Writers & Artists chat to Jamie McGarry, founder of Valley Press, an independent publishing house based in Scarborough.
1. Having lived in the North for several years at university, it strikes me that true Northern spirit is perfectly aligned with the values of Valley Press - that great writing and publishing is for everyone and anyone. What's the story behind Valley Press?
Jamie McGarry: I have been making books all my life, but I started using the name 'Valley Press' in 2008 as a 20-year-old English Literature student (living on Valley Road, in Scarborough, North Yorkshire). I began publishing full-time at the start of 2011, as a sole trader, after a fruitless six-month search for other employment within the industry; I knew starting a business would be a tough journey, but it seemed the only way forward. The current incarnation is a Limited company, formed with my wife Laura at the start of 2017
2. What do you think big publishers could stand to learn from smaller, independent presses?
JMG: I think we could help them communicate with the public more effectively. Many publishers in the heart of the industry get lost in that bubble, with all the jargon, and things being done because that's the way they always have been...one strange habit built on another, until they've reached a point where the world of publishing is utterly incomprehensible to the average person. Even after several years in the industry, I still feel like a complete 'outsider', and I remain baffled by the activities of most of my contemporaries!
3. Independent press sales are booming, with a reported growth of 79% last year. Why do you think that is? Can they offer something that larger publishing houses can't?
JMG: See my previous answer, for a start, but I'd also put a lot of that down to flexibility. Sometimes a little wooden dinghy can outrun a hulking container ship; it all depends on the circumstance. Behind that 79% are the stories about Beyonce taking an indie poetry pamphlet and featuring it in her music video, or the indie anthology that moved quickly from a single tweet, to crowdfunding, to the bestseller list. If your costs and overheads are low enough, a book that seems 'risky' to a large publishing house isn't a problem for you - that leads to a lot more creativity among indies, and thus (sometimes) more sales than the 'safe' projects pursued by the big companies.
4. What is the editing process like for you?
JMG: I think editing is a crucial part of a publisher's role. Really, books only need editing, design and marketing - everything else is the icing on the cake! That being said, I personally only take on the editing when I'm absolutely certain I'm the right person for the job, and there isn't anyone else who can do better: at time of writing, I've edited four of the last 20 Valley Press titles. I usually work on poetry collections, so when I edit, I start by collecting all content that could possibly be considered for the book (even stuff they might have rejected), finding the real quality, then finding a theme among that material. Only after a long journey of selection and ordering do I then begin obsessing (and if the author's alive, arguing) over every single line, word, and comma. It's all-consuming, for me.
5. In terms of the submission process for new writers; what does Valley Press look for?
JMG: Our ideal books are those written with great craftsmanship and literary knowledge, but also that don't exclude any potential readers with unnecessary complexity (they can still be complex, just not for the sake of it!) Our target is to publish books that can be enjoyed both by seasoned academics and the average man/woman on the street... can be tricky, but we do achieve that more often than not.
6. Poetry is at the forefront of your list, which is a list that houses an eclectic mixture of genres. What's the thinking behind such a broad range of books?
JMG: We have perhaps the widest scope of any independent publisher, and this is because we are looking for great books, without any limits on genre, length, author experience and so on. In 2018 alone our new titles include poetry, novels, short stories, flash fiction, essays, music history, graphic novels, travel writing and memoir - including some in translation - and that's not an unusual year. What's more, submitting something not mentioned in this answer would be a great way to get our attention; after all these years, the prospect of working on something truly new is what keeps my passion for the job alive.
Valley Press is an independent publishing house based in Scarborough, North Yorkshire, UK. They publish poetry, including collections, pamphlets and the occasional anthology; fiction, including novels and collections of short stories; and non-fiction, including memoirs and travel writing. Visit their website here.