Friday, 16 January 2015

The Emma Press is Two Years Old

At the end of this month, it will have been two years since we published our first book, The Flower and the Plough. Two years! It feels like much less time has passed, because I spend nearly every day trying to whisk my business up into something enduring and the deadlines have come so thick and fast that I don't have time to stop and reflect on all we've achieved.

Our book table in December 2014
Towards the end of last year, people at events started commenting on how much my book table had grown since the previous year, and I would think very briefly about how nice all the books looked together, before going back to worrying about the next new books and events. I hope that I'll proceed through this year at a slightly less breakneck speed, but in case I don't manage that I'm going to share with you a short list of what I've been happiest with over the last two years.

Rachel and Emma at the 2014 Michael Marks Awards
1. Working with Rachel Piercey. Mixing business into a friendship has its risks, but it has been a complete pleasure working with Rachel on all the Emma Press books. Since starting to plan The Flower and the Plough in 2012, we have felt our way towards defining how the Emma Press operates and what it stands for. From thrashing out final selections of poems in anthologies to lugging boxes of books across muddy fields, I've had the most incredible time working with Rachel and I'm very proud with what we have created. You can read more about our working relationship in my Poetry School interview.

The tour poster
2. The Mildly Erotic Poetry Tour. In the summer of 2013, I applied for and was awarded funding from Arts Council England as part of the Lottery-funded Grants for the arts programme. I was then plunged into a whirlwind of emails, rehearsals and promotion for the 10-date Mildly Erotic Poetry Tour, learning as I went along about all the challenges of event planning. The most piquant thing I learned was 'Don't book two or even three events within a few days of each other, or even back to back, especially when they're at opposite ends of the country.' But we survived, and it was great, ridiculous fun! You can read my blog about the Mildly Erotic Poetry Tour here.

Amy Key, Sarah Hesketh and Eve Lacey
3. Finding our guest editors. Or, rather, being found by them. We've been lucky enough to be approached by poetry editors who understood what we were doing with the Emma Press and wanted to be part of it. First Amy Key, co-founder of Poems In Which, came to me with her idea for Best Friends Forever, the anthology about female friendship which we published last month. Next came Sarah Hesketh, who was about to publish her collection of poems inspired by her time as poet-in-residence at Age Concern and wanted to edit an anthology about ageing (publishing Sept 2015). And then Eve Lacey, who had recently edited an anthology about women warriors for For Books' Sake and wanted to edit an anthology about the sea (the call for submissions will be later this year). That last one is fresh news, by the way – you heard it here first!

4. The Emma Press Club. I started the Emma Press Club last year because we were getting increasingly large numbers of submissions to our open calls and I wasn't convinced that everyone had read the brief for each themed poetry anthology. As a result, Rachel and I were spending a lot of time reading submissions which seemed only vaguely related to the brief and even less related to the kind of poetry we were interested in publishing. To be fair, in 2013 we hadn't published many books, but by March 2014 we'd published enough books that anyone who read one could form an idea of what we might like.

I felt frustrated with the people who hadn't read my brief properly and concerned for the people who hadn't given themselves a good chance of sending us poems that we might like. We wanted to continue being inclusive and running open calls for submissions, instead of just commissioning everything, so I set up the Emma Press Club, whereby everyone submitting to our anthologies had to have bought a book from our website in that calendar year, with an additional £5 fee per pamphlet submission. It's worked well so far, bringing the number of submissions down to a more manageable level and significantly raising the quality of submissions. You can read more about the Emma Press Club here.

Emma and Jamie at the 2013 Poetry Book Fair
5. Teaming up with Valley Press. And finally, the reason you're reading this on the Emma-Valley Press blog instead of the Emma Press website: the special relationship between the Emma Press and Jamie McGarry's Valley Press. We called it an engagement at first, but perhaps it can now be better compared to the twinning of two towns, in that the VP and EP remain separate while occasionally arranging a food market on their opposite number's turf. The Emma Press comes to Scarborough every spring and puts on a 'real food' fair featuring artisan cheeses and churros, and Valley Press comes to Winnersh in early December with a band of local traders offering mulled wine, biscuits and a suckling pig. You can read more about the original engagement here.

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