Leading UK independent literary publishing house—and e-book producer—Salt Publishing has decided, “after thirteen years and over 400 poetry collections, many by debut authors,” to stop publishing poetry by individual poets and concentrate on anthologies in the future. “Salt concentrates its future poetry efforts on the best of British” was how the headline on the Salt Publishing blog put it.
The Guardian coverage quoted Salt director Chris Hamilton-Emery as saying: “”We’ve seen our sales [of single-author collections] decline by over a quarter in the past year, and our sales have halved in the past five years … It’s simply not viable to continue doing them unfunded.” He attributed the British poetry market’s problems to a sharp drop in foot traffic at bookstores, and a proliferation of small presses.
“Is British poetry healthy right now?” blogged poet Clare Pollard. “Squeezed by the recession and the big buyers, the half-dozen major presses are only accepting one or two or no debuts each year. Poets can end up spending years just waiting for rejections from them.”
And of Salt’s demise, she said, “The news that their poetry publishing will now be slashed to a single annual anthology is terrible for British poets. I mean, their list is bursting with talent: a whole, brilliant generation.” Interestingly, Pollard’s analysis of the publishing options available to new poets made no mention of self-publishing, or e-books.
“I thought I’d stick to addressing the traditional publishing model as that’s still what most poets aspire to,” Clare Pollard told me in an email. “A self published poetry book won’t get reviewed and won’t be eligible for any prizes. Poetry e-books also seem—from what I have heard and read within the industry—to sell very few copies indeed, as poetry fans still seemed attached to physical books (though correct me if I’m wrong). If the problem is poetry not finding a readership, telling young poets to self publish would currently mean they’d likely to be sending it into a void … Still, that’s not to say things won’t change, of course.”
The UK Kindle Store does currently list a number of Salt Publishing poetry titles in Kindle format in its Salt Modern Poets series, including The Corner of Arundel Lane and Charles Street by Tony Williams and Unexpected Weather by Abi Curtis, almost all of which carry four-and-a-half to five star customer reviews. “This is a beautiful book,” runs one typical review of the latter. “Curtis’s poetry is by turns wonderfully perceptive, delicate, tough, quirky, funny, poignant and haunting.” And I have to agree that these are beautifully produced and well formatted books that apparently have made the transition to Kindle gracefully. All retail at around £7.20 ($10.90).
“Over 80% of our revenue is made from our fiction list, the rest is divided between our poetry publishing and our non-fiction titles,” says the Salt website—and obviously we now know how the division of that less than 20 percent remainder goes. “Just over a quarter of our total income is now derived from our anthology publishing.”
“There’s never been a better time for poets to write,” says Chris Hamilton-Emery, director at Salt. “There are huge opportunities for poets to publish in new ways—and there are scores of new presses emerging, too. It’s an exciting time.” Obviously the excitement has mostly moved on from Salt. Hamilton-Emery was unavailable for further comment.
Not everyone is having such a difficult time with the genre, though. “My publishing company is on year three of its poetry competition,” answered one enterprising Texan author and small publisher on the Kindle Boards. “It’s a loss for the company, but not too bad of one, and I like the attention it gets and literary angle it gives my press. I’ve worked with some very talented poets now and we always get someone fabulous to judge it.”
Previously I’ve written about the problems of formatting poetry for e-books, and the need for some standards and solutions to address this. Now it seems there is more need than ever.