I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the business side of the poetry business. I’m lucky: I don’t have to make a living from publishing. I’m unsubsidised, and will remain so – I make the decisions and I take the commercial risks. I publish poetry with the aim of selling it to people I hope will enjoy it. I aim to have books cover their costs within a year, and any additional income is re-invested in future books. All but one of my titles is in positive figures just now, and I’m confident that one will soon be in the black.
It’s my strong view that my relationship with authors should be an ongoing one. My responsibility to them doesn’t end with their launches, and marketing continues until stocks are exhausted. However, I’m a one-man band; I can’t do it all myself. When I take on an author I give them a copy of my business arrangements, which includes a statement that I expect them to be part of the sales force. So I organise launches and try to arrange readings, encourage poets to submit to magazines, I take part in pamphlet fairs, promote through blogs and websites, and do everything else I can to raise that author’s profile, and to convince people to buy their publications. I can’t publish poets who won’t take part in these activities, because my experience is that readings very often help to sell, and always increase public interest in the poets. I won’t publish any book I don’t think will cover its costs, because it’s me that pays the bills, not the taxpayer.
So, if I can set this in some kind of humorous context: I wouldn’t have published Philip Larkin (even if I liked his poetry), because he was notoriously reluctant to take part in public readings. I would have published Hugh MacDiarmid (although I think a pamphlet would cover his best work), because he was a notorious self-publicist. I wouldn’t have published Emily Dickinson (although I love her poetry), but I would have published Robert Burns – his contact list was fantastic. I could draw up a table, but you get the idea.