What was your pathway to publishing?
My first job was with Time Life Books in London; I started there straight after university. As a junior editor on the series Library of Nations, I spent many hours checking facts in libraries. I still love libraries.
How many titles do you publish each year?
Fifteen to twenty. We like to have a new title per month so our reps have monthly contact with booksellers. It is a front-list world.
Which book are you proudest of publishing?
Katherine Johnson’s The Better Son represented the company’s coming of age. Our first fiction title, it heralded the rebrand to Ventura, launched our distribution agreement with Simon & Schuster, and is our bestselling novel to date. (I have also just sold it into China.) It’s the most wonderful book.
Do you edit the books you commission?
Yes, I do. With our recent anthology Split: True stories of leaving, loss and new beginnings, I had the idea and then worked with Lee Kofman on the content. With fiction, I have input into the structural edit, character development, and narrative arc.
What qualities do you look for in an author?
Humanity and the ability to connect. Writing that is surprising, engaging, and meditative.
In your dealings with authors, what is the greatest pleasure – and challenge?
To work collaboratively and to publish them into the market with passion and professionalism, both here and internationally. Since ours is a small list, I work very closely with our authors in a way the larger houses cannot match. I know their books and their passions.
Do you write yourself? If so, has it informed your work as a publisher?
I have always published the books that reflect what I would like to write myself, which is why our list champions the female voice so well and also mental health issues. I did start a memoir a few years ago. But it was too gloomy for me to write let alone for someone to read. My father had died the same year so I see now it was completely the wrong time. It was such hard work to find my voice and so lonely a task that I have the utmost respect for writers. However after a trip back to England for Christmas, I find that the words are flowing. Writing takes me to a place of deep and productive solitude – and I now no longer fear where my writing might take me.
What kinds of books do you enjoy reading?
A good fiction book is my constant companion; I still take print books on planes. I read literary fiction for pleasure with some ‘must read for work’ titles added into the list to better understand the market. I love a good crime novel – respite from all the Zeitgeist hoopla.
Who are the editors/publishers you most admire (from any era)?
At university I loved all things Virago, and I wanted to be Carmen Callil. My company is called Ventura as a homage to her and to those halcyon feminist days of Virago’s stunning books with their suffragette-green spines.
In a highly competitive market, is individuality one of the casualties?
Not at Ventura. As it is a private company, we can take risks, such as with Angela Meyer’s genre-defying A Superior Spectre. In such cases, we answer to no one but the readers.
On publication, which is more gratifying: a brilliant launch, a satisfied author, encomiastic reviews, or rapid sales?
It has to be a satisfied author, since that often reflects good reviews and good sales. We work very closely with our authors as we build their readership and profile. It’s a total collaboration.
What’s the outlook for new writing of quality?
Quality writing will always find a market, but it can be a waiting game for the author. To match the writer with the best editor and publisher often takes an astute agent or the serendipity of an unsolicited manuscript being read and championed. Out of respect to writers, we review and reply to every submission we receive.
Jane Curry has worked in book publishing for more than twenty-five years. She joined Time Life Books in London straight from university in England before coming to Australia in 1985. Over her career she has been Managing Director of Weldon Publishing, Lansdowne Publishing, Macquarie Library and National Book Distributors. She published her own list at Pan Macmillan Australia prior to establishing her own publishing house, Ventura Press, in 2002.