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June 10th, 2013

Marcus Gipps, an editor at Gollancz came to speak to The T Party Writers’ Group on Saturday 8th June 2013.

I’ve summarised and reordered Marcus’s comments so any and all mistakes are mine and mine alone. I’ve also split it into sections to try and make it easier to pick out information that people might be interested in.

A Bit About Gollancz

Gollancz has been around for approximately 51 years. It was bought by Orion 15 years ago (which is part of the Hachette Group) but Gollancz is run fairly independently. Orion is best known for its mainstream fiction (including crime, literary and non-fiction). The Indigo imprint was created for YA fiction and Gollancz and Indigo do work and share books for the YA market.

A Bit About Marcus

Marcus started at Gollancz around two and a half years ago. Previously he’d worked at Blackwells for eight and a half years (having started off as a Christmas temp and ending up as the deputy manager). In the course of his job he met loads of publishing and marketing people so when a job came up at Gollancz after Jo Fletcher left to set up her own imprint at Quercus, he thought that he should apply for it or else he’d regret it and was surprised when he eventually got the job.

He started off by taking over a lot of Jo Fletcher’s authors (who were redistributed amongst the Gollancz editorial team) and the idea was that he wouldn’t start commissioning his own editors until his second year in the role. However he found a book that he wanted to buy on the Gollancz slushpile and subsequently found a self-published title that he wanted to acquire within the first few months of starting. Since then most of his commissions have been in the fantasy genre but he thinks this is only because there isn’t a lot of good science fiction being submitted and he’s been beaten to the good science fiction that has been on offer.

Marcus’s authors include Mary Gentle and Tom Lloyd. He also manages a number of US and Australian authors, Michael Moorcock’s backlist (with 24 of his titles being published over the next two years), Philip K. Dick’s backlist and a number of series by George R. R. Martin (although not Game of Thrones). Marcus is also involved in SF Gateway, which is a massive enterprise aimed at issuing classic SF books in ebook format. To date 2,200 books have been released with another 4,500 being prepared.

What Are Gollancz And Marcus Looking For In A Book?

Gollancz has 3 editors and 1 electronic editor. All 4 editors commission new fiction. Gollancz publishes 48 new titles each year, most of which are by authors under existing contract. In general 4 of those slots are marked for debut authors, but this year there’s 7 and in 2014 there will be 8 so if the right book comes along then there’ll take more.

Gollancz looks for adult science fiction and fantasy. They do some horror (most notably with Joe Hill) but it doesn’t generally do too well for them and although Marcus personally struggled with it, Gillian Phillip loves the genre.

In terms of what Marcus is looking for, he said that he doesn’t want books that are too similar to what Gollancz currently publishes. He’d love to see some proper hard SF (e.g. space opera with a big scope) like Alastair Reynolds and Peter Hamilton because he thinks that there’s a market for it but it’s also what he likes to read.

Epic fantasy is a big seller and it’s currently being driven by the phenomenon surrounding Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin. Marcus said that epic fantasy needs scale, both physical size (i.e. the number of words) but also the world building with nation-spanning stories that spread across a trilogy. Standalone fantasy is usually only possible if you’re a ‘name’ author.

Gollancz takes both agented and unagented submissions but they look at the agented submissions first and can take a long time to go through the unagented ‘slush pile’ (typically only looking at it every 6 months). For unagented submissions they want a synopsis and the first 10,000 words.

The Gollancz editors are on the website and there’s a blog that authors can use to research them and what they’re each looking for. The submissions requirements are on the Gollancz blog. Make sure that you name a particular editor because it will help.

Don’t submit in April because that’s when all the London Book Fair submissions come in and the editors will be too busy to get to yours.

Gollancz And Self-Published Authors

Marcus has previously purchased a self-published title (a Fighting Fantasy type of adventure book), which had sold about 2,000 in print. Those figures weren’t stunning but the book had been stocked in Waterstones. Gollancz subsequently sold rights into France, Spain and Holland.

Marcus bought the book because the author had spent a lot of time in producing it – it was well written and well designed, so Marcus thought that Gollancz could so something with it.

What’s The Market Like For Genre?

The retail market is different for genre at the moment. Waterstones used to be very important because their ‘3 for 2’ offer encouraged customers to take a risk on the third book and it really helped new authors and genres that otherwise wouldn’t be tried. The current ‘buy one, get one half price’ doesn’t do this so well. Waterstones’ current strategy is to do away with genre breakdown and instead have one generic ‘fiction’ section, which will probably make it even harder for new authors. Waterstones’ staff reviews remain very important and the stores remain the biggest market for the sale of ‘physical’ books. Amazon, however, holds about 80% of the ebook market but it just doesn’t have the browsability that physical stores have.

Social Media And Authors

A social media presence is important for debut authors to do because it has more impact with readers. One of the best things that authors can do is have a good author page on Amazon because it’s easy to do and keep up to date and can be used to answer questions from readers while also offering potential customers links to all of your books.

Thanks to Marcus for taking the time to speak to us and thanks also to Martin Owton for organising it.