June 28th, 2014 / 1:05 pm
Behind the Scenes

How Are Publishing Genius Submissions Going?

I used to do occasional “inside baseball” posts about running a small press, like this one from four (!) years ago. I guess it’s been a while. I find them clarifying, and usually after I write one I change something about how I “do business.” With that in mind, here are some numbers and thoughts related to Publishing Genius’s book submissions currently and throughout history. This year’s open submission period ends at 11:59pm on Monday.

Last year Publishing Genius didn’t even have an open period, but that doesn’t mean that I didn’t accept books from submissions. It’s just that I was still working through 2012’s manuscripts. There were about 400 that year, and it took me too long to figure out my responsibility to each one. It’s really hard to honor every book, and I think I was intimidated by the force of dreams coming at me like a big, wet wave. I know the excitement of finishing a writing project—big or small—and the intense hope that comes with sending it off.

So from the 2012 list came Christy Crutchfield’s novel, How to Catch a Coyote, which will be released in about a month. Same with Melissa Broder’s book released in February, SCARECRONE. I thought it was peculiar for it to come over the transom, since Melissa and I had already worked together. I wrote about that at length, here.

(Mike Young’s book, Sprezzatura, which also comes out this year, was a mix, I think. He asked if I wanted to do it and I said “duh.” Madeline ffitch’s book, Valparaiso, Round the Horn, was essentially “agented” by Mike Y and Rachel G, but I was already a fan of Madeline’s after seeing her work with The Missoula Oblongata. Craig Griffin’s cookbook novella, Eat, Knucklehead, was solicited after Michael Fitzgerald of Submittable encouraged me to do a cookbook.) (Oh and of course Spencer Madsen’s book was won in a ping pong game.)

Prior to 2012, Publishing Genius had always been open for submissions, since the start, until moving to the new system of one month a year. It was important to me to have an open door, and to make submitting easy, because I thought that’s, like, a “service” I owe to writers. However, it became the case that being always open was basically being never open; there wasn’t enough time to look at them, let alone give them any serious consideration. Submission periods aren’t just there to limit the amount of submissions publishers get. They’re also necessary because publishers have to set aside time to figure out their catalog. It takes concentrated planning.

Since it took me over a year to get through 2012’s (small) mountain, there was no way I could accept submissions again in 2013. But I only have one book scheduled to come out in 2015—Legion, the third book in Edward Mullany’s trilogy—so I was looking forward to this month. I don’t know what I want to do next year. After doing eight books in 2013 and six in 2014, I’ve been wanting to take it easy—but of course there have to be at least three books. I can’t wait to find out what they’ll be!

I was also looking forward to opening the floodgate because for the last year I have been getting a handful of emails a week, people asking me how they could send their books (I said to wait till submissions were open). These were from friends and wingnuts, both. There were a lot of agents that I think weren’t really professional agents, more like aunts or sisters or something. A lot of people in different countries telling me how amazing they are. One guy said he could write me two manuscripts a year, no problem.

And those latter were the majority of people who sent work once submissions opened on June 1. As they rolled in by the hundreds (the most in one day was 64, with an average of 16.22/day), I was getting a clear sense that most of them were from people who had no sense of what Publishing Genius books are like, how many copies sell, what their honest chances were of getting rich and famous. There were lots of irritating questions, like if there’s a word limit or do we charge writers to publish their books. I don’t mind generalizing about those people here because I doubt they will ever see this post. It’s like, if you’re reading this, you are clearly not the nimrod I’m talking about.

(I’m back. I just got an interesting cover letter describing a book about a professor at a small Christian college—a subject that I’m interested in since I’m a graduate of a small Christian college. It’s a long note. I hope by the time I get to this particular one, I will remember the cover letter and have it in mind when I look at the manuscript.)

So, overwhelmed, I decided to start charging $5. I’d seen a lot of posts about who’s open for submissions now, and so many of the presses charged a fee or were holding a contest ($25 to enter) and to be honest I wanted in on that. In the past, like I said, I felt somehow duty-bound to make it easy for writers, but given the fact that so many people sending work didn’t know anything about PGP, that obligation faded quickly. I announced the fee a few days early so anyone who was paying attention could still get in for free, and also allowed a way for those people to backchannel me if they knew anything about Publishing Genius or even just small presses in general. (The post about that is here.)

Ironically, after that, the cover letters started showing that people knew the score. People would say they felt for me and hoped I wasn’t feeling too overwhelmed, and hoped I wouldn’t mind just one more. One person withdrew her submission and said she wanted to submit later so she could pay $5. Many shared stories about how PGP books had meant a lot to them. It was great! No one seemed to mind paying a few bucks, although the number of submissions dropped dramatically. When all is said and done on Monday, there will be about $500. Not too shabby. That pays for the AWP table, or some ads (which I’ve never done before), or printing costs.

Better than that modest sum, though, I will also have a huge selection of manuscripts to choose from for next year’s books. Every time a new submission comes in, I get an email. I’m always impressed by the fact that someone has written a whole book—what an accomplishment, I want to do one—and often I recognize the author’s name. It’s humbling, but it makes me proud. It’s intimidating, honestly, and exciting. And yes, it’s still overwhelming.