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.
1. What made you decide to start up your own publishing company? Do you think there’s a need that isn’t being addressed by larger publishers?
When I published my first book, it came about six months after I’d failed a course in Primary Teaching – my future was in a muddle, I’d had to switch degrees onto English Literature and as a result, needed to find ways to make what was a nice hobby into a serious career. I actually never intended to be self-employed – I thought I’d do maybe ten books during my last two years of uni, then use that on my CV to catapult myself into an entry-level publishing job (as I couldn’t really afford internships). But it didn’t work! So, after eight months graduate unemployment, I found myself begrudgingly starting Valley Press as a company in January 2011, and the rest is history. Not an especially romantic story – more a sign of the times, isn’t it?
As for the other part of the question, yes I do. By the end of this year, if all goes smoothly, I’ll have sold 15000 physical books as Valley Press – and I suspect most, if not all, of those would never have happened without VP (perhaps they would have eventually, but not so soon). The ratio of good writers to good publishing operations is getting wider and wider, from my experience – there are just not enough publishers to go around, so that is the great un-met need.
2. Valley Press is a relatively new publishing house. Do you think this short history gives you an advantage over publishing houses with a longer heritage?
Frankly, no! I feel the most valuable thing you can have as a publisher is a big, reliable backlist, with a few examples of what a friend of mine calls ‘workhorse titles’. These can underwrite the whole operation. If anyone can think of a way in which a short history does give me an advantage, please write in immediately and let me know.
3. What is the largest challenge, in your experience, faced by independent publishers at the moment?The biggest challenge is unquestionably financial – especially without that big backlist (and with not a workhorse in sight). Funding for niche publishing seems like more of a rumour than a reality now – when established, respected operations like Flambard lose their support, and amazing, multi-award-winning new(ish) operations like CB Editions are turned down, it falls on them (and me, *sigh*) to finance the thing entirely through sales, and maybe a few events. I don’t mind this too much – it makes it an honest living (to some extent), but it is definitely a challenge I could live without.
4. Can you tell us a bit more about Ink Lines, a ‘collaborative publishing imprint’, and how this came about?
It took a while for this project to actually get started – I had the idea from day one, but didn’t realise how important it would be until recently. Here’s what happened: I find it impossible to edit and publish more than 16 titles a year on my own, and currently that process doesn’t produce enough spare budget to hire even a small child to help out around the office (that’s not strictly legal anyway). So I was stuck – I could either publish more titles and not edit them (boo!), or stay at 16 titles and remain in my draughty garret, eating gruel, until I’m a pensioner. I decided to go for the first option, and the way to do this without compromising on quality is collaborative publishing.The first ‘Ink Lines’ titles (featured at: www.valleypressuk.com/inklines) are designed, funded and distributed by Valley Press, but sourced and edited by the guys over at Dead Ink, an digital-only publisher. (I may find a way to involve some other people in the imprint later on.) To sell these books, I rely on the good people at Inpress, who are always looking for more books to sell – the only remaining problem is publicity, but I’m working on that. Theoretically, this is a perfect way to expand the business.
5. If you could change one thing about the publishing industry today, what would it be?
I would like to see poetry appear on the bestseller lists. I wonder if that’s possible – if poetry could ever go through a boom period like erotic novels have recently experienced, if a book of poetry could be the next Fifty Shades – but my head tells me that’s completely impossible. What do we think, readers?