Call for Submissions: Barrelhouse Books

Barrelhouse Books is seeking its next full-length work of prose. We’re open to novels, memoirs, short story collections, essay collections, or hybrid prose forms. There are no particular style restrictions. We tend to like books that are character-driven and intelligent. Books that push boundaries. Books that challenge rather than placate their readers. Books that embrace complication. Books that make us feel things. Books with an honest, singular vision.

But it’s kind of like dating, you know? We could write up a whole list of likes and dislikes, triangulate our taste preferences, but at the end of the day there’s a certain amount of chemistry involved, a certain amount of magic. At the end of the day we want what everyone wants: to fall in love.

That said, here are answers to what we imagine might be frequently asked questions.

Who are you people, and why should I let you publish my book?

Barrelhouse Books is still relatively young as a press, but we have over ten years of experience running a successful, self-sustaining literary magazine. So you can rest assured we’re not going to suddenly fold up shop and disappear.

So far we’ve published Lee Klein’s Thanks and Sorry and Good Luck, a collection of rejection letters written over Lee’s many years editing, and in the fall we’ll put out Sarah Sweeney’s debut essay collection, Tell Me If You’re Lying, a book about love and loss and sickness and pop music and stalking celebrities and growing up weird in North Carolina (we’re pretty excited about it, if you can’t tell).

We’ve also published two collections of poetry: You’re Going To Miss Me When You’re Bored, by Justin Marks, and Daryl Hall is My Boyfriend, by Erica Lewis.

The prose side of our books operation is being run by Mike Ingram, one of Barrelhouse’s founding editors, who is also writing this FAQ, and who now feels sort of weird, writing about himself in the third person.

So maybe you should drop this whole “we” business?

Well, but we’re both an “I” and a “we.” I (Mike Ingram) will be making the final decision on which prose manuscript we publish, and I’ll be the one working with the author to turn that manuscript into a book. But we’ve got a whole team of editors, designers, and publicity people who will also be kicking in some serious effort.

Plus, we here at Barrelhouse like to think of ourselves as a collective: a little patchwork family of supportive, kind-hearted weirdoes. And now we’re looking to expand our ranks by one.


Ok, so how do you define “book”? Is there a length requirement?

By “full-length” we mean novel, rather than novella or novelette, and we mean story/essay collection, rather than prose chapbook. Though we recognize these lines get fuzzy. We love Leonard Gardner’s Fat City, for instance, and that book’s pretty thin. If a book like Maggie Nelson’s Bluets came through the door, we wouldn’t turn up our noses at it.


What should I submit? A sample chapter? Two chapters? An outline?

Since we’re doing this electronically, please go ahead and submit the entire, completed manuscript. But please also include a brief synopsis in your cover letter. This doesn’t need to be a detailed, blow-by-blow plot summary, just enough of a synopsis to give us a sense of the whole.

Also: please only submit one manuscript per reading period. We don’t have a lot of rules, but that one’s non-negotiable.


What else should I put in my cover letter?

A bio’s nice, though ultimately we’re interested in the work itself, rather than credential-sniffing. So just tell us whatever you want to tell us about yourself.


Are you really going to read my entire book manuscript?

Maybe? If we like it? And by “we” I guess I mean “I,” because I, Mike Ingram, am planning on doing this alone, unless I get totally swamped, in which case I might call in a couple other Barrelhouse editors for backup.

Look: let’s just say I’ll start reading your book manuscript. The point at which I quit will be based upon how much I’m enjoying myself, and how much I think your work is a fit for this rather amorphous idea I have in my head of what Barrelhouse Books should become.

That’s how editors work, incidentally, whether they’re willing to admit it to you or not.


Will you pay me for publishing my book?

Yes! We will! Not enough to make a big splash in Publisher’s Lunch or anything—we are, after all, a nonprofit publisher whose editors all work for free—but we will pay you. Our standard book contract is $500 up front, and then a generous split of any profits that come through after we’ve recouped our printing costs.


Is there a submission fee?

No! Barrelhouse has kinda gone to the mat on not charging submission fees, actually. We understand why presses and journals do it, and we often pay them ourselves when submitting our work (most of us are writers, too). And maybe at some point we’ll decide that the economics of reading book-length manuscripts requires it? But for now, at least, we’ve decided to keep book submissions free and easy.


How long are submissions open? When will I get an answer? Can I send my book elsewhere while I wait?

Sure, send your book wherever you want, just let us know if it gets picked up elsewhere (you can withdraw easily through Submittable). We’ll keep submissions open until May 27, just before Memorial Day. We’ll aim to have a book picked by mid-to-late summer; it just depends how long it takes to get through the manuscripts.


Ok, so really, what kinds of books do you like? Why are you being so cagey?

We want to keep the possibilities open. We like to be surprised.

But also: it’s hard to pin down exactly what you want in a book, you know? Think about your favorite books. You probably didn’t know you wanted them until you started reading them, at which point you were like: whoa.

This whole thing is so subjective and temperamental and temporal and so just send us your awesome manuscript and let us figure out if it’s the thing we’ve been waiting for. Take a chance on love!