Tuesday, 28 October 2014

What we're looking for in the prose pamphlet submissions

We launched a call for prose pamphlet submissions last month, which felt like a significant step for the Emma Press. Up until now we’ve only published poetry, because our first publication was a poetry pamphlet and it felt sensible to build on what we had learned from publishing it. Then, a few months ago, it occurred to me that we could publish prose pamphlets which would join our existing series of full-length poetry pamphlets. They would be as short as the poetry pamphlets and therefore less daunting to edit. I suddenly felt ready to open up our list and I’ve been excited about it ever since.

The Emma Press Pamphlets

I’ve had quite a few queries from people about our submissions guidelines and what we’re actually looking for, so I thought it would be helpful to lay out my vision of these pamphlets and give you a sense of what I hope to find for our new prose list. If you have any questions/suggestions about other suitable formats, feel free to ask me in the comments section.


The core idea of our pamphlets is accessibility, to writers as well as readers. From a writer’s perspective, this is an opportunity to showcase your writing and ideas, at a time when you might not be ready for a full-length book. From a reader’s perspective, this is a low-pressure, low-cost purchase, insofar as a pamphlet only costs £6.50 and is about 36 pages long. It's likely you'll be able to read the whole thing, maybe several times, so you'll probably get your money’s worth.

So, my advice to writers is this: please think about the reader and how your pamphlet proposal will seem to an optimistic, philanthropic bookshop browser with £6.50 burning a hole in their pocket. Your idea must feel like it's worth at least £6.50 and, ideally, by the time the reader finishes the book and is considering buying more Emma Press pamphlets, your book has got to feel like it was a bargain at £6.50.

I know this might seem excessively worldly to demand of a writer, but it’s probably the most useful thing I have to tell you. When I’m reading your proposals and deciding which ones to pursue, I’ll be asking myself: would I, an individual with little money and still less time to spend reading for fun, fork out £6.50 for this?


For me, the accessibility of the pamphlets for the readers extends beyond the price and the length, and into the writing itself. I’m a huge stickler for lucidity in literature and I have little patience for deliberately vague and opaque writing. I’m not against experimentation, but at the same time I value the sense of an unspoken contract between the writer and the reader; the communicator and the recipient. If you don’t make the effort to convey your ideas to the reader, why should the reader bother trying to understand you? If you don’t want people to understand you, why not just keep a diary and keep it to yourself? I fully believe it’s possible to write cleverly and innovatively whilst still being clear.

I think style is a big part of readability, so I’ll also be looking for writers whose style I enjoy. I like writing which has an awareness of rhythm – just because it isn’t poetry doesn’t mean it can’t scan. If you use long sentences, make sure they’re structured well and used sparingly. I'd recommend reading your writing aloud, to see if it rolls off your tongue. If you find yourself tripping over parts of what you've written, or getting mixed up over which clauses to stress in order to make sentences make sense, you might need to take another look at your style.

I particularly admire the authors Douglas Adams and Hilary Mckay for their style. 

THE FORMATS: A whole range

Short stories. I think a single short story, or maybe two short stories, would work really well as a pamphlet. After reading my favourite short stories, I always feel like I’ve been clubbed over the head and have to sit quietly for a little while, to process what has happened. You can do a lot with a short story, and I’m hoping we find some writers at the starts of their careers, pre- bestselling novel, as well as more established writers who fancy mixing things up a bit. I love children’s and YA literature, so writing in those genres is very welcome. I’ve had a few queries about flash fiction, and to be honest I’d be concerned that a collection of 30-odd pieces of flash fiction might not feel like any more than the sum of its parts, unless perhaps there was a unifiying narrative. If you think your proposal will negate my concerns, then by all means send something in.

Short plays. I really like Tom Stoppard’s one-act radio plays, like Artist Descending a Staircase, so I can imagine publishing some tightly-written mini-dramas or comedies. I think we could have some fun with the launch events!

Comics. Emma Press books already contain illustrations, so I’m very interested in exploring fully-illustrated, graphic novel-style pamphlets, for both fiction and non-fiction. If you are a graphic novelist and have an idea which might suit a short black-and-white pamphlet (or even a colour one, possibly), we’d be very happy to hear from you.

Essays. Some writing is just too good to leave on a blog, magazine or newspaper website, so we'd love to build up a list of non-fiction pamphlets. We're interested in all kinds of well-written essays which make sense as a pamphlet, including essays on politics, humorous subjects, travel, memoirs, and any other specialist areas. I know this is vague, but if you're a really good writer and can write something interesting and engaging then we may be interested in you.

Recipes. I love reading cookbooks, even though I rarely have any intention of using the recipes. I like good food writing (hello Nigella) and I'd like to publish pamphlets of maybe 10 recipes, each accompanied by my illustrations and with quite chunky introductions to each recipe. General food writing is welcome too.

Guides. The pamphlet lends itself very well to manuals and guides, so if you have some wisdom or facts to impart on the world, step this way! Do consider which subjects might appeal to us, as we won't be able to publish something that we don't understand at all and have no interest in.

Speeches. A bit of a wildcard, but why not? Any modern-day Ciceros and Plinys will certainly get a look-in, as we have a soft spot for orators and rhetoricians. You could even send us a dialogue, like the ancient philosophers!

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The call for prose pamphlet submissions is open until 25th January 2015. In order to submit, you need to be a member of the Emma Press Club (you join by buying a book/ebook/set of postcards from our website) and pay a £5 pamphlet submission fee per proposal. Read all the details here.

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