POETRY AND MONEY
|Eyewear Man plotting to make billions|
It is true, Eyewear Publishing has adopted some elements of the "American model" that uses Submittable more than other small presses have done in the past in the UK - though Submittable is becoming increasingly respected, in the UK and the USA.
Competing with so many digital platforms now means we have to try our best in a very robust climate. The agents and poets who work with us, and other authors, are usually impressed and comforted to know they get three things with an Eyewear contract a) business nous; b) unimpeachable editorial and aesthetic intelligence and sensitivity; and c) a commitment based on genuine love of literature.
Eyewear is about the opposite of money - it is about culture surviving, even thriving, despite financial pressures - and about working within the system to bring the best looking books possible, with the best writing in them, to the widest audience, across the world.
However, so long as poets and authors think that publishers' main role is to grant them some sort of credibility by "taking all the risk" they will fail to see a new ecosystem emerging, where author and publisher can work better as a team, than as adversaries. And of course, not all "risk" is financial.
It is often an artistic or ethical or political risk (especially these days) to publish some books. Our book on Trump could easily have led to a Trump lawsuit that would have crushed us; we went for it anyway. Eyewear has taken many risks to ensure its authors know they are valued. But the idea that seeking to discover models by which a publishing house's platform and brand can be sustainable is somehow suspect or underhand, is simply financially illiterate.
We work with banks, PayPal, businesses like Amazon and Waterstones, as well as UPS - and they rightly expect us to pay our bills, on time. To sum up - the art of poetry and literary writing should not be confused with the business skills used by publishers to create a viable company that can professionally, and with integrity, publish and promote, those arts. Eyewear's many and varied, worthwhile, titles, speak for themselves.
Every book we have published has meant something to Eyewear - and its relationships are the furthest thing from being cynical money-grabs - our books are created carefully, and lovingly. It is true we have an ethos of collective awareness and responsibility, where we try to share the business realities with our authors - we tell them the truth about sales figures, and challenges. This is because, the people who work at Eyewear are writers themselves, and know that being informed is better than being in the dark.
Poets, especially, who grumble at presses for trying to make ends meet to cover costs of operating, do not understand the 21st century pressures, including Brexit pending, on small and even larger publishing companies, in this digital age. While it its true book sales are up marginally this past year, most sales are not for poetry, but celebrity, comedy, and cookery books, as well as novels. The average poetry book sells only 200 copies in its lifetime. It costs more to publish a properly edited poetry book than can ever be made back by 200 sales of a book. Therefore, all publishers "underwrite" their loss-making literary, and especially poetry, lists, by also publishing prose and more commercial books. They sometimes also run prizes, or hold workshops and other events.
In an ideal world, micro-presses like Eyewear could agree to read every manuscript sent to them, for free - but even a small press like ours receives dozens of manuscripts a day. It is impossible to find the time to do so, for free. No press can afford this, and some use interns to do all this reading, which can be unfair to authors also. In an ideal world, each book we carefully edited and published would sell at least 1,000 copies and break even or turn a profit. But that does not happen. Sales figures reveal that even award-winning Faber & Faber/FSG poetry books by famous poets may only sell 600 copies.
Small presses survive by a combination of hard work, savvy business acumen, patronage, arts support, grants, personal investment - but mainly, a huge labour of love. Each press' signature is somewhat unique. But the goal is the same - to get their books sold, to support their poets, authors, and allow the press to remain profitable enough to keep trading.