The UK has a fantastic small press scene. To celebrate the people behind the imprints, and help out the writers that are looking to them for publication, we've asked a number of editors to share what they're working on - and what they're looking for. This week, our guest is Dominic Stevenson from Listen Softly London.
Could you tell us a bit about who you are and what you're doing?
Listen Softly London started out as a creative arts night. We'd have poets, storytellers, comedians, and so on and we'd all get together and perform and critique and eventually the press seemed like a natural extension of that.
To me the press is an opportunity to speak to people who may otherwise not access an arts event. It was a way of expanding beyond the echo chamber.
What are the stories or the novels that you want to publish?
I believe in using words powerfully, and that means I want stories and other works that really look beyond the obvious. We all hate racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, but how can your writing get that message to an audience who may not agree? How can it be persuasive?
It's easy to sell books to likeminded people, but how can we get them beyond?
What have you recently published, and what's coming soon?
We've published two collections of writing so far, and we have another in the pipeline.
Our first, Thomas McColl's Being With Me Will Help You Learn, came about after I saw Tom on the spoken word circuit. His writing was impressive and his stone cold delivery of it made it jump right off the page and I knew as soon as the press started that I wanted him on board.
Our second collection, Gary from Leeds' collection of writing, Your Attempt To Enjoy These Poems is Considered Unsatisfactory, came about in a similar way. Gary had a superb run at Edinburgh a few years ago and I knew that his work would translate beautifully onto the page. I felt what he was saying was important, that he was pushing boundaries in regards to politics activism, the state of the working class, and demonstrating that art and mainstream culture could be interwoven to create the next step in an understanding between artist and audience.
Early this year we're releasing a collection of writing by Rebecca Parfitt, a Welsh poet who exemplifies the traditions of powerful storytelling in poetry from that magical country. Her book, The Days After, is incredible, I've loved working on it with her, and I can't wait to see it out there in the world
The first and only tip I'd say abide by without fail is: do your research.
Beyond that, the basics work best: follow their instructions. If they ask for a chapter to be submitted then don't send a synopsis or a full manuscript. Only send a manuscript in when people are accepting submissions. I don't reply if I'm not currently accepting.
After that, be honest about who you are and understand that not everyone will want your writing. Do your research and find presses who you think would want you as a part of their stable of writers.
Small presses do it for the love of the writing. We know we'll break even, if we're lucky, but that doesn't mean we take just anybody.
Before you even get around to submitting though, think, is my writing good enough? Gut feeling writing is fine for some online zines, for open mic nights, but if you want someone to invest £'00's in putting your work on the page then it has to be good enough. Too many writers, to paraphrase Scroobius Pip, love being writers more than they love writing.
When I see the hours that Tom, Gary, Rebecca, and countless other people within the literary circuit put into their writing, then I have short shrift for those who knock something out and wait for the applause.
Is there anything about a story or its presentation that will immediately knock it out of consideration? An 'auto-fail'?
If people don't want to be edited, and express that view upfront, then it's an immediate fail from me. I remember before my first book came out, my editor edited one of my poems quite dramatically in my eyes and when I questioned her she said she couldn't relate to it. It made me realise that my heartache meant nothing if others couldn't place themselves on my page too.
With regards to the presentation, you can only go so far wrong on word processing software nowadays. Just be careful on over presenting it. It's great that you have a vision, but hugely complex formatting when submitting a manuscript isn't needed. If your work doesn't stand up to scrutiny without it, then it won't with it.
The nasty part of editing... what advice do you have for writers if they're turned down?
If you're turned down then listen to what they've said to you. They've not turned you down for fun, they've had their reasons. I always send a thank you note when I get rejected because it's a small world and you never know when your obnoxious email telling someone they just don't get writing or publishing will come back to haunt you.
Beyond that, brush yourself down, and start again. Research, submissions, responses. While this process is happening go to a writing group, ask your friends to read your work, try to get all the extra knowledge you can.
I always try to send comprehensive rejections because I know how tough it is to put your work out there. Mostly I reject people because they don't fit with our vision so it's not often I have to really heavily critique the writing. I've had to turn away some amazing manuscripts and I've sent people suggestions of where else to send them because I'd love to see them on the page.
Any other tips for those sending you work?
Consider what you've got that no one else has. That doesn't mean you have to be totally left field. It could be your perspective, the quality of your writing, your insight. I consider myself a diamond finder - if there is something there and I see it then I'll work with you to bring it out. If you're willing to work to create a piece of art that can reach and affect people, then potentially Listen Softly London is for you.
Are you looking for new stories right now?
We are currently open for submissions and guidance of what we want is available on our website.