pays me to write! I mean, how ridiculous is that?

So what’s the open door process like? Not gonna lie; it’s going to be long. You’re going to be excited. You’re going to have to wait. You’re going to lose sleep, then you’re going to wait some more. And then maybe, like I did, you’ll seek out others who have also submitted to the open sub as well. You’ll commiserate with them and maybe form an online social group. Maybe they become your writing besties as you all eagerly hit F5 on your inbox every few seconds. Some of you will get rejected, some will be fortunate enough to move on to the next level. The numbers of rejections will eventually begin to pile up and people you grow to care about will drop out one by one.

In the end though, after you’re exhausted from the wait and the many nights of insomnia, when you’re least expecting it, you might get an email from the awesome Ms. Amanda Rutter, telling you how much she enjoys your book and how she wants to share it with the rest of the world.

Then you might suddenly need to sit down as you think to yourself “shit just got real.”

There you go! So, exactly why are you waiting on submitting? You could be the next great novelist on our list!

Amanda

Comments

Angelica R. Jackson
Reply

I’d been thinking about sending my book, Crow’s Rest, and Wes’s encouragement pitched me off the fence and firmly into “I’m going to do it”land. It went out almost a month ago, and yes not that you mention it Wes, my stomach is clenched and my syphilis has flared up. Didn’t see the connection before, but now I can’t stop seeing it. >:(

And Freya, Laura, and Cassandra (btw, your link is broken), thanks for sharing your side of the story! <–Ha! Bad pun, and it's only 7:30 a.m. here.

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