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Small Press Shakedown: Peter Coleborn and Jan Edwards of Alchemy Press

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 quizzed a number of editors about the nuts & bolts of their submissions process. This week, we're hosting Peter Coleborn and Jan Edwards, from Alchemy Press.

Dead-water-cover-003cPornokitsch: Thanks for joining us - could you tell us a bit about who you are, and what bookish things you're doing?

Peter Coleborn and Jan Edwards: We started Alchemy Press in the late 1990s with a National Lottery Grant, so we’re now over 15 years old. Our first book was a slim volume of Damian Paladin stories by Mike Chinn. The press won the BFS award for best collection in 2000 with Kim Newman’s Where the Bodies are Buried. And in 2014 we won the award for best small press, also from the BFS. Among our titles are the series anthologies, The Alchemy Press Book of Pulp Fiction and The Alchemy Press Book of Urban Mythic.

PK: What are the stories or the novels that you want to publish?

PC & JE: There is no one genre or sub-genre. We’ve published fiction that ranges from science fiction to horror, heroic fantasy to the supernatural. I guess the underlining theme is “weird” – however one defines that word. And, of course, good writing, good characterisation, good stories. For example, check out our collections by Peter Atkins and Bryn Fortey and David A Sutton to get an idea of our tastes – and especially the stories in our anthologies, too.

PK: Any advice to authors on the physical part of submissions?

PC & JE:  Standard manuscript layout. But since we take electronic submissions, layouts can be a bit more flexible. The main thing is legibility – font (keep it simple), line spacing (we prefer double or 1.5x), that kind of thing. If the manuscript is neat and tidy on paper, it’ll probably be fine on the computer screen. There is a page describing how best to submit manuscripts on our website: (Oh, don’t leave track changes on; we prefer to read the finished article, not all the notes and comments down the right-hand of the page.)

PK: How about the cover email? Should authors include details about themselves and their publishing history?

PC & JE: We don’t require a full biography or bibliography. To be honest, we don’t need to know anything about you – but it does help make you more human. Just keep it brief. If you have been previously published, mention three-four of the major ones – it let’s us know we can expect something good. Ultimately, though, it’s your story that counts, not the covering message.

If you wish to submit a collection or novella (rather than submitting to an open anthology), query first. The cover letter obviously requires more details: genre, style, overall word length, a plot summary (for novellas, not for each story in a collection). If we like the idea, and if we have space in our schedule, we’ll ask for the manuscript(s).

Um2-front-coverPK: Is there anything about a story or its presentation that will immediately knock it out of consideration? An 'auto-fail'?

PC & JE: If the cover letter is over the top ("you guys will love this", "you’ll kill to publish me", that sort of thing – and we’ve had a few of those) we’ll probably reject straight off. Otherwise, if the manuscript is clear and easy to read, there’ll be no automatic rejection.

Importantly, if you are submitting to one of our anthologies, read the guidelines. If it says “no zombies” it means no zombies (if you do sneak them in and it’s “wow, this is brilliant” then… who knows? Generally, we publish Fantasy (with a capital F), meaning practically everything under the fantastic umbrella. We do not like gross out blood fests: just not our cup of tea.

In other words, we have to like the story, and fortunately our tastes are quite wide and very idiosyncratic.

PK: What about after the submission? Should writers follow up?

PC & JE: Anthologies have an open submissions period so nothing is decided until after that window closes. We try to decide within three months, depending on the number of submissions received. Obviously the more we get, the longer it takes to get through them all.

If we agree to look at a collection or novella, and nothing is heard after a two-three months, please do remind us, gently. It’s likely that we have been very busy (with life as well as the Press [there’s only the two of us]) and it’s slipped our mind. It does happen. I try to put submissions on the Kindle or eReader for ease of reading (Peter gets easily distracted when using the computer – bloody Facebook!).

PK: The nasty part of editing... what should writers do when they're turned down?

PC & JE: It is difficult turning down stories, worse when you turn down submissions from close friends (done this). If your story is rejected do not take it personally. The most likely reason is that the story did not meet our tastes – not necessarily a reflection on the story’s quality. If your submission is rejected re-read it and see if there is anything obvious that needs amending and then send it back out to another market. If it is rejected a few more times maybe it needs a good edit or rewrite. Do not complain back to the editor who rejected the story or post nasty things on Twitter or Facebook.

Kneeling-in-the-silver-light-2PK: Any other tips for those sending you work?

PC & JE: As Alex Davis says, “Be professional in every aspect. We endeavour to be professional in all we do, so we expect the same courtesy from you.” Remember, though, we are not able to pay professional rates; we don’t have a staff of editors, etc. We are not Gollancz or Orion.

If we accept your work it will be edited. Editing may be light, or there may be many suggestions from us. We aim to help you write the best story possible. We also edit for house style. If you do not want to be edited, don’t send us anything.

PK: Are you looking for new stories right now? 

PC & JE: We don’t have any anthologies scheduled for this year. They take a lot of work and time is short at the moment. All of our volumes have received positive reviews – they are well liked and always receive far more submissions than we could ever include. It’s a pity that they don’t sell as well as collections and novels. If they did then we’d certainly publish more. (As an aside, we think anthologies are a vital market, a place were new and young writers [in terms of writing career, not your age] are able to hone their writing, learn the ropes, discover how best to tell a story. That’s why we hope to publish more in the future. However, there are a great many anthology markets out there – perhaps too many.)

As for collections and novellas: we’re pretty full for the next few years. However, that does not mean that we will turn down all proposals, especially ones that look as though they’d be outstanding additions to our oeuvre. As mentioned above, send a query email (or message via our contacts page) and we’ll get back to you. We have also been known to approach writers we like, asking them if they want to be published by us.

To learn more about Alchemy Press, check out the website and browse their books at SpaceWitch.