Small Press Publishing for Profit, Part 2: ‘The Nine Days’

The second installment of a series in which Valley Press founder Jamie McGarry reveals his tried-and-tested formula for making a living as a self-employed literary publisher. This week: costing our time, redefining the concept of ‘minimum viable product’, and how to publish a book in nine days.

A selection of books produced by Valley Press — in a teetering pile, to add drama. (Photo: David Chalmers)

Preparation

Before the nine days start, you will have already read the book once and signed a contract with the author. Neither of those activities will have to be done on your own time — you can set things up so you are paid to read submissions, either with an entry fee (like The Poetry Business competition), or by requiring submitters to buy a book first (my personal preference, as most people can afford a small paperback, and they still get something for their money if they aren’t successful.)

Days 1–2: Editing

I mentioned earlier that editing is important; but it doesn’t have to take forever. Most of the books you publish as a small press will be on the shorter side; even the longest poetry collection won’t get far past 8000 words, and though poetry is more difficult to edit, you can definitely edit three 166-word poems an hour and get through that chunky 8000-word poetry collection in two days. (Taking regular breaks, obviously.)

Day 3: Typesetting (a.k.a. text design)

You can pay someone else to do this as well, if you want — and actually, all the other stages, too. If they won’t do the work at our £7.50 an hour (£60 a day), you can simply increase the RRP, as we did for editing the longer books. Or, you could give them some of your pay from day nine (see below).

Day 4: Cover design

This is not the black art many people make it out to be. Here is a short workflow I use for coming up with a concept:

  1. What are some of the key images (in the literary sense) in this book?
  2. Does the author have ideas/existing graphics for the cover? Are they sensible, and do they fit in with 1 and 2? (If yes, you have the makings of a cover, if no go to 4)
  3. Do I have ideas for the cover? Are they sensible, and do they fit in with 1 and 2? (If yes, go to 5, if no, go and do something else and come back in a week)
  4. What images can I find on reputable websites, filtered by license (i.e. free use with attribution), that can make my idea come to life?

Days 5–6: Marketing and Publicity

If we don’t do this, we won’t sell our 200 copies and the whole thing falls down. However, I’m going to talk about marketing and publicity in the third part of this series, so I’ll say no more here.

Days 7–8: Emotional Admin

I’ve heard one publishing professional compare organising writers to herding cats; another coined the phrase ‘emotional admin’, which has become part of my vocabulary, and I’m surprised hasn’t been used elsewhere.

Day 9: Contingency

We’re dealing with an artistic process here — things are never going to be entirely straightforward, but that’s okay so long as we allow for it. Some of the other days can easily run over, or require a little more time to get right (e.g. going through various cover designs), so it’s best to build a buffer into our plans. Also, if there are unexpected expenses in the project (or pricey freelancers involved), you can cover them by dipping into the money you would have paid yourself for this day of work, if that makes sense.

Founder @valleypress. Have mostly written here about small press publishing, but am starting to branch out. Stay with me, people!

Founder @valleypress. Have mostly written here about small press publishing, but am starting to branch out. Stay with me, people!