Poetry and Milk

Friday, 26 February 2016

Will I make any money from my book? It is a question many poets ask straight away and it always makes me feel uncomfortable.
I hate having to disillusion a prospective poet who was expecting to make money.  Big publishers do make money from books but most small presses do not. Most small presses just survive. Those publishing poetry at any rate. With Poetry Space my strategy has been to accept that fact and develop a model that is more than just publishing. A model that is becoming a community  of poets and poetry lovers.
Many people love and support Poetry Space for the  things it does: the online activities to entertain and encourage new writing from all ages , the shiny silver and gold envelopes that pop through your letterbox every quarter if you become a friend, the annual competition, the showcase, the photographs.
I love producing books, love designing covers and finding just the right photograph or piece of artwork to complement the poetry. Each book or pamphlet is completely individual and lovingly produced. Even fonts are varied to fit the style of the poet or mood of the book.  I hope I will always be able to keep up the publishing side even if just on a small scale,  with the commercial activities: competition ,editing, critiquing etc subsidising the books but I have had to keep refining the business model in order to do this.
One strategy has been to begin offering free copies in lieu of royalties for all new poets signing up since January 2015 and most people are delighted with that. But how to deal diplomatically with the one who wants money? In many ways, I sympathise. In a just world he/she should have money as payment but unfortunately it’s like selling milk, there are so many poetry books being produced and so much that is freely available online that books can’t be sold at a high enough price to make money. Its purely economics, the law of supply and demand. My offer of 20 copies for every print run of 200 books is generous. It is just not cash up front.
I have had this issue before, in compiling anthologies some poets want payment, as much as £40 per poem which Poetry Space simply can’t afford and I end up dropping the poem. There are a lot of talented poets so unfortunately if one demands payment in an anthology, the poem has to be dropped. Like the loss of the doorstep milk delivery, it won’t be missed.
Once a poet said to me. Well you would not work for no money, would you? My reply. I already do.