Spotlight: Indie Publishing and the Impress Prize for New Writers

Publishing a range of fiction and non-fiction titles, both in print and in ebook format, Exeter-based Impress Books also runs the Impress Prize for New Writers: a competition created solely to discover and publish fresh talent. It's an amazing opportunity for emerging, unpublished writers to have their work assessed by experts and considered for publication by Impress.

Recently, we were lucky enough to talk to Rachel Singleton, Editorial Manager at Impress Books. Rachel runs the Impress Prize, and her passion for discovering and nurturing new writing talent is evident.

Read on for our chat with Rachel about Impress Books, the future of publishing, and the incredible opportunity that is the Impress Prize for New Writers.

Impress Books Interview

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Tell us about the Impress Prize! Who can enter and what's on offer?

The prize is a competition designed to find and publish debut writers. Writers can enter a 6,000-word extract, synopsis and author biography to the prize. The entries are then read twice by the Impress team and a shortlist of the best ones is compiled.

The winner is then decided by an external panel of experts, which consists of published authors, booksellers, agents and one member of the Impress team. The winner will receive a publishing contract with Impress Books for both physical and ebook versions.

The winner is also offered full editorial support once they win, in that we will do a full development edit with them before going on to publication.

What are the benefits of entering the Prize, even if you don't win?

For a start, you get to have your work looked at by at least two people and even if you don't win, we may still publish your work anyway if we think the idea is viable.

For instance, Jennie Finch and Tracey Warr – crime and historical fiction novelists respectively – were on the shortlist and have since published more books with us than just their initial prize entry.

Some of our shortlisted authors, such as Yaara Lahav Gregory from the 2015 cohort, also went on to get an agent. Yaara is now represented by Rachel Mills from PFD, who was on the panel in that same year.

It's also a fantastic way for the writers to get to know each other, as the shortlisted entrants have parts of their entry listed online and we have a lot going on via Twitter and Facebook for interested parties to follow.

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Can you tell us more about Impress Books itself? What sort of books do you publish?

Impress Books is a publisher that has now been running for more than 10 years. Our lists consist of fiction (crime, historical, contemporary) and non-fiction (architecture, local history, biography).

However, we're always looking for new genres, so prize entrants shouldn't be limited by genre.

Impress publishes traditional books as well as ebooks through the Watchword imprint. How do you approach the publishing process for both these avenues?

The initial publishing process is the same – the editorial team read a submission and gauge whether the idea is good, whether it's well written, whether there's a market for it.

If the genre and market is slightly different to what Impress currently offers, such as a short story collection, then we may publish it through Watchword rather than Impress as Watchword has a separate, more innovative and experimental identity.

Once we have made a decision as to which imprint a submission should be listed with, we then take the manuscript through the same processes of development and publication.

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Publishing is an ever-changing game. What do you see as the future of publishing, and where will Impress fit into the picture?

That's an interesting question! In terms of Impress Books, I'd like to have developed our crime and historical fiction lists and have a healthy array of non-fiction titles as well. And by that point we want to be publishing quite a healthy number of Watchword titles too.

As for the future of publishing more generally, my personal wish is that we go back to publishing stories in a serial fashion, almost in the way that Dickens novels used to be published. There are some kinds of websites out there that do just that (such as Wattpad), but I'd like to see them on a bigger scale.

Imagine having a Facebook page that gave you the next instalment of the novel you were reading once a week, or having an automatic download of the next chapter of the crime novel where you have no idea who the killer is.

I also think that indie publishing will continue to grow. The success of independent publishers such as OneWorld with last year's Man Booker winner has shown that there is potential in straying off the beaten track of the big conglomerate publishers.

Why do you feel it's important to support emerging writers with initiatives like the Impress Prize?

Many emerging authors don't know how to go about getting published. Most publishers don't accept unsolicited manuscripts and authors have to go through an agent.

The prize bypasses this process in that every writer's manuscript will be read by two people and assessed. One writer will certainly receive a publishing deal without going through an agent, while others may also go through the same process.

Furthermore, the prize can also act as a way for people to gain an agent, as prizes give a manuscript credentials that people pay attention to.

In short, there's a huge amount of writing talent that hasn't been assigned agents and we want to hear from those people.

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"There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you." — Maya Angelou. Image credit: StokPic via Pexels

Finally, what are your best tips for emerging writers seeking publication of their work?

  • Do your research into a publisher that you would like to be published with. If they have the ethos that fits with your own ideas, then contact that publisher!
  • Tailor each application according to the publisher. In short, treat it like you would a job interview.
  • Get other people to read your work.
  • Know the market you're writing for.
  • Read other things to help improve your work.
  • Potentially pay for a professional edit as this can help develop your ideas.
  • Go on writing courses.
  • Take some time away from your work before editing it.
  • Be tenacious – it's very difficult to be published!

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Writer's Edit would like to thank Rachel Singleton for her time, and for the wonderful insight and information she has provided.

Writers, you have until the 1st of July to submit your entry for the 2016 Impress Prize! For entry requirements and guidelines, visit the official site, and be sure to follow the special Twitter and Facebook accounts dedicated to the Prize. Best of luck to all entrants!

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