Sunday, 19 June 2016
This week at Valley Press: 'What I'm looking for'
I've spent this weekend at Wentworth Castle (pictured above), near Barnsley – which is actually a stately home, built by someone who wanted a castle but had to make do with a big house ... then named it 'castle' anyway. I think that's a good attitude to have.
I was there talking to authors, giving them the chance to ask any questions they had about publishing, and promoting our current search for 2017 publications. The first question at these events is usually 'What are you looking for?' – so I thought I'd answer that in this week's newsletter, in case anyone else was wondering.
When I first look at a submission, I ask myself 'could I ever imagine this becoming a Valley Press book?' Exactly what constitutes a VP book is hard to define, but I will now try: they tend to be a bit quirky, often on the fringes of their genre (except the poetry, which is itself a fringe!) They are never deliberately useful (like a handbook on gardening would be), and they are never purely of topical interest, because I want to be selling these books forever. They are also never hateful, or cynical – and they are written with great care for language.
Meeting those standards only gets you through the first stage, however. A greatly-reduced pile of envelopes is then taken to a group of volunteer readers, and together we ask of each proposal: 'would I buy this if I picked it up in a bookshop?' If the general consensus is yes, I ask the author for a full manuscript – so far I've only seen 15 pages of each book – and then things get really difficult as I must choose a final selection, usually six from twelve, to take forward to publication.
So here's a question for you: would you want to know what stage your submission got to? Would you be upset to know it was ruled out straight away (which usually just means it doesn't match my personal taste), or would you be more upset to hear a room of strangers didn't like it? And if you were one of the finalists, is that the most frustrating scenario – to know you would have been published, if the company was slightly bigger?
Something to ponder, there!
This week, me and Laura ('Mrs McGarry and I', for grammar purists) are going to the House of Lords. After publishing our very first Indian poet, we are receiving an award for supporting writing from the 'South-Asian Diaspora' (a term I've only just learnt), and launching the book in question, which is all rather exciting. Emma is getting an award too, and some company called Faber and Faber (no, me neither).
It's the night before the UK's big referendum on the European Union, so look out for us appearing as 'talking heads' on the news channels, as journalists mistake us for people of power... (it might happen). A full report on that next week; have a good one!
Jamie McGarry, VP Publisher