Valancourt Books was started in 2005 by James Jenkins and Ryan Cagle. Their mission is to republish important works of literature that may otherwise become lost. Although Valancourt Books has a definite leaning towards Gothic and the supernatural, they also reprint gay interest titles. Over the years Valancourt Books has received accolades from scholarly journals and the Times Literary Supplement for their revival of obscure Gothic novels and penny dreadfuls.
I recently had a chance to ask Ryan a few questions about their experience with publishing and Valancourt Books.
When we started Valancourt we were publishing “lost” Gothic fiction from the late 1700s. Over the years we moved into Victorian popular fiction and then literary classics from the 1900s. We’ve always had a love of horror fiction so it seemed inevitable that we’d eventually end up publishing more recent works.
How do you find/decide which books to reprint?
A lot of factors go into what we decide to reprint but the ultimate rule is that it has to be something we both love. We’ve spent years scouring the shelves of used bookstores, online bookstores, blogs, etc. to find books in need of new editions. Now that people know who we are we get a lot of recommendations.
Which printer do you use and why?
We currently use Lightning Source for everything. When we started out we used a local printer in Seattle (where Valancourt Books began). Most of the titles we publish are on the obscure side, meaning they most likely won’t have huge print runs. Given the cost of printing and storage it just wasn’t feasible to do anything other than print-on-demand. Plus, Lightning Source’s distribution is hard to beat: the books we print with them become instantly available on just about every major online bookstore’s site worldwide. And their quality has gotten better over the years. These days, the quality of the cardstock, laminate finish, and paper is generally much better than most of the books issued by large publishers that you find in the chain bookstores.
How are your titles distributed (e-book and print)?
Most of our books are available in paperback and e-book. Within the last few years we started offering hardcovers for books that were never printed in that format during their original publication. Around 30 of our books are now available as audiobooks, with more being added all the time. As far as the actual distribution, we essentially self-distribute (we don’t have an exclusive distributor for our books), and through Lightning Source’s worldwide network of distribution partners, we’re able to get a very wide reach for our print books, while of course Amazon pretty much has the market cornered on e-books, though we also sell them on Nook, Kobo, iTunes and to libraries via Overdrive.
Do you have a person who designs your book covers or do you do them yourself?
In the old days we did them in-house, but more recently we’ve been lucky to work with some fantastic freelance designers who are doing some really amazing work.
What do you use for page layout and why?
We use InDesign. The learning curve was somewhat steep initially, but it’s really the best option for designing professional-looking books. Also, once you’ve created the print book with InDesign, it’s very easy to use InDesign’s plug-in to generate a Kindle book, and relatively simple to create EPUBs as well.
What was the biggest challenge when getting started?
When we started, everything was sort of a challenge, since neither of us came from a publishing background. We had to learn everything from scratch, from how to set up a business and a website to how to get ISBN numbers for the books, how to design the books, where to find a printer, etc. But none of it really felt like a ‘challenge’ at the time, since we were having too much fun doing it. Now that we’ve been publishing for 13 years, we face new challenges, probably the biggest of which is how to reach readers and make people aware of the books we’re putting out.
How do you publicize your titles?
We mostly rely on social media – we’re active on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, Instagram and other platforms, and we also put together a monthly email newsletter that goes out to subscribers. We also occasionally will do print advertising, and of course we send out review copies, though nowadays with book review space in newspapers and magazines shrinking or disappearing while more books are being published than ever before, it can be a challenge to get reprints of old novels reviewed. Finally, we attend conferences and conventions specializing in the types of things we publish, like the World Fantasy Convention.
You often have people do introductions for reprints, how do you decide who to ask?
We like to include new introductions when possible, since sometimes it’s necessary to help put an older book in context, and it’s also nice to be able to distinguish our edition from secondhand copies that might be available online. As far as finding someone to write the introduction, sometimes the author or the author’s estate will suggest someone they know is a fan of the novel and would do a good job. Other times we’ll research online to see which writers or critics may have mentioned or reviewed a book we’ll be publishing, and if they seem enthusiastic about it, we might ask them if they’d be interested in introducing a new edition.
Is there a book you wanted to reprint and couldn’t?
A lot. It would be impossible to guess how many books we’ve gone after that we weren’t able to reprint. In most cases it’s an issue with not knowing who the copyright holder is, so the book is stuck in limbo until the author enters the public domain.
Do you feel you found your niche publishing horror reprints or did the niche find you?
I’d say we found it. It has been and continues to be a work in progress. Just because we do something now doesn’t mean it’s going to be what we do in the future. Horror is our passion so there will always be a bit of that in the mix, whether it’s Gothic fiction from the 1700s or new works being published today.
There are lots of gay titles that I would love to see back in print (mostly Skydiving on Christopher Street by Stan Levinthal, Mountain Climbing in Sheridan Square by Stan Levinthal and Pizza Face by Ken Simon), do you think you’re going to reprint more gay titles?
We actually have quite a few coming out soon: Simon Raven’s The Feathers of Death, two classics by James Purdy, a completely rewritten version of Philip Ridley’s 1990 cult classic Flamingoes in Orbit, and more. And we’re always looking for other great titles we’ve missed, so that we can add them to our list of offerings.
Do you have any advice you can give unpublished authors?
Not really, since we work exclusively with reprints of previously published material by authors who are already more or less well-known. I guess one small piece of advice would be to take a look at a publisher’s website to see what sorts of things they publish before you submit a manuscript to them. We regularly have people trying to submit everything from scholarly academic books on Harry Potter to poetry written in Russian.
I would like to thank Ryan Cagle for taking time out of his day to answer these questions, and hope you got something out of this interview. If you would like to find out more about Valancourt Books and what they have to offer, feel free to visit their web site.