Discover more from By the Book: Jamie McGarry at Valley Press
On diving into a sea of subs
The hunt for "read" October
As you might expect, the September submissions window is now definitely, definitively, closed – even for the most sympathetic stragglers. If you’ve been in a cave writing your masterpiece and just emerged, typescript in hand, I am sorry to break that news; but hey, at least you have time to squeeze in another couple of drafts before Valley Press opens for submissions again (in autumn 2024, at the earliest).
I had been expecting 300 typescripts, and we looked to be on track for around that number until the final week, when the inbox started to fill up rapidly. Each email “thread” (or conversation) was labelled “subs-sept-23” within our system, once myself or Lindsey had replied, and this is how things looked at midnight on the 30th:
That’s 421 enquiries, but we think at least 20 of the initial emails contained two or three typescripts (as multiple entries were allowed) – so the final tally, plus a few late entrants with solid excuses, is just over 450.
This was a free-to-enter window, so I hope you won’t feel too hard done by when I tell you I am planning to read each typescript for just 5 minutes in the initial pass; that’s 12 an hour, so 37.5 hours to read the lot (basically a full working week). Given the healthy number of entries, and that I’m looking to take on a maximum of six, during those first five minutes I’ll be asking myself just one question:
Will I regret turning down this book for the rest of my life?
Specifically, I’m imagining sitting in a cafe in Scarborough fifty years from now, sipping a tall drink from a holographic mug, staring out the window and thinking: “Damn… I wish I’d taken on that book by so-and-so at the end of 2023. It could have been one of my proudest achievements.” (Fear of future regret has always been one of my main sources of motivation – happy to hear from any psychologists about that!)
Five minutes is not enough time to answer the question with a definitive “yes”, but in my experience, it is absolutely enough time to get to “no” or “possibly”. The ideal outcome is that, having read through all 450 entries, I have a pile of no more than a dozen “possiblys”; I will then read those carefully, and offer contracts to each author whose books live up to or exceed their initial promise.
There seems to be very little chance of keeping the pile that small, though: I have already marked four as “possibly” from initial glances. (Actually, one of those just emailed to withdraw, as they’ve been offered a contract by another professional small press – thank goodness I didn’t get too deep into that one!! I’ll be doing nothing but sitting in cafes sighing with regret at this rate.)
If I end up with too many books on my pseudo-shortlist, the reading period could last through November, and I could end up commissioning for 2025 as well; that’s why I’ve yet to commit to a deadline for final decisions, or opening the next window. But, I trust you understand I’m not writing any of the above to complain – this is a hugely exciting time of year, 450 is a deeply flattering number, and there aren’t many ways I’d rather spend my 37.5 hours this October. I’d like to extend a huge, sincere thank you to every single one of you who entered.
Speaking of the time of year: I’m writing this in the final hours of National Poetry Day, and I hope those of you who actively celebrated it had a good time. Rather selfishly, since I became a professional poetry publisher, I’ve taken this as a day off – interpreting it like Father’s Day, or a Bank Holiday, saying something like “well every day is poetry day at Valley Press”. (I have done a few emergency emails though, and of course, written this blog.) Tomorrow it’s back to business, but I won’t be touching the submissions just yet; there’s plenty more happening at Valley Press before the year is out, with six autumn titles to complete and promote. (I’m also working on a great self-published book, for an author who has employed VP through our publishing services – which, I must remind you, are open 52 weeks a year.)
In closing, I noticed that for the second time this decade, one of the mascots for National Poetry Day was a snail – there must be something about snails and poetry? I’ll end, then, with John Bunyan’s ‘Upon a Snail’ from 1686, which has (in its final lines) some sound advice for anyone about to read 450 submissions:
Upon a Snail
She goes but softly, but she goeth sure; She stumbles not as stronger creatures do: Her journey's shorter, so she may endure Better than they which do much farther go. She makes no noise, but stilly seizeth on The flower or herb appointed for her food, The which she quietly doth feed upon, While others range and gare, but find no good. And though she doth but very softly go, However 'tis not fast, nor slow, but sure; And certainly they that do travel so, The prize they do aim at, they do procure.