Why all poets should… support small presses.
A while ago I explained why all poets should… buy zines. Here’s the next in that series!
1. Small presses = hidden gold.There are some poets we’ve all heard of — mention Carol Ann Duffy or Simon Armitage or Billy Collins, and most people can reel off a couple of their most famous lines or at least name a poem or two. Sure, that’s because they’re incredibly talented and widely-read, but it’s also because they’re “signed” by large publishers with teams of PR people, employed solely to spread the word and sell as many books as possible. However, there are plenty of fantastic and highly distinguished poets out there that few people have really heard of, and the only reason is that they’re with smaller presses who don’t have the means to make them ‘famous.’ Most of my all-time favourite poets have names that meet with totally blank stares whenever I mention them, but they write incredible stuff. If you buy small press publications, you’ll find gold — big presses do not have the monopoly on fabulous writing talent!
2. They need your support. Sure, during dark times like these, all publishers and booksellers need your support — but small presses most of all. Profits for smaller presses are generally tiny; most are non-profit or run at a significant loss. Many small presses last only a short time and fold through lack of funds, but without smaller publications, the poetry community would be severely lacking. Think about it from the writer’s point of view, too — a writer whose book is with a small press generally won’t get an advance, or not a very sizeable one. That means they need to sell books in order to make any money from their book — literally, every sale counts.
3. Small presses are where you’ll probably start out. OK, there are poets who are so fabulous that their first collection is immediately snapped up by Faber and Faber without them even having to ask — there are also poets who just get incredibly lucky breaks. However for most poets, a small press is generally the first port of call for that debut pamphlet or collection.
Small presses make it so much easier for poets to get published. If the big publishing houses were the only ones, many poets would never get a chance to put a book out at all — not necessarily because they’re not ‘good enough,’ simply because even huge publishers can only accept a tiny percentage of the stuff they see. Small presses step into the breach to publish all variety of fabulous stuff… which may include your own work, now or in the future!
4. There are loads of them… which is a very good thing! If you want variety, sorry, but the last place you want to go is to a large publisher. The big guys are business-driven — they publish what will sell, which can mean that books from larger publishers don’t provide too much in the way of variety. It’s always a good idea to read stuff that’s new, different, surprising and original, and the best places to find that stuff? In the halls of Small Poetry Pressville. You not only get a huge variety of poetry though — there are a huge variety of publishers, too, all with different focusses and specialities. Variety is the spice of life so make your reading extra spicy — support a number of small presses and you’ll vastly enrich your book list.
5. They offer great value for money! Obviously, cover-price varies from publisher to publisher, but while publishers like Salt churn out £13 books and Carcanet price even their slimmest volume at around the £9 mark, smaller presses are able to stick cover prices closer to four or five quid on their books. How? Because their imprints are smaller, and because small presses don’t tend to have the bell-and-whistles “needed” by the bigger guys (full time graphic design team, typesetters, PR people etc), their overheads are nowhere near as high. Small presses also value every single sale and they know that more people will pick up their book if it’s only a fiver. They’re doing you a favour by making their books more affordable for you — do them a favour, and buy them!
6. You’re supporting local business. Or, you could be! Try if you can to hunt out the small presses in your local area, and concentrate on supporting them. That way, you’re contributing to your local literary scene and helping to keep it vibrant and alive. You’re also familiarising yourself with poets who are probably also local, which heightens your awareness of your immediate literary community and can help you to feel more involved in what’s going on in your area!
Recommend your favourite small press!