What Sort Of Writing Are We Looking For? -by Gregory Motton
As an author myself, I know very well the way the land lies for writers. Not only publishers, but
agents now too, are looking only for work that is likely to be commercially successful. They are
second and third guessing what they think other people will find interesting. Agents are trying to
guess the taste of publishers and publishers are trying to guess the taste of the public (or simply of
the reviewers). Most publishers won't even accept submissions unless they are from agents, whom
they hope have done all their vetting for them. To get beyond the pile of hopefuls you have a better
chance if you are a name, or if you know someone.
There isn't much space for good writing, and certainly not for brave and bold writing, in all of this.
Some agents and publishers do talk of their personal taste, but by some co-incidence they all seem
to have a great enthusiasm for what might be, or has already shown itself to be, commercial, just
now (“I love a strong story”). A book that resembles the latest great success happens to be just the
kind of book they like.
As a publisher, I am not remotely interested in whether your book is going to sell (you
might think that this doesn't bode well for sales, and maybe it doesn't). My interest is solely in the
merit of your book. If I think it is of very particular quality or interest, and if it would be useful for
you or for the world at large for me to publish it, and if I can, I will.
I am happy to publish plays, novels, works of scholarship, economics, politics, books, poems, even
picture books, about more or less anything. I have few preconceptions as to what a book should be,
and those I have are personal ones based on my own tastes and opinions. I carry no-one's brief but
I will try to be broad minded, at least artistically. While I strongly favour work that is original and
wouldn't easily be accepted by other publishers, I would also be interested in work that isn't
particularly original but is of particularly good quality, and maybe not sexy enough to attract other
publishers. The emphasis would be on quality rather than any particular style, or kind of writing. I
am not impressed by novelty for its own sake.
So, if you are an unknown, first time author who has written a book that no-one will like and
everyone will hate, I don't care, if I think it is a good book. It can be a novel, it can be poetry, it can
be about traction engines or economics or history or about your home town.
If you are a known writer whose publisher has refused to publish a book you know is of real
interest, send it to me. If you have written something that isn't a conventional book, it doesn't fit
into any category and won't sell for that reason, but it is of real merit, then send it to me. I cannot
promise to publish anything at all, as I have very limited resources, but I can promise not to be put
off by peripheral considerations.
Besides literary merit there is also the matter of truthfulness. If you have written a truthful book
about a subject where the truth is not being allowed, but you are not a very good writer, send it to
me, perhaps I can help.
Overall, this approach favours good writers above commercial ones, but if your book is
commercial and of real literary merit, and you want to be in the company of writers that are
chosen for their quality alone, we won't hold your book's commercial appeal against you, send it
I would also be looking for books that attempt to go outside of the norms of judgement that form
the modern contemporary view of art and politics, the old and the new. Writers who are out of
step, either too "old fashioned" or too forward thinking or both, are welcome; as are writers who
are unfashionable because of their style or content. My tastes are conservative and radical at the
I would rather not accept submissions from agents. Authors should send their own submissions.
For writers who consider their work to be political please read this;
For details of how to submit your work please see Submissions