Back to basics at Valley Press
It’s Jamie here — yes, that’s right, I’m back. If you made a wager with your VP-following friends when I departed, i.e. “ten quid says he’ll be back in our inboxes before Christmas”, you may now go and collect your winnings.
This is not going to be a promotional message. No blurbs, no sales, no offers for you this time — just a hefty serving of honesty, history, and ultimately, some important (and positive) changes to how we do things around here. So strap yourselves in.
For the last seven years, our “about” page has featured this sentence:
“Valley Press is built on one very important belief: great literature, and great publishing, is for everyone and anyone.”
Those weren’t empty words — when I wrote them, I truly believed them, and I still do today.
Not long after they were typed, I employed my first member of staff, which helped us attract some serious funding, and kicked off a cycle of growth that eventually led to the arrival of a whole full-time team. In the course of two years, VP turned from an overgrown hobby into a real business, with livelihoods on the line and more money coming in (and going out) than I’d dreamed possible for a “small press” with such eclectic tastes.
Then, as it always must, the funding dried up — and a pandemic arrived. Although I still believed in the above mission statement, it took a back seat to another good cause: keeping the team, and myself, in gainful employment. It was in service of that end that we ran our most recent submissions window, which asked writers to donate £30 for the privilege of sending in their work; we then used the resulting pool of money to publish one lucky “winner” (who you will meet next month). We also started offering “hybrid” publishing deals, asking authors to front some of the costs of publishing in return for higher royalties down the line.
We were upfront about those arrangements; I was happy with the ethics, and I was especially happy to be creating (or maintaining) publishing jobs in the North, while still producing amazing new literature that might not otherwise have seen the light. I was also proud to have given over a hundred interns a head-start in their publishing careers between 2013 and the present, with several dozen now gainfully employed in the industry.
However, in the back of my mind, I knew that if the entry price was £30 (or for hybrid authors, thousands of pounds), our great publishing wasn’t really for “anyone and everyone” any more — or at the very least, the statement required a small asterisk. (We did allow some free submissions, but I suspect that for every one author who asked about them, ten didn’t.)
At the same time, due to the wealth of publishing skills possessed by my colleagues, my job had become a purely “management role” (as I described it in the last newsletter). Whether I was any good at that pursuit is for history to decide, but it was definitely not what I was put on this Earth to do. So, in May 2022 — knowing the business was in safe hands — I left my job as Publisher of Valley Press.
I spent the next few months enjoying some low-stress freelance work, spending lots of quality time with my 5-year-old son, and learning a few fascinating truths about how my brain is wired up (which we may get into another time). This peaceful period was interrupted by the sudden arrival of Valley Press at a significant set of crossroads: the team I had left in charge had found new employment opportunities and would be leaving at the end of October. At the same time, another Northern publisher had offered to buy the business, giving me the chance for a clean break whilst providing a secure future for the brand and its authors.
The decision I faced, then, was to a) walk away from the company that has defined me for my whole adult life, b) bring in a set of complete strangers and put them in charge, or c) wind the clock back seven years and return to running Valley Press entirely by myself. I set aside the first Thursday in September to ponder this decision, with a verdict due the following week.
This next part is going to sound a bit twee, but it’s true: on that day I re-read some of my favourite VP publications (not that I have any official favourites, of course!), pondered what 2023 and beyond might look like if I took those different roads, and recalled some of the best and worst days in my publishing career. The former would have included this one, at Buckingham Palace in 2013, where I was put completely at ease within five seconds by one of the greatest public figures this country will ever see…
Of course, it was on that same Thursday in September when we heard that Her Majesty’s seventy-year reign was reaching its end. That gave me something else to think about; and I’m fairly sure some lingering ideas of duty and identity passed from one thought process to the other. Where did Jamie end and Valley Press begin? And really, what did it all mean?
To get to the point (at last!), I chose option c). I have returned to the role of Publisher, and as the other staff depart, I will take over responsibility for delivering the twenty superb titles they have lined up for you between today and July 2023. (You’ve already met the first one.) My short-term priority will be to serve those authors as best I possibly can, hopefully bringing some new promotional ideas to the table — along with plenty of stored-up publishing energy from my long break.
Medium-term, those famous words on our “about” page are going to form the heart of a new mission statement for Valley Press. It’s still taking shape, but with the current state of the world (economic and otherwise), it’s clear that there’s a desperate need for inclusivity, fairness, transparency and sustainability in every industry — but especially publishing, which to some extent is the act of choosing which people deserve their voices amplified. In the new year, the lack of any mouths to feed (besides mine) will give VP the flexibility it needs to put these goals front and centre… which should also help us to attract the best authors, and facilitate the high-quality publication of their work.
So in closing, my pledges to you for a new era of Valley Press (VP 2.0?) are as follows:
- Two-thirds of future Valley Press titles will be selected via open submissions windows, and there will be no charge for authors to submit their work for consideration.
- Valley Press will offer opportunities to as many authors as possible, and there will be no expectation or requirement for authors to contribute financially to the publication process.
- Starting today, 50p from every book sold by Valley Press will be donated to charity. (In the medium term, this will be split between climate change and child poverty; details to follow.)
- From January, Valley Press will be “carbon positive” — removing more carbon from the atmosphere than is emitted from the production and shipping of our books.
- Finally, Valley Press will actively pursue goals related to publishing education, working with universities and other outlets to share what we know and inspire the next generation of publishers.
I can’t do this entirely alone, of course — I’ll need you, the VP faithful, to stick with me (as you always have), and for those of you who can afford to keep buying books to bear the above in mind when you choose your next read. I will write to you regularly on this channel to let you know how things are progressing, and to share some samples of what we’re putting out. I have no doubt that I’ll hear from many of you, too, and be kept honest in the process!
For now, all that remains to be said is an especially big “thanks for reading”. See you next time.