On launching an independent press: Jamie McGarry interview

independent press

Valley Press is an independent publisher of poetry, non-fiction and fiction, founded in 2008, and run as a full-time business since January 2011. Here Stephanie Cox interviews Valley Press founder Jamie McGarry about setting up a new press and how it all came about.

1. Tell us the story of how Valley Press came about.

The short version: after an unsuccessful attempt to become a Primary School teacher, I fell into an English Literature degree, and then realised this was not a subject that was going to make me highly employable. I had been making books of various kinds since the age of 6, so decided to start doing that a bit more purposefully, to enhance my CV – using the name Valley Press, as I lived on Valley Road at that time. It was the summer of 2008.

2. You are primarily a publisher of poetry. Have you always had a passion for poetry?

I had always enjoyed poetry whilst growing up – but very casually, alongside novels, films, music and all the other great things life has to offer. It wasn’t until I started reading serious contemporary poets – writing from the 1960s up to the present day – that I realised this was the medium for me, probably the one thing I was going to pursue during my life. That was around the age of 18.

3. Do you find much time now for your own personal creative writing?

Absolutely not – I haven’t written a word creatively since I started running Valley Press as a full-time job, in early 2011. The timing is too exact to be a coincidence. I think it’s probably the case that whatever muscle I was using to write, is the same one that powers me as a publisher, and there’s only so much it can give! Plus, there are only so many hours in the day – the process of starting a new company is all-consuming, whatever the field.

4. What was the first thing you published as a new press?

It was a novel I had written myself, whilst dog-sitting during the summer of 2007 – titled The Waiting Game. I only printed 38 copies, it was a very tentative start! I haven’t looked at it since, it could be awful. There’s a copy in Scarborough’s public library if anyone wants to take it out and have a read. Let me know what you think.

5. What is Valley Press’ biggest success to date?

Well, it depends what kind of success you’re looking for – I love it when an ex-intern writes to me saying they’ve got a great publishing job, for a start! But I reckon you are talking in terms of cold hard sales figures, in which case James Nash’s Some Things Matter: 63 Sonnets is still top of the chart. There’s something really special about that book… I’ve yet to publish something that can catch up with it.

6. What would you say you enjoy most about being a publisher?

I love it all – I really do. I even get a kick out of doing the accounts. There’s that old saying that goes, ‘if you have a job you truly love, you’ll never have to work a day in your life’ – that’s me. I don’t let a day go by without being thankful, and wondering how I’ve been able to get away with this for so long…

7. What is the most exciting aspect of the job?

I can’t name a particular ‘aspect’ as such, but the most exciting moment is probably when a golden bit of publicity appears – something like a big mention for a Valley Press title in the Guardian’s books pages, or on the radio. Usually the first I hear about this sort of thing is when I notice a sudden spike in the sales of a book; it might have sold one copy every few days for the previous month, then suddenly thirty in one day, and I think: ‘hang on, something has happened!’ Then a bit of detective work is needed to track down the cause.

To read more of the interview, head over to Stephanie’s blog: Words are my Craft.

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