Monday, 20 May 2013

Below The Salt

Arts Council England's recent funding decisions—which increased writer development but slashed funding to a slew of small presses and literary festivals—led to Salt's recent decision to stop publishing "single-author" poetry collections (the press is run by Chris Hamilton-Emery, pictured above). Claire Pollard regards the bad news as part of larger pattern threatening UK's emerging poets:
Courses, MAs, mentoring, pamphlets and prizes for the emergent are all booming – it is a golden age of celebration and support for new poets. The trouble seems to be what happens once you ‘emerge’. The poetry world is still geared towards the model of the (roughly 60 page) book – ambitious writers are encouraged to spend years entering competitions, sending stuff to magazines, performing, work-shopping, etc, with their eyes on the ultimate prize: a publisher signing up their first collection. Except these days, that’s where lots of talented poets are coming to a juddering halt.
She continues:
We seem to be moving towards a model where people are kept ‘emerging’ for as long as possible – preserved in a kind of hopeful limbo, where they can gain lots of encouragement and support, but also spend lots of money on mentors and Arvon courses and MAs and competition fees and retreats. It can take many years the truth to emerge: that for all their talent and investment, they are unlikely to get a book published, and if they do it will probably disappear without a review or more than a handful of sales. It seems to me there are choices to be made. One option is for arts bodies to start supporting ‘emerged’ poets as actively as those who are ‘emerging’. Another might be to accept that the days of the physical, 60-page collection are over and find a different model of poetic success.
Neil Astley, publisher of Bloodaxe, agrees with Pollard, but fills in some of the missing details behind the demise of Salt, a press that uses the POD model:
Salt has lurched from crisis to crisis, but because everyone loves Chris Hamilton-Emery and readers and poets like a lot of the writers he publishes, or published, everyone has been supportive of his efforts to keep going, responding to repeated appeals for sales, setting up readings for Salt poets, and keeping the Salt admiration society going on Facebook and Twitter. What no one seems to have noticed is that the main reason why Salt lost its ACE funding and why its poetry list has just gone up in a puff of smoke is that its business model was never viable except for a small press with a small list and modest sales. Print on demand isn't compatible with promoting poetry to a wider readership. You can't complain that your books don't get reviewed or noticed if you don't send out review copies to newspapers, magazines, radio producers and festivals. You can't complain that your books don't get shortlisted for prizes if you don't submit them for all the prizes that are going. You can't complain that your poets don't get anthologised if you don't give copies to anthologists who request them. All that requires running on 100 to 150 copies from your print run to use for promotion. Print on demand doesn't allow for that.

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