Here at Literature Works we're always on the look out for organisations and resources that can help to provide you with opportunities to develop your writing practice. We think Retreat West, a creative writing business founded by writer Amanda Saint, is a great service. More recently Retreat West have also launched an independent publishing press. We caught up with Amanda to find out more about it.
1. For those unfamiliar with Retreat West, can you tell a bit about how it started and what it offers?
I started Retreat West in 2012 when I moved from London to Devon. I’d been going to 1-day writing retreats once a month in London and looked around for something similar when I arrived in North Devon but as there were none I decided to create my own. Since then things grew organically and I now also run residential writing retreats, flash fiction competitions and online creative writing courses.
In 2016 I launched the annual RW Short Story and Flash Fiction Prize with the shortlisted and winning authors being published in an anthology, as well as getting cash prizes. The original publisher I had lined up for the first anthology let me down, so I ended up doing it myself. From that experience, in December 2017 I decided to open Retreat West Books for submissions.
For the first few years of running Retreat West I was doing everything all by myself, bar having judges for competitions and visiting authors to teach at retreats, but now I have three authors who work with Retreat West on a freelance basis to help me out with competition reading, anthology editing, blogging and running online courses, as well as two interns who manage all the social media stuff.
2. Retreat West recently branched into independent publishing, can you tell us a bit about the ethos and kind of books you publish?
As well as being a fiction writer I am a freelance journalist and I’ve been writing about environmental sustainability for almost 20 years. I’m passionate about being as sustainable as possible and decided to use print on demand services for the books I publish, so the world’s dwindling resources are only used to print books that people definitely want to buy.
I published a charity anthology of climate-fiction stories this year, which is raising funds for the Earth Day Network climate action group; and have another charity anthology coming in November 2018 to tie in with the 100 Years March and celebrate 100 years of women’s suffrage. This is raising funds for a London charity, Hestia, which helps people in times of crisis, such as fleeing domestic abuse and modern slavery, or people who find themselves homeless or in need of mental health support.
Using stories to raise awareness of issues and funds for the people working to resolve them is important to me.
Outside of the charity anthologies, to date I have commissioned a short story collection from Amanda Huggins, Separated From The Sea, which is out now and filled with stunningly beautiful writing and insights into the human condition. Two flash fiction collections coming soon: This Is (Not About) David Bowie from FJ Morris and Sandra Arnold’s Soul Etchings. The first novel signed to Retreat West Books is All The Things That Made Me Are Broken Into Pieces by Sophie Jonas-Hill. A stunning visceral book filled with emotion scheduled to publish in April 2019. I work closely with all the authors to develop their work and find ways to reach readers.
I also reissued my debut novel, As If I Were A River, through Retreat West Books after the rights were returned to me from the original publisher and will continue to publish my work through it in the future too.
3. I’m a new author looking for a publisher, what should I know about Retreat West’s submissions process?
We’re looking for mainly literary writing and are accepting short story collections, novels and memoirs. All submissions must be done via Submittable and only during the open submission periods, of which there have been two so far. I personally read every submission so it can take some time for me to work through them and get back to people. At the moment, we’re only publishing 6-7 books a year and already I’m commissioning for the 2020 schedule as 2019 is full. Submissions are likely to remain closed until the Autumn/Winter now.
4. You’ve got an exciting novel prize running at the moment, tell us about it.
I launched the RW Novel Prize last month to find an exciting unpublished and unagented author. It is really tough in the publishing world right now for new authors to get taken on and I know lots of brilliant novels are out there that have been rejected but are definitely worth publishing. I want to find them.
There is a fee for entering the prize competition and it will be used to fund a £500 advance for the winning author, who will get a standard ebook and paperback publishing contract with Retreat West Books and also receive ongoing royalties. It will also pay for a marketing campaign to promote the book and an ebook copy of the winning novel for every writer that enters.
I’m hoping that by running it as a competition I will get to reach lots of new writers that might not have heard of Retreat West and also get a buzz of excitement going around the winning novel before it comes out.
5. What sort of books make Retreat West excited to be a publisher?
Sophie’s novel that’s coming out in April next year makes me very excited. I love writing that isn’t afraid to take risks, that’s filled with heart and emotion without being sentimental. Recent books from other indies that I have loved are Exquisite by Sarah Stovell (Orenda Books) and Missing by Alison Moore (Salt Publishing). Both of these publishers consistently bring out books that make me excited to be a reader as well as a publisher. I hope Retreat West Books can do the same.
6. Can you give us your top tip for establishing an independent press?
Be prepared to never have any free time again! It’s a lot of hard work and each book you take on and invest in is a risk, so I would say my top tip is to only do it if you really love it. I’m lucky as even though I do work a lot, none of it really feels like work as I am doing what I love.
Thank you Amanda!