Publishers who accept unsolicited manuscripts
One of the headaches that perplexes new writers is whether to get an agent or whether to send their work direct to a publisher that accepts unsolicited manuscripts. This is a complicated area, so bear with us as we explain which authors should do what.
Are you sure you want to head straight off to publishers? Then sign up now (for free) on Agent Hunter. Our database of around 500 UK publishers (including ALL large publishers) tells you which ones handle which genres and which ones accept unsolicited manuscripts. For full access to the info & functionality of the site, you will need to register and subscribe. Subscriptions start from as little as a few pounds.
Otherwise, here goes with our advice on which kinds of authors needs publishers and which should go to literary agents.
If you are writing a novel
If you’re writing a novel, you almost certainly need a literary agent.
The vast majority of novels in the UK are published by one of the Big 5 publishers (Penguin Random House, Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Simon & Schuster) or by one of a handful of big indie houses (notably, Bloomsbury, Faber, Canongate &c). You may not recognise all those names, but remember that the big corporations operate through a number of imprints – basically, brandnames – so that Macmillan, for example, is much less well-known than Pan or Picador, two of its bigger imprints.
All of these larger publishers will ONLY accept work via literary agents, so if you’re serious about getting your novel published, you have to have an agent.
The only real exception to this rule is if you have a niche novel – let’s say a steampunk fantasy manuscript – and you just know that a niche, passionate publisher will be the right home for it. In those cases, yes, you can send your MS direct to the publisher ... but do check first that you’ve got this right. I mean, if a big outfit like Gollancz or Tor (parts of big conglomerate publishers) wanted your book, wouldn’t you want them to have it? They’d have a lot, lot more money to put behind your work. That doesn’t guarantee success, but it sure does help.
If you are writing general non-fiction
If you’re writing the kind of non-fiction that could live on the front tables of a big bookshop, then the same rule applies: you probably need a big publisher, in which case you definitely need a literary agent. So a Malcolm Gladwell-ish book, or a Bill Bryson-ish one, or a Longitude/Dava Sobel-style one, would all need agents.
If you are writing niche non-fiction
If your book is way more niche than those kind of books – if you’re writing, for example, a how-to book on pig-breeding or swimming technique – then the big publishers won’t be interested and you can skip straight through to the little guys. Equally, an agent won’t be interested in your work (because there’ll be so little money in it), so going straight to publishers is fine.
If you are writing for a business / academic / professional market
All of these publishers do not normally require you to have a literary agent and are, in principle, open to unsolicited manuscripts.
If you are writing poetry
Same thing here. Only a few, very prominent poets have literary agents and it’s just fine for you to submit your work direct to poetry publishers. Do note, however, that those publishers will normally expect you to have something of a track record in getting published by poetry magazines.
A very short list of suitable publishers
Despite its name, Agent Hunter works equally well as a Publisher Hunter. Basically: we have a highly comprehensive list of UK publishers (though we do exclude a few very specialist or very small houses). Our info includes detailed data on what they publish, contact info, and whether or not unsolicted submissions are accepted. In order to make full use of that list, you need to:
a) Register as a new user on Agent Hunter.
b) Carry out a publisher search, looking for publishers in your subject area that accept unsolicited manuscripts. If you are subscribe to the site (costs from as little as a few pounds) you will enjoy full access to the site's data and functionality.
By way of a taster, we’ve put a random selection of publishers who accept unsolicited manuscripts below – but our full directory is much, much more comprehensive, so do please sign up rather relying on the scanty information on this page.