Valley Press Independent Publishing Q&A

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Young Poets Network asks Jamie McGarry from Valley Press your questions about the independent publishing industry!

Thank you to everyone who sent in questions via email, Facebook and Twitter – we passed them all on to Jamie and he gives his take on things below.

How did you first get published? What steps did you take in order to get published?

Before I started Valley Press, I was a young writer who wrote every week, and attempted to be published every few months – this is, of course, not the right ratio if you are serious about building a career in writing and getting your name ‘out there’. I wasn’t, but if you are, you should write and submit work for publication as regularly as you possibly can.

On the few occasions I was successful, it was by targeting publications very specifically – for example, a poem about a famous resident of the Yorkshire dales was sent to (and published by) The Dalesman magazine, and poems about particular hobbies would have appeared in publications related to those. This strategy can work brilliantly, but only if what you’re writing has some sort of real-world audience outside the poetry community.

That was then, of course, and now I’ve been working in publishing for a few years I could easily write a book entitled How to Get Published – but this humble Q&A is not the time to do so!  In truth, there as many routes to publishing success as there are successful, published writers; to get there, you just need to find your unique path.

What made you decide to set up Valley Press? How did you do it?

I first started experimenting with publishing as a student, in the summer of 2008, for a wide variety of reasons – I wanted a career in the book world, and had to start somewhere; I was curious to see whether I could actually design and produce a book myself; I had a lot of finished writing that was sitting around on my computer; I had a lot of spare time on my hands.

By the time I graduated I had published ten books.  I then embarked on an eight-month search for a proper job, and finally decided to give up on that; to stop trying to get a job and to make my own instead. That was Christmas 2010, and I’ve being running Valley Press full-time ever since.

As for how I did it – some research, lots of trial and error. If the desire to learn is there, you can teach yourself almost anything that way.

What is a typical day at Valley Press?

I mentioned this question to my family (some of whom are fans of the Young Poets Network), and they instructed me that on no account was I to give a truthful account of how I spend my days. So, it’s all high-powered meetings, limo rides followed by helicopter trips, and cocktails on my private yacht …

But seriously, I receive enough emails that I could easily (and happily) spend all day just answering them – they cover a thousand different issues, all leading back (eventually) to people buying Valley Press books and reading them.

So the answer to the question is, to some extent, ‘answering emails’ – but I also try to do three hours’ proper work (editing, design and promotion) on a forthcoming title every day.

What is the best way to get into the poetry world?

Guess what – if you’re reading this, and other posts on the Young Poets Network, you’re already in the poetry world. If you’ve bought a new poetry book or a ticket to a poetry event in the last three months, you’re in the very most important part of it.

I like writing poetry, how and in which ways can I enter the continuously paid world of poets?

The continuously paid world of poets, a.k.a. Utopia, is a land quite some distance away – but it does exist. The important thing to note is, I’m not aware of any modern poets who make a living purely by sitting at home and writing poetry; they teach, they perform, they edit, and a hundred other jobs, many of which fit in perfectly with the main job of a poet.

So to answer the question, ‘how do I get there’, you simply have figure out how they got there. In my first answer, I said there as many routes to publishing success as there are successful, published writers; but you may still be able to spot a pattern.

How old do you have to be to be taken seriously in the publishing industry, both as an author and as an employee?

This is a very good question. It depends on the individual, and on the people making the decisions – personally, I can’t imagine myself publishing work by someone younger than 16, unless it was the most extraordinary bit of writing I’d ever read, and they were some sort of genius prodigy.

I’ve published a couple of writers aged 21, and we all know Zadie Smith was that age when she started being taken seriously, so it would seem a general answer to your question lies somewhere between 16 and 21. I’ve only ever worked in the publishing industry as a self-employed person, so I can’t comment on attitudes there – but most publishing jobs are graduate jobs, so 21 again would be the magic number.

Do you accept works from writers who are still in their teens?

If by ‘accept works’ you mean, read their work as a submission, then yes – I will read work by anyone of any age, because you never know when that extraordinary genius prodigy will turn up!

How do you find an agent to publish and pitch your stories?

This isn’t something I have experience with, but the good news about agents is that the majority do accept unsolicited submissions – it’s an essential part of their job. So the plan would be: find some authors writing for a similar audience to yours, find out who represents them, and send a manuscript to those agents/agencies.

Do most UK/US-based publishers accept manuscripts from writers who reside in other regions (e.g. Asia)?

Without doing some research, this will be a guess – but I’d say yes, they do.  The best will judge you purely on the quality of your writing, and no external factors; but it will always be easier to deal with local publishers, I would think.

How do I make my submission catch an editor’s eye?

I could mention some clever gimmicks I’ve come across, but these will only get you so far – the only surefire way to success is to write something absolutely amazing, and have it fall into the lap of someone who is looking for just that kind of amazingness.

If I submit and get rejected, should I submit again?

Yes – but not exactly the same version of the exactly the same work to exactly the same place. Apart from that, anything goes …

That’s my opinion, anyway!

Why might some books be chosen over others?

However wealthy and voracious a reader you are, you will own only a tiny percentage of all the books that have ever been written – so you can answer this question yourself!  The reasons behind you owning the books on your shelf will be surprisingly similar to the reasons they were originally chosen for publication.

What is the best way for teenagers to learn more about the publishing industry?

Reading blogs such as this is a good start; getting involved with the Society of Young Publishers would be a wise next move.  I am co-chair of the Northern/Midlands branch, and there are also London, Oxford and Scottish divisions. They are all a great way to meet people in the publishing world, and their websites list lots of opportunities for internships and the like.

How do you make your books stand out from the crowd?

When books are presented in a crowd, there are two ways they can stand out: one is by having the name of an extremely famous writer on the front, in large print. The other is to have a strong cover image – one that is not only eye-catching, but communicates some of the personality of the book, enough for a browser to form a connection before they read a single word.

What makes a good book that attracts young voices from across the world?

What makes a good book good?  At some point in its past, hard work and passion collided with spectacular results!  All good books are spectacular in their own way.

What tips do you have for me, an aspiring writer, in telling Africa and Ghana’s complex stories?

As a writer with a connection to Ghana (I assume), you are a thousand times more qualified to answer this question than I am.  But I will say this: using any sort of specific real-world place in a work of fiction is a challenge that requires skill, but if done right, can have a huge pay-off.  A subject for discussion in a different post, perhaps? (Editor – in fact, one of our August 2014 Summer School challenges was on this very theme! To find current opportunities, click here!)

And, lastly, how fun is it to be in the publishing industry?

As with any part of life, it’s as fun as you make it!

Thanks, Jamie!

Photo of Jamie

Jamie McGarry is the founder and editor of Valley Press. “Valley Press is the home of independent publishing in Scarborough, North Yorkshire, UK, publishing poetry, fiction and non-fiction in paperback and ebook formats. The first books with the Valley Press name appeared in October 2008, and we now have more than fifty titles in print. We are also available for freelance book design and consultation –  to find out more, contact us through our website, our Twitter account (@valleypress) or on Facebook.”Published July, 2014

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