Monday, 22 September 2014

What We Do When We Process Submissions

A few weeks ago at the Poetry Book Fair, I was on a panel discussion called 'What Do Poetry Pamphlet Editors Look For?', chaired by Joey Connolly. It was a short session, so we only had time to give the briefest of outlines of our submissions policies, but one theory which was floated was that it was impossible to say what editors looked for, because they are always looking for something new and also will just go with their gut anyway. I agree with this to some extent, but I'm not sure if it's the most helpful way of looking at it.

For starters, you probably can get a decent idea of what a single editor is interested in by examining their history of commissioned works. This might not work for a team of editors, but most small presses operate on teams of one anyway. You'll be able to glean clues about the styles they like as well as their main concerns, so you can use empathy and imagination to consider whether yours would fit with this or perhaps provide a refreshing change. Either is good!

My inbox
The Emma Press runs regular calls for submissions, with the proviso that people submitting must join the Emma Press Club, so it's especially important for me that the submissions process is as transparent as possible. Part of the thinking behind the Emma Press Club (where people must buy one book/ebook/set of poem postcards from our website in order to submit for that calendar year) was to ensure that everyone submitting would have to engage with our website and buy something we had created, and in doing so get a better idea about what we like. On our flyers, we describe ourselves as specialising in 'books which are sweet, funny and easy on the eye', which is fairly accurate although it doesn't take into account the darker direction in which some of our books have wandered. I hope that people find this helpful when deciding whether – and what – to submit.

It occurred to me that something else which might help potential submitters was an account of what we do after the submissions deadline. It might be useful for you to imagine what your poems will have to face after you've pressed 'send', and you might also find it reassuring that your poems are in hopeful, encouraging hands. We want to choose your poems, and we open every email hoping that this will be a 'MAYBE YES'. This might also explain why we're sometimes late in responding to submissions...

What We Do When We Process Anthology Submissions (from my point of view)

  1. I read all of the poems within a submission twice, and then label it 'NO' or 'MAYBE YES', which feels as alarmingly harsh to do as it sounds. But! At least the labels aren't 'AWFUL' and 'OBJECTIVELY GREAT' – all we're doing at this stage is deciding which of the poems might be the kind of thing we like and which might be suitable for the brief, and which are not so much the kind of thing we like or not really suitable for the brief. This is not a statement about quality, and I know that we have turned down lots of great poems just because they didn't quite fit our vision for the anthology or because they just didn't click with us. About a third to a half of the overall submissions usually end up on this longlist.
  2. I read all the poems on the 'MAYBE YES' longlist again and create a shortlist, this time noting down my thoughts on the poems. By this point, I'll have a better idea of what the book is going to look like, so it's slightly easier to decide if a poem will be right for it. I start reading the submissions with a very open mind, but by the shortlisting stage I'll have formed some ideas about what areas the book will focus on and the general feel of the book. I'll also be thinking hard about whether this poem grabs me and has stayed with me since I last read it. My shortlist usually contains 60-70 poets.
  3. I meet up with Rachel Piercey, my brilliant co-editor, and we compare our shortlists. We'll discuss each of the poems and how we feel they could work in the book. Like Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry deciding whether to expel Kate or Richard on The Great British Bake-Off, our discussion can become heated. I like to keep our anthologies fairly slim, so we aim to select around 30 poets for each book.

I hope this is helpful! Our calls for poems about 1) UK politics and 2) voting are ending on Sunday, so do check our our guidelines on our Submissions page. We're also currently looking for poems about 'Slow Things', and we'll be announcing still more calls for submissions over the next few months. Sign up to our newsletter so you don't miss out.

* If you want to hear me talk more about poetry pamphlets and see some of our pamphlet poets in action, book a free ticket for our Special Edition event at the Poetry Library now:

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Exclusive extract from the introduction to 'Homesickness and Exile'

Homesickness and Exile
This week we're tremendously excited to be launching our new anthology, Homesickness and ExileThe book is the second in our 'Emma Press Ovid' series, which began with A Poetic Primer for Love and Seduction, and it's a fantastic collection of poems about home and belonging with contributions from poets from across the world. There are poems about leaving home and missing it, returning home and feeling like a stranger, and about not knowing where 'home' should really be.

When Rachel (Piercey, my co-editor) and I began planning Homesickness and Exile, we hoped it would be the kind of book people would give to imminent travellers, to keep them company on the road. I think we've achieved that, and I couldn't be happier with the sensitive and varied ways in which all the poets approach the subject. It's a thoughtful, moving set of poems and I hope that it will strike a chord with everyone who reads it, whether they're at home or abroad. To give you a sense of the book, I've posted an extract from my introduction below. Enjoy!

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Inside the book
When the Roman poet Ovid was ejected from Rome by the emperor Augustus and sent to Tomis, a remote town on the Black Sea, he wrote five books of poetry in an attempt to bring about his pardon. These books, the Tristia, describe his last night in Rome, his terrifying journey across stormy seas, his misery in Tomis, his abandoned wife and friends, his early life and poetic works, and – above all – his hope that Augustus will relent and let him come back to Rome.

Ovid’s heartbroken descriptions of his wife and friends will resonate with anyone who has ever had to leave behind a loved one, but for me the fascination lies in Ovid’s unwavering belief in where his home is. He’s been banished from it by Augustus and he’ll live the rest of his days in Tomis, but his home will always be in Rome – not where he was born, but where he chose to live, surrounded by his wife, friends, library, reputation and personal history. In a very callous way, I feel envious of Ovid in his absolute conviction in where he calls home, because it strikes me as quite rare and wonderful to be able to identify somewhere as your home with full satisfaction and accuracy. Ovid may have lost it, but he had it to begin with: somewhere he was happy to belong.

When we launched the call for poems for this book, I wondered what we would learn about modern attitudes to home and whether Ovid’s feeling of bereavement would be echoed in any of the poems. In the privileged world of cheap flights and Skype, people can, in theory, go wherever they like, come back and visit often, and stay in touch via the Internet. Do people even feel homesick like Ovid anymore?

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Four poets from the anthology, Holly Hopkins, Anja Konig, Selina Nwulu and Stephen Sexton, will be reading at the Story Museum in Oxford on 2nd October. This special event will be part of the National Poetry Day celebrations, and the poets will be reading from the anthology as well as other poems on the theme of 'remembering'. You can book tickets here.

You can read more about the book and the poets involved over on our website and buy the printed book and ebook over on our website.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Valley Press Friday Digest, #19 (Final, Sunday edition)

Readers, the day you've all been dreading is finally here - it's time to retire the 'Friday Digest' format. I've really enjoyed writing these posts over the last four months, and I'm sure it's been good discipline. Sometimes I had the time and inclination to write a lengthy, stirring essay, sometimes I just rushed off links to things I'd seen on Twitter, and sometimes I quite literally phoned it in - but I always got it done. Eventually. But not any more.

I believe some sort of regular communication with the public is essential for a publisher, but I'm not quite achieving that with this current format. I haven't been able to reconcile writing these posts with sending out a newsletter; this seems to make the newsletter irrelevant, and yet I know the newsletter is more important than the blog - or do I? The point is, I need to go away and rethink my basic 'news dispersal' plan, and more importantly how to start building a genuine digital community around VP and EP. Answers and suggestions are always welcome.

Before I call it a day though, what have I got to report from this week? Well, me and Emma had a wonderful time at the Free Verse Poetry Book Fair on Friday - lots of sales and good discussions at what they are calling the 'Poetry Christmas'. Here's a representative photo:

Also, it would appear Love and Eskimo Snow has been nominated for the People's Book Prize, which (as you can guess) is a book prize voted for by the people. I really dislike 'marshalling the troops' to go and vote for stuff - but we won't get into the muddled psychology behind that just now. There's been a bit too much of that on these Digests as it is! The important part: if you would like to support this excellent VP novel, you can do so here.

That's all for the time being - I'll see you on the new newsletter/blog/whatever when I figure it out. If there's anyone out there who's read all nineteen of these posts, top to bottom, my sincere thanks to you - and of course, there's still time to catch up if you'd like...