Discover more from By the Book: Jamie McGarry at Valley Press
Three stories from the world of publishing
Including an update on submissions, and two more books to round off the year
Yes, the above is a scene from the world of publishing – though I admit experiences may vary. In a sense, the Scarborough seafront is my office; it’s certainly where I go to contemplate my biggest decisions. Some are easier than others, of course, and I’d like to start today with a story about…
How the Subs got Torpedoed
Not unreasonably, the main topic of enquiry in the Valley Press inbox at the moment is: “When will I hear back about my submission?” I was close to finishing the whole job before the onset of my now-infamous disrupted week, and I have successfully sent contracts to two authors – but since then, there’s been a few wrinkles which have thrown me off course.
Happily (for once) they are positive: no less than five well-funded, deeply interesting publishing opportunities have come my way, all needing to be completed next year. Most are anthologies, and four will be VP publications; so you’ll hear more about them sooner or later. The downside is that this leaves me with just three slots to offer new authors in 2024 – and as such, I am rather hung up on A) deciding who the third one will be, and B) deciding whether I can possibly let everyone else go unpublished. I don’t think I can, which means filling up some of 2025 as well – but how much? Besides new submitters, there are also a dozen VP veterans waiting in the wings with new books; and I’m not super keen to fill my schedule till 2026 right now, and have to keep submissions closed for two years again. There’s a lot to think about.
Certain people in my inner circle will be reading this and thinking (or perhaps already taking out their phone to text me): “Don’t tell them all that!! It’s too much information – you’ll look unprofessional.” But, staying up in my ivory tower, moving in mysterious ways and making decisions in secret is not my style anymore (if it ever was). I’ve got this blog, now, and one of its primary purposes is to make the crazy game of small press publishing a little bit more transparent. (Big progress on that today!)
Anyway, in conclusion: subs answers soon. What you need, of course, is patience – and I just so happen to have another story for you, on exactly that subject.
A Tale of Two Imprints
As we walked over a famous bridge in York the other day, my friend turned to me and said: “Whatever happened to Lendal Press?”
Lendal Press was a bright idea I had in late 2019. The idea was simple: a new “imprint”, part of Valley Press the company, but separate from Valley Press the brand. (The distinction may seem subtle, but this is standard practice at the “big five” publishers, where such imprints are a dime-a-dozen.) The imprint’s purpose was to separate VP’s business goals from the tyranny of my personal taste in literature; with a new brand, we could have new editors, and expand our horizons to match. We could also attract a whole new audience; the new imprint could be much “hipper”, like those ultra-cool indie publishers everyone loves. (You know the ones I mean. Though I have several admirable qualities, “hip” has never been among them.) The name, of course, came from that famous bridge in York, which has a slightly amusing shared history with Valley Bridge in Scarborough.
The first “Managing Editor” of Lendal Press was Paige Henderson, and after warming up during 2020, Lendal published its first book in early 2021; chosen and edited by Paige, and designed by Peter Barnfather (who by then had come on board as a full-time in-house designer; two imprints gave him plenty to do). This period was a peak of sorts, both in terms of staff and ambition – my cup spilling over in both regards – and it was at this point that a novel called Leaving Patterns first crossed my desk. “Another promising submission, looks strong,” wrote Paige, who then started corresponding with the author, with the intention of signing her up.
However, by June 2021, Paige had found her true calling and moved on (she’s now a “book-to-film scout”, one of the most thrilling job titles I’ve ever heard), and Lendal took the rest of the summer off, coming back to life that October with the arrival of its second Managing Editor, Seline Duzenli. In April 2022, a full year after her first enquiry, the author’s patience paid off, and Leaving Patterns – now titled The Life We Make, after a Louis MacNeice line – was officially signed up, set to be edited by Seline and published by Lendal. This was around the time I was packing up to leave VP, which is a whole other story; in short, I’d been so successful with recruitment that the company could now run just fine without me, giving me the chance to switch my focus to educational projects (like the ultimate guide to small press publishing). So, I headed off, wished everyone good luck, and Seline diligently got on with the editing.
By October 2022, however, that marvellous team were all leaving for pastures new, and I came back to run Valley Press by myself, so it wouldn’t shut down – soon becoming resigned to (and eventually, taking some comfort from) the fact I was here to stay for the long-term. Among the many files left for me was the edited typescript for The Life We Make, though I knew that the Lendal Press dream, in its original form, was now over. I had decided that it needed to be just me working at VP Ltd, for the foreseeable future, to re-establish some stability – and it was going to be impossible (plus a little silly) for one person to run two imprints with distinct personalities. So Lendal was semi-retired, continuing only as a bookshop.org landing page and as the label for our York-centric projects.
The Life We Make was then briefly submerged, and waylaid, as I battled through a torrent of other half-finished titles, arranged in a schedule to suit a team of four. Meanwhile, the author waited for news, once again displaying the patience of a saint. Finally, as the third April in this tale came to an end, I was able to make a firm commitment: publication through Valley Press before the end of 2023 – though, at first, to be sold exclusively through our own website (or by the author herself).
That brings us up to today, and I’m delighted to report that The Life We Make has finally made it into the shop, after one of the longest, most unexpected journeys of any VP book. (So remember, submitters: patience pays!) I will tell you more about Caroline Bath’s novel, and the fascinating true story that inspired it, in a future blog; for now, rest assured that it is a superb read, and – other imprints and editors aside – as fully deserving of a place on the Valley list as anything else I’ve published.
It will be in your hands by December 6th, yet, as our third and final story will tell, it’s still not the last word from Valley Press this year…
The Return of a VP Legend
Ten years before the first “Lendal” book hit shelves, I had just taken the massive jump from hobbyist to full-time publisher – having determined on New Year’s Day 2011 that in the year to come, I would earn my living entirely from my work at Valley Press.
Those were wild times, as I wandered wide-eyed through the publishing landscape with nothing to lose (still living at home, fortunately), meeting authors in pubs and cafes, with the tables very much turned from where they are now. Having produced only a handful of books, I was an unproven quantity, and few authors with any kind of audience or track record were ready to take a chance on Valley Press. One of the first exceptions was Norah Hanson – and if you just sat up in your chair in recognition, you too may be a VP “OG”, as the kids say (hey, maybe I am hip after all!)
Norah had started writing poetry in 1996 after retiring as a teacher (when I was eight!), and had been active in the poetry community of Hull and East Yorkshire throughout the noughties – gradually honing her craft and building a following, which remains an excellent path for any aspiring poet. In February 2011, we met at an event and had a brief chat, which eventually led to us exchanging emails, and starting work on her first collection, Love Letters & Childrens’ Drawings, released that November. Here is a little bit of VP history regarding the collection’s iconic cover:
After a wonderful but challenging year – dreaming big but living small, with less than £50 to my name in the whole world – I stepped onto the train to Hull for Norah’s launch, suitcase filled with 90 books, not knowing what to expect. It ended up being one of the few truly life-changing nights of my life. The two-floor restaurant hosting the launch was literally packed solid with people, even as I arrived; standing shoulder-to-shoulder, filling every inch of floor. (I’ve only seen one launch like it, which I will tell you about another time.) I fought my way to a table, but I barely needed it – I sold out of the book before Norah had even been introduced. After that, there was nothing to do but sit back and look on with pride (and help her read ‘Gremlins’, a poem for two voices, which I have joined in on a dozen different occasions over the years).
It wasn’t the only success of late 2011, but it’s the one I remember most, and was almost single-handedly responsible for me moving back to my beloved Scarborough the next month, when affordable lodgings became available. Of course, I couldn’t wait to work with Norah again, and a second collection followed in 2013, with a third, Sparks, in 2016. Norah poured every drop of her heart and soul into those poems, but was also constantly developing her craft; Sparks is not just one of the best books I’ve worked on, but one of the best I’ve ever read, and I’ve never been more chuffed than when Hollie McNish performed an extract on BBC Radio 4’s Poetry Please. (This arrived somewhat as a surprise, not long after I had published an audiobook version of Sparks, to capture Norah’s own extraordinary performances of the poems.)
With three collections under her belt, Norah’s writing continued at a slightly reduced pace over the next seven years, with new poems appearing from time to time and us frequently discussing a New and Selected volume (though such discussions were often paused due to the frequent ups and downs of the business). Of course, it was on the same day I spoke to Caroline to finally commit to The Life We Make that Norah sent through her latest file, and I realised there was now enough material for a sizable brand-new collection. For an author 85 years young, it was clear this wasn’t one to pencil in for autumn 2024 – it had to come out this year, and again, exclusively through our website (as the wider book trade needs a longer run-up than I could manage with these two titles – am planning an article on that subject soon).
I’m still adding the final touches, but Norah’s new collection is on the website now, available for pre-order, and the cover (incorporating two important photos) will look something like this:
I look forward to telling you much more soon, but that’s enough for today – I hope you enjoyed this three-part blog. You deserved a generous serving of By the Book after my longest gap between posts so far.
I suppose this has ultimately been the story of how I ended up publishing two books in December; not an ideal time to bring new products into the world, but definitely the right thing to do for both these projects. Neither is at the printers quite yet, mind you, so my immediate mission is clear – get these finished, clear the inbox, reply to the submitters, then put my feet up for the winter (maybe?) Watch this space!