Why on earth did you choose poetry – the hardest form of literature on the planet to sell? Do you write it yourself?
I started off with poetry because I wanted to publish Rachel's brilliant poems, and then I had the idea for The Emma Press Anthology of Mildly Erotic Verse so I stuck with it. I didn't set out to be a poetry publisher, but once I'd learned more about the poetry publishing scene it made sense to explore it before branching out into prose. Also, I became really excited about all the modern poets I’d encountered and I wanted to work with them!
I don’t write poetry myself, which I hope gives me a bit of critical distance when editing as well as marketing the books. I’m a poetry fan trying to sell books to other poetry fans.
Were your ideas for the Emma Press Club and the Poem Club an organic response to what happens when you set up in publishing poetry – i.e. hundreds of people want you to publish them and hardly any of them want to read or buy your publications?
Yes. I started the Emma Press Club because I'd had hundreds of submissions for the first few anthologies and mere dozens of sales on my website. It struck me as odd that so many people wanted to published but didn't make the connection between buying books and the publishers continuing to exist in order to publish them. If you don’t support small publishers, you can whistle for your small publishing deal! Or just wait for Faber to come knocking on your door, of course.
I spotted on the Poetry Library website that the Egg Box submissions policy encouraged the purchase of a book from their website, and I’d also found at least a quarter of our submissions were barely-relevant poems fired off with little consideration for the brief. So it occurred to me that I might kill two birds with one stone by introducing a policy whereby people submitting had to buy a book from us. I know I can't sustain my business purely on the custom of hopeful writers, but it’s been useful for cashflow in this early, crucial stage of the business. And the quality of submissions has improved immensely.
As for Poem Club, I wanted to create something fun for people who don’t write poetry themselves. I think my various briefs for anthologies provide interesting challenges for poets, and I don’t want non-poets to feel left out. Poem Club didn’t exactly go viral (my hope for everything I do), but it did have a really nice response and I connected with a handful of new and lovely people. I wound it up after ten installments because I was getting increasingly busy and couldn’t promote it properly, but it may return next summer.