I’ve been emailing with a poet friend today who drew my attention to this piece in the Guardian, about Salt’s decision to stop publishing individual poetry collections and to concentrate on anthologies. I know it’s been a big topic of debate this week. But something about the way it’s been reported makes me see red.
As a fledgling poet as desperate as anyone to be published by a good quality press (if I’m being honest) I may be shooting myself in the proverbial foot here. But in my mind, publishing is a business, like any other – yes, I realise many small presses do it for love, which is perfectly possible if you have the means to do so, if you have a day job, don’t have staff or premises or bills to pay. Don’t get me wrong – I love the small presses and am eternally grateful that poetry attracts so many selfless individuals.
But if you are in the business of publishing, you need to make a profit, or at the very least, cover your costs. And to make a profit, you have to sell books. The time when poets could hand that over to their publisher to worry about has gone. A publisher does not exist to nurture new talent or to give young upcoming poets their big break. A publisher can only do that if people keep buying the books. Which, considering how many people no longer even read books, let alone buy them, and given how easy it is now to self-publish, is not surprisingly an uphill struggle.
Of course the Guardian gave the piece a particular editorial slant (big clue being in the funereal photo of Carol Ann Duffy). Perhaps I’m just not knowledgeable enough to realise the dreadful consequences of all this. But the marketer in me says that for poets to come across in this light – complaining about how poets are being denied an outlet, and what a tragedy it all is – does nothing whatsoever for the reputation of poetry, or poets, in the eyes of the general public. You know, all those people who do still buy books (except poetry books).
Surely given the economic climate we should all be thankful that Salt hasn’t folded, or even that it hasn’t abandoned poetry publishing altogether.
Rather than worrying about who’s going to publish our slim volumes we should be thinking about the real issues – how can we help regenerate interest in poetry? How do we reach out to all those people who love reading but can’t stomach poetry? How do we embrace changes in how the written or spoken word is consumed? How do we help publishers sell more books?
Come on guys, we’re in this together. If we can just be a bit less passive and a bit more proactive we might win more non-poet friends over. And then who knows what might happen.