Friday, 30 June 2017
This week at Valley Press, #61: 'Tess of the Submission-villes'
I’m Tess, Submissions Coordinator at Valley Press. I started here in April, following a hectic round of submissions in 2016. I spend most Saturdays at Valley Press HQ, and my job is to coordinate and ensure the smooth running of the submissions process. I have a 9-5 job during the week, and many people ask, ‘gosh isn’t that tiring?’, but I’ve found that a Saturday occupied in a lovely book-lined office, sifting through and reading new writing – sent to me from every corner of the UK (and further) – is a day well spent. It’s a great brain-break from my full time job and as a bona fide bookworm, I would most likely be spending my Saturday reading anyway, if I wasn’t at Valley Press. So in short, yes I am tired on a Saturday evening – but I find myself feeling creatively energised, inspired and eager to get back to the office the following week.
Submissions are now sent to me digitally, and we ask writers to fill out a submissions form. We don’t charge a submission fee, but we do ask that submitters purchase a book from the website. This funds the submissions department, and also means that writers get a lovely book with their submission, and don’t have to submit through an agent or a competition. This has allowed us to have an open submissions arrangement, instead of a window with a deadline, meaning we can make decisions and send responses to submitters much more quickly than we could previously; we aim to respond within 90 days, so submitters aren’t twiddling their thumbs for too many months.
A typical day at Valley Press for me is answering the myriad of queries that come through the website, ensuring that new manuscripts are carefully saved, and pushing them through our highly organised submission process. I am the first filter for new works, so I spend quite a large part of the day reading through submissions. This is my favourite aspect of my job; I feel privileged to read through works which have been so lovingly and passionately created, and I can’t imagine how it must feel to part ways with your manuscript and send it out, hopefully, into the world. I always think of Roland Barthes’s The Death of the Author at this stage: “we know that to give writing its future; it is necessary to overthrow the myth: the birth of the reader must be at the cost of the death of the Author”. I imagine that sending your final draft, after you’ve made sure every comma is in its correct place, trusting someone else to interpret and appreciate your art to be a very big moment.
So, with this in mind, I make sure I have a big cup of tea, and ensure I pay utmost attention to each and every manuscript. I usually read around 20-30 pages of each, by this point I can usually decide if a submission will make it through to the next stage of the process. If I’m unsure about a submission, I get a second opinion from Jamie or Jo, as tastes vary so widely. The next phase of the process is the most exciting; Valley Press are lucky enough to have a ‘digital readers panel’ of about 30 volunteer readers, who provide us with feedback and let us know whether as readers, they would buy the book or not. This has proved to be a successful method; I always find it intriguing to see which manuscripts our readers do or don’t like. The group often unanimously agrees or disagrees, but often don’t have the reaction I think they’ll have, surprising me every week. I think it’s always good to be reminded how differently people react to art, and that we all have such individual taste.
I’m always keen to have as many different opinions as possible, so if partaking in the readers group is something you’re interested in (you don’t need any qualifications, just being someone who is interested in books and loves to read means you are plenty qualified), please contact me directly, and I will add you to our list!
Once the manuscripts have been looked over by all the eyes we have available to us, we are then in a position to make a final decision. Unfortunately, I have to send out quite a few rejection emails; we tend to take forward around 1 of every 100 submissions for publication, and sending rejections is never easy. However, every acceptance email I send makes up for it, and being the person who breaks the good news is a huge perk of the job. I recently received a reply from a writer who was standing in Sainsbury’s and informed me she was going to buy a bottle of fizz immediately she was so ‘over the moon’. This was a great ending to a day at Valley Press, and the celebratory mood was infectious enough to make me raise a glass of my own when I got home.
After I have broken the good news, I arrange a meeting between the prospective writer and Jamie – he aims to meet everyone in person to make sure that VP is the right match. If this meeting is a success, the book will be pushed through to production, from whereon the lovely Jo will take over. I haven’t yet seen a work that I have selected from the initial submission in it’s final, magnificent book form, but I am incredibly excited to see the first one, and it will be a pleasure knowing that I have had a small part to play in its creation.
Tess Dennison, Submissions Coordinator