If I Was A Car, I Would Run You Down
Four years ago, I would have probably said we don’t need feminism anymore. I would have said we’re doing ok as a culture and don’t sweat the small stuff like discrepancies in wage, promotion opportunities, and people yelling ‘nice tits’ when you’re walking down the street in the middle of the day. I would have said this stuff will disappear with time, or possibly denied they even happened. Of course, this was before I knew page three existed (because, no, it’s not normal and where I grew up it wasn’t a thing), before Robin Thicke, and before last week’s news that two of the biggest jobs in publishing, previously held by women, are going to men.
Earlier this year, Valley Press published an anthology of short stories by writers under 25 featuring yours truly called Front Lines (here’s a review and here’s a buy link, if you should so care), which is how I met Jamie McGarry. I’ve had a soft spot for small independent presses since working at Voiceworks when I was in university – they take risks on new and exciting writers in a ways which larger publishing houses may not (eg: anthologies of short stories and poetry) and are, from my point of view, an incredibly important part of our publishing landscape. With this in mind, I thought it would be a good idea to interview Jamie about what it’s like running an independent press in this day and age.
Jamie McGarry was born in Norfolk, raised in North Wales, and has lived in Scarborough, North Yorkshire, since 2006. He likes to think of himself as a ‘creative entrepeneur’, and is currently proving it by running a small publishing house called Valley Press. Visit VP at www.valleypressuk.com, or find tweets @valleypress.
The phrase can’t see the wood for the trees is most often used in a reflective situation framed by the word ‘I didn’t, or ‘we couldn’t’, rather than ‘we can’t’ or ‘we don’t’, because it’s generally only after we mess something up beyond repair that we realise we were focussing on a small and perhaps unimportant element of a larger whole the entire time.
It’s difficult in publishing, perhaps, to identify what constitutes the wood and what are the trees. Bookshops, authors, readers: all these avenues vie for the top tier of our attention, and at different points someone is always willing to tell us which of them are the most important to our business and how. But when I think back to why I got into publishing in the first place, the thing that remains are the stories.
Note from the editor: If you’re free on Thursday 23rd May, please do join us at BookMachine Unplugged, as our top speakers discuss collaboration and what they have learned from the projects they have worked on in publishing. Tickets are here.
Publishing gets a lot of stick about being an incredibly old industry, being fusty and insular and old fashioned. Maybe the young up-and-coming tech companies are about a million times cooler than we are, with their boardrooms that double as pool tables, desk garnish that looks like a rainforest, and cocktail Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Fridays. But in our heritage and lives something incredibly powerful – international relationships. While I feel it would be wrong to compare publishing to the mafia, fact is we are a network of likeminded people, a lot of whom know each other perhaps a little too well, with a common goal. I say we should tap that network a little more often.
If the internet has proven anything, it’s that if someone famous does something, normos (everyone who is non-famous) will also do it in a misjudged attempt to be famous. That, and the fact there’s no such thing as private messages. Both these lessons came to the fore last week in the aftermath of the London Book Fair, where the Bookseller Association announced the advent of the Books Are My Bag campaign (a high street campaign to make reading seem even cooler than it already is with branded merchandise), and Tom Tivnan from The Bookseller sent an incredibly acerbic email to a photographer that was subsequently forwarded to the inbox of pretty much everyone in the trade.
The shortlist for one of the most coveted awards in science fiction was announced last week – the Arthur C. Clarke award for 2013 has an incredible line up of SF names, or, if you read The Guardian, is a great testament to male domination of the science fiction genre. Alison Flood’s opening sentence ‘reinforcing science fiction’s image as a boys club’ (sorry Angela Carter, Mira Grant, Connie Wilis, Margaret Atwood – seems your memberships are perhaps not as authentic as we all believed), leaves us little doubt that the following coverage will be everything other than informative.
There are probably as many genres in the world as there are successful living writers. We all know about misery memoir, chick-lit, sick lit, paranormal romance, urban fantasy, dystopian romance, nostalgia fiction, new adult, adult, space opera etc etc and that amorphous beast we just call ‘literature’, into which falls any book we like but we can’t really pair with an obvious partner. They spring up out of seemingly nowhere and dominate our lives and the charts and have publishers rushing to buy up in bulk. But their popularity isn’t random – it is based on a delicate balance of social factors. Tapping into that idea, I’ve made a list of five genres I predict will be massive in the next few years.
(Please note: this is not an analysis of what defines genre. I’d recommend this article by author Kate Griffin if that’s what you’re looking for. She’s smart as hell and makes some really good points.)
Last week’s IPG conference unearthed some strong criticisms of high street booksellers from Iain Dale. He slated WH Smith for their “marketing fee”, hit out at Waterstones’ changed buying policy, got angry at Amazon’s demands for discount, and questioned the ethics of buying places on bestseller charts. Importantly, Dale seems quite convinced that we should be preparing for the post-bookshop world. Personally, I’m far more optimistic about the ability of publishers and retailers to work together for mutual benefit, but fortune favours the… prepared. So here are some tips for those of you now anticipating a high street devoid of novels.
I do love a good first. The first t-shirt day of the summer; the first beer on a night out; the first time you wear a new hoodie. Last week saw the announcement of the first digital-only literary list in the UK, Blackfriars from Little, Brown. The list promises to curate 9 to 12 titles a year from new or established authors, and is launching in June. Now there’s a first to get out of bed for.
Last week saw the launch of Bookish in the US – a new, and frankly bloody stunning book discovery/online retailer (or as I call them, a ‘social retailer’). They’ve got a brilliant pitch, a stunning site, and features the rest of us have been discussing for a while that we thought may never come to fruition. Yeah, you know what I’m talking about. The golden egg, the holy grail, of online book discovery. An algorithm that recommends you books. Not ‘readers also bought’. Not ‘you might also like’. Something that says ‘what’s a book you have read and loved lately?’ and then picks you a bunch more based on what I can only assume is metadata more detailed than a fractal zoom on a mandelbrot set.
I hope you all brought spare underwear.