Small UK independent fiction publisher Galley Beggar Press, based in the East Anglian city of Norwich, recently attracted a lot of attention when the august Times Literary Supplement ran a high-profile and hugely positive review of one of its latest books, “A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing,” by Eimear McBride.

In the TLS, David Collard wrote:

“Writing of this quality is rare and deserves a wide readership … McBride is a writer of remarkable power and originality.”

Galley Beggar Press produces fine e-book editions of all its books, while aspiring to be “an old-fashioned publisher for the 21st century.” I spoke to Sam Jordison, co-director of Galley Beggar, about what that means, and the press’ approach and plans for the future.

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Gallery Beggar PressTeleRead: How do you apply your “old fashioned” approach? What does this mean in terms of the actual production of the books?

Sam Jordison: We’re old fashioned in a few ways. First, we’re based in a bookshop, The Book Hive in Norwich (pictured at left), run by Henry Layte.

Plenty of the first (and best!) publishers (John Murray springs to mind) started as we have, picking up writers that come into the store and selling their books direct.

We also want to follow in the tradition of publishers like André Deutsch and the great John Calder, having a small list of titles that readers are always going to know they can rely on. They won’t know exactly what they’re getting, but they will know it’s going to be good. We want to be a brand that suggests a certain quality—as a few older houses used to.

Finally, we want to produce really lovely physical books that people want to have, hold and keep forever. We love digital books too—but we also know you can’t beat good old-style paper.

TeleRead: How do you find authors that fit your criteria?

Galley Beggar Press
Sam Jordison

Jordison: Some we spend a long time hunting out and wooing. There are three co-directors at Galley Beggar, and we all have ways of bringing people in.

I’m a journalist at The Guardian and a book reviewer, and have built up a handy list of contacts over the years. Eloise Millar writes manuscript assessments for people like The Writers’ Workshop, and is always on the look-out for quality. Henry Layte, meanwhile, is one of those people that everyone knows and everyone goes to if they have something good on the go. Plenty of our best stuff has just come from people wandering into his shop and getting to know him.

Gallery Beggar Press
Eloise Millar

We were lucky enough to get our latest release, “A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing,” by Eimear McBride, that way. It’s very lucky, really. The fact that someone who has written one of the best books I’ve ever read lives around the corner and was looking for outlets just as we were setting up our company is pretty darn fortuitous.

TeleRead: How do you go about distributing and marketing your books?

Jordison: We try a bit of everything. We’ve signed up with Turnaround, a distributor who has done a great job of getting us into bookshops. We spend a lot of time contacting journalists—and we’re very lucky that plenty have been incredibly kind to us, understood what we are trying to do and supported it, so we’ve had some fantastic press. We’re on Twitter and Facebook. And we have some fun plans for the autumn that I can’t yet reveal.

TeleRead: In the era of self-publishing, what do you feel an independent publisher can bring to the table?

Gallery Beggar PressJordison: Ha! We can bring editing, first of all. Because we are small, and have a limited list we can really put the time in to making books as good as they can be. Writing is largely a solo profession—but not entirely. At a certain stage, just about everyone needs a second pair of eyes to help them see a few things—and to help them get their book into the best possible condition.

We also proofread books. We give them lovely covers. We market them. We fight tooth and nail to get our authors the recognition they deserve. And we love them! We give them a certain degree of validation and the confidence to keep going. I’m happy to say now that we also give them a strong brand. If people see a Galley Beggar book, I like to hope that they know it’s going to be special, even if they’ve never heard of the writer.

Oh, and our royalty rates are pretty competitive.


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