From the moment I met Jessica Montgomery at a recent networking event, it was clear that her energy is infectious. After all, she has founded Spora Literary, a platform that aims to change the face of publishing forever, making it possible for you and I to submit our manuscripts and get representation straight away. (The dream!). And she’s done it all while still maintaining her full-time job.
I spoke to Jessica about the future of publishing, her plans for Spora, where she gets her motivation from and more…
Where did the idea behind Spora Literary originate from and what was the catalyst for starting it?
I have always known that I have wanted to work for myself, and a year out of my Literature and Journalism degree I was working as a freelance content creator and marketing manager at a London start-up.
All my dealings with fellow writers and creators had taught me how closed off the publishing industry can be, especially to those who might not have the knowledge or the contacts. Working in the London start up scene also meant I was witnessing the changes other industries were making and thought; why can’t publishing make a change too?
Similarly, (my then friend and now business partner) Dominic was experiencing the same thing working in publishing directly. He came to me with the basic idea for Spora wanting my opinion. ‘Could this work?’ After a few months of back and forth, brainstorming and picking our own ideas apart we grew the original model into Spora Literary as it is today.
A lot of people stumble when it comes to finding the right business partner. How was the process for you?
Going into business with the right person is crucial, and more often than not it’s someone you might not expect. I was friends with Dominic at University prior to setting up Spora and when he approached me with this idea, it started a dialogue that showed us another side to our relationship. We actually make great business partners and colleagues, who knew? In many ways we are complete opposites in terms of personality and skills sets, but that works to our advantage. We always challenge each other’s assumptions and aren’t afraid to call the other person out on an issue. Going into business with your friend doesn’t work for everyone but we know each other well enough to never take anything too personally.
You’re currently managing a full-time job and the launch of your own company. What sacrifices have you had to make? What challenges have you faced?
For me being super busy is the status quo, I have always had projects on the go be it freelancing, events or blogging. I thrive in high-pressure environments. However, when the stakes get higher it takes a lot more focus and energy to keep the balance. I’m incredibly social and cannot live without seeing my friends and networking, so to fit everything in, my events job, Spora and other commitments, I do compromise on my well-being.
I definitely don’t sleep as much as I should! The biggest challenge is keeping things consistent and finding a structure that works for me. At my full-time job there are things in place, infrastructures that make doing my job much easier. With Spora, I have to create all those structures and processes myself.
I have to set my own deadlines and goalposts and everything always takes longer than you think. I’m still figuring it out. Fortunately I am very passionate about everything I do and the way my life is slowly evolving. I wouldn’t do it all otherwise!
What advice would you give to anyone who wants to start their own thing. but can’t afford to ditch their day job right now?
Start small and don’t rush. When we first started Spora – developing the website, working on the branding – the main question we were asked was ‘When’s the launch?’
In the age of the internet, with instant access to everything people expect things to be instantaneous. Business isn’t like that. You have to learn to take your time and to not let the weight of expectation overwhelm you.
There is also a lot to be said for the theory of MVP (minimum viable product). You don’t have to have finely polished thing to start a business, you just need the minimum to prove your concept and you can build from there. Perfect if you are low on time and resources. So draw those illustrations, make a basic website, put your little idea out there and see where it takes you.
Spora Literary has currently launched in beta! Yay! What has the process so far taught you about yourself?
Yes we have! It’s only been a few weeks so it all still feels fresh and there are lots of challenges still to come.
I have always hated failure. Missing deadlines, getting things wrong and being told the word ‘no’ have never sat well with me. I have had to learn to leave my perfectionism at the door as failure, and screw-ups are all a part of the deal.
I would also say the past year has taught me that I am a lot more ballsy than I give myself credit for. I flew to Germany a few months ago to connect with publishing partners and I literally had to walk up to these people cold, introduce myself and our idea. Scary? Undoubtedly. Worth it? When you are working with them to find authors a few weeks later, it definitely is.
Your platform aims to change the way publishers find authors. What authors, bloggers and great minds have influenced you along the way?
Countless! I am an avid reader (as you would expect) and I’m also an incredibly visual person so blogs, magazines, movies and art play a huge part in keeping me creative and motivated. Tavi Gevinson has always been an influence for many years and watching her grow from blogger, to speaker, actress and writer has been revolutionary. Especially after being brought up with one-size-fits-all idea of what a ‘career’ should look like. Roxanne Gay, Joan Didion, projects like Humans of New York, Lenny Letter and the dialogue of the people I connect with on Instagram and Twitter are in the mix too.
Anyone who advocates using their voice for change, for exploring ideas and trumpeting their own uniqueness is my kind of inspiring.
The people I surround myself with on a daily basis play the biggest part though. Seeing my friends go on to achieve great things in their own areas as photographers, journalists, fashion designers, actresses, consultants, make- up artists, the list goes on. I firmly believe that you feed off the energy close to you so I always try to surround myself with hard working, grounded, creative people.
Lastly, what are your hopes for Spora Literary over the next year or so?
The ultimate goal is to see more diverse and talented writers getting published, and whilst we are starting out mainly focusing on fiction, I would love to see this expanded to encompass poetry, screenwriting and other underrepresented genres.
The hope is to see Spora continue to burgeon into a wider community of diverse and talented writers and to see this impacted on the shelves at my local independent bookstore (you should always support the indies when you can).
I can’t wait to fill my – already packed – bookcase with our writers’ work!