For the Love of Books: an Interview with Valley Press
Born from a simple love of books, independent publishing company Valley Press now boasts over 100 titles. Alice spoke to its founder, Jamie McGarry, to find out how it all began, his top tips on getting your work published and to get an insight into the daily life of a publisher…
Firstly, tell us how you got started with Valley Press. I believe it’s quite a story in itself!
The earliest starting point was probably when I was around six or seven at school. I’d make lots of little books in my own time; write a story, draw the cover, do a blurb and even draw a barcode on the back. I carried on making books of increasing sophistication through the years, and I was still doing it when I was training to be a teacher in 2008. But I was awful at being a teacher, so I switched to a degree in English. I thought I’d better do more publishing to get my CV looking good. So in summer 2008, I started putting together my first books with the words ‘Valley Press’ on the back.
So what made you start your own business?
By the time I graduated, I’d done about 10 books all with the Valley Press name on it. When I started looking for a job, I went to a lot of interviews that didn’t really get anywhere. So I decided to be self-employed and just do Valley Press full-time, and that’s kind of what I’ve been doing ever since.
So do you try and distance yourself from the big, corporate publishers like Penguin?
Well I think they do some things right. The professionalism is something to aspire to; I try and keep it professional, but just without all the corporate problems! And I like to think you get the same service at Valley Press as you would at the likes of Penguin.
In terms of genres, you publish a lot of poetry- do you look for a specific genre or are you open to anything?
The only rule is: no ‘useful’ books.
And what would you describe as ‘useful’?
Well for example, last year I was contacted by a guy who’d written a book about allotments. He’d done six editions and they’d each sold 10,000 copies. But I think that’s where I draw the line. Useful books always become useless- that’s why that one needed six editions! But apart from that, I’m open to anything: fiction, non-fiction and poetry. People often say Valley Press is a poetry publishers because we do so much poetry, but I actually spend just as much time working on other genres too.
When you receive someone’s work, what’s the process that leads to it being published?
When I first look at something, I think ‘would I ever publish this?’ If the answer is yes, then I take it to a room of different people, like a focus group, to get their opinions. After that, I have an idea of what’s good enough to publish. Then it ultimately comes down to what I want to spend a month of my life working on!
What top tips would you give to anyone looking to get their work published?
I think in the creative world, if you want to get things, the best thing to do is to give. For example, if a poet regularly does an open mic night, they become popular with all the other poets. So then a publisher can see that they’ve got contacts, they’re outgoing and making an active contribution to the poetry community. It’s also good if they show an interest in Valley Press itself and they know what it’s all about.
Do you see the rise of e-books and the Internet as a threat to publishers like yourself?
No not at all. I think the peak of the e-book has actually passed. All of our books are available as e-books and I think it’s great to have that there; if you want to read a book on your phone then you can. But I do love paper books.
To see the full list of Valley Press authors and to order their books, visit www.valleypressuk.com.
(Image: Valley Press)