Friday, November 10, 2017

Six Questions for Sarah Leavesley, Editor, V. Press

V. Press publishes poetry and flash fiction pamphlets/collections by UK authors currently residing in the UK. Read the complete guidelines here.

SQF: Why did you start this press?

Sarah Leavesley: Starting the press was something that developed organically. I’d set up a blog for a female poetry collaboration. We were booked for a poetry gig at a significant UK poetry festival (Ledbury) and someone said why don’t we have a book to sell at it…the rest as they say is history. I set up the company and fellow collaborator Ruth Stacey helped me to put together that first chapbook.

I was on a masters at the time, I didn’t want to self-publish outside of that collaboration and I had two solo collections with other publishers, so I didn’t do anything more with the press for about a year.  But, after I finished my masters, I had more time and was looking for a new project that would excite me. I’d also reached a stage where I’d been more widely published and had a number of books out with various presses myself. The confidence, editorial input and writing development that being published had given me was amazing. I wanted to be able to offer that to other poets and help to get great work out to readers.

V. Press opened a submissions window, and I took it from there. Because of her workload and commitments, Ruth, wasn’t able to continue in an active editing role. But she agreed to stay on and take charge of design, as well as being my main port of call for advice or when I need a second opinion.

The scope and range of what we publish has evolved a great deal since that first chapbook. I’m also a fiction writer and reader, and V. Press widened its range to also include flash fiction in 2015. Again, this was something that developed organically out of  both my own writing and reading interests and the literary environment at the time.

SQF: What are the top three things you look for in a submission and why?

SL: Talent, uniqueness, crafting. I’ve rattled that off somewhat glibly because if I think too long or try to define these too precisely, it would be a phd-length essay and still not feel like a full satisfactory answer!  In essence with the first two, I want to feel so excited or gripped  or taken over by the work that I have to keep reading on. Perhaps because these two qualities are more intangible and harder to define than crafting, I think these are also the most crucial. To some extent, crafting can be learned and polishing applied afterwards. It’s much harder (maybe even impossible?) to make something technically competent stand out from the rest without there being talent or uniqueness there in the first place. I think this is also important when considering submissions from writers who aren’t privileged in terms of time or money to spend on writing courses or feedback. That said, I think reading widely is an important part of this, and increasingly less financially restrictive with growing online resources. It’s also one of many good arguments for maintaining and treasuring our libraries.

SQF: What most often turns you off to a submission?

SL: Rudeness, as in life in general. Fortunately, I don’t get that very much with submissions. I think making a good submission, or ‘pitch’, is an art in itself, and one I know I don’t always get right myself. As editors go, therefore, I’m probably fairly tolerant and do prefer to focus on the quality of the actual work submitted. But, if I turn that question on its head and say what’s more likely to set a good environment to start reading that quality work in, following submission guidelines is a big one – and one that’s probably even more crucial for the number of editors who have said the same numerous times before. Likewise with not addressing me as dear sir, or a blanket submission ccing numerous other presses…

SQF: What are the next steps after a manuscript is accepted for publication?

SL: This very much depends on the manuscript. Some need more and some less editorial discussion and input from me. The key word for me here though is discussion. I’m fairly hands on, but it is a two-way process. For me, it’s about bringing the best out of the manuscript and presenting it in the best way for the work itself, within the author’s own style and voice.

I also have to typeset the manuscript – putting into house font and style etc. This usually happens after most of the editorial input. But it may happen earlier or during that process if it’s needed in order to tie down page-length of the finished pamphlet/book.

I do believe in nurturing talent. So, occasionally, I won’t take on a submission but I will offer some free feedback and/or mentoring with the hope that this might lead to a manuscript that V. Press can then publish. This is becoming more and more difficult though because of the time and work involved in doing that.

SQF: When you look into your crystal ball, what do you see in V. Press’s future?

SL: Now that is the one thing that I still need – a crystal ball that works, and one that I can manage to hold onto without breaking! Seriously though, we live in a fast-changing world and one that requires fast adaptation. V. Press has already moved from one pamphlet in our first year to three in 2015, five titles in 2016 and nine scheduled for 2017. That is a lot of work, and some risk, on all fronts. We are – inevitably – constrained by time, energy and financial resources. I currently do all the editing and admin on my own, while Ruth Stacey creates our beautiful poetry cover designs. Maintaining quality for our readers, doing the best for V. Press authors and remaining financially feasible/sustainable are my main motivators and aims. The exact nature of this is constantly evolving, as it has to.

SQF: What one question on this topic do you wish I'd asked that I didn't? And how would you answer it?

SL: Is the love and demand for poetry and books dying? My answer – no. In fact, both have  probably even increased; it’s just that the nature of this,  and the ways of best meeting that love and demand, are constantly changing.

Thank you, Sarah. We all appreciate you taking time from your busy schedule to participate in this project.

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