When was the Emma Press set up? Can you tell me a bit about its beginnings?
I set up the Emma Press in 2012, a few months after quitting my job at Orion Publishing Group. I had quite a specialised role in Orion, managing the production of ebooks, but I became increasingly interested in how the other departments and the publishing industry as a whole worked.
When I resigned, out of frustration with the limitations of my role, I had a vague idea about using my new ebook production and book design skills, but I wasn’t planning to set up a publishing house. I thought I’d just create one book, a collaboration with my old schoolfriend Rachel Piercey to show off her poems and my illustrations. This was The Flower and the Plough, the first Emma Press book, and I enjoyed the process of putting it together so much that I decided to carry on. I had an idea for an anthology of ‘mildly erotic’ poems and it all snowballed from there.
Who are the people behind the scenes?
I run the business and do everything from coming up with ideas for books, reading submissions, corresponding with poets, designing the books, illustrating them, organising events and publicity and making sales. I do all the editorial work with Rachel Piercey, which means she reads all the submissions too and we discuss the final selection and edits for anthologies and pamphlets.
Rachel and I tend to divide the editing of the poems between us, and we also have the occasional guest editor. Last summer the poet Amy Key proposed to us an anthology of poems about female friendship, which we’re now publishing on 4th December: Best Friends Forever featuring some great poets including Brenda Shaughnessy and Emily Berry. Sarah Hesketh proposed an anthology of poems about ageing and we’ll be publishing that next year.
The Emma Press books are represented by Inpress, an external sales service which works on getting bookshops to stock my books, and I also have a loose alliance with the brilliant Scarborough publisher Valley Press, which we’re calling an ‘engagement’. This mostly entails a shared blog and a weekly phonecall with the publisher Jamie McGarry, where we discuss our ongoing travails at the coalface of small press publishing.
You have beautiful distinctive designs to your book jackets. Can you tell me about that, who designs them?
Thank you! I design all the covers myself, mostly using my own illustrations. I like creating colourful covers which don’t look like the traditional austere poetry book covers. I don’t have any graphic design skills, so I’ve tried to make this into a strength by designing covers which stand out from the slicker confections and look more handmade. I want to remind people that there are human beings behind each book, so I tend to write the title text by hand and keep the colouring-in (the technical term) fairly simple.
The cover design concepts for the pamphlets generally come from the poets. For example, Ikhda Ayuning Maharsi asked for “a girl with harts’ horns” for her cover, so I drew her head on the body of a stag, and Ruth Wiggins wanted a cross-section of a myrtle flower for the cover of Myrtle, which came out last week. I follow my instincts for the anthology covers, trying to create something which reflects the character of the book and which will grab bookshop browsers’ attention. The cover of Best Friends Forever is inspired by those broken-heart necklaces I used to covet in the 90s, as well as the friendship bracelet craze and the gel pens all my friends were obsessed with at school.
I notice on your website you have just announced the poets who have been chosen for the anthology of Homesickness and Exile. How many submissions do you tend to get and how many poems can you choose?
We usually have between 100 and 200 submissions for each call for submissions to an anthology, and we tend to choose 20-40 poets, depending on how many brilliant poems there are. I don’t want to create a huge brick of an anthology, so I’m happy to select only the very best poems and have a shorter, more focussed collection if necessary. We had a lot of great submissions for our dance anthology, so we chose a record number of 38 poets for that.
Where do you see the Emma Press in the market place?
I’d hope that we’re the plucky newcomers who come and shake things up! We’ve shortlisted for this year’s Michael Marks Publishers’ Award, which is a great start.
What is your favourite quote from a poem?
At the moment, it’s a bit from a poem called ‘Schematic for Atheism from a Child’s Watch’ in Oils, the debut pamphlet by Stephen Sexton, an amazing poet from Belfast:
‘You’re a test; your middling beauty against
my grain of loneliness at night. ‘
The Emma Press website