In the latest of our series of feature-length interviews with independent publishers, set in our imaginary poetry theatre pub somewhere in Lambeth, we spoke to Stephen Stuart-Smith of Enitharmon Press….
Hello there, Stephen. What are you drinking?
How long has Enitharmon Press been running?
Stephen: Since 1967.
What were some of the practical things you did to get started?
Stephen: Putting together a first list when I took on the running of the Press in 1987 was an extended and rather delicate process, for I was approaching some of the writers out of the blue, without a proven track record but with some useful contacts made through working with poets in schools. There was no capital to play with, only a tiny grant from Southern Arts to help fund my first publication, Jeremy Hooker’s collection Master of the Leaping Figures. Thereafter, right the way through to 2001, when the Arts Council through London Arts gave a one-year publishing grant, every publication had to pay its way. With poetry books, this sales strategy is notoriously difficult, since only a few poetry collections break even. So in those early days, I found myself subsidising the Press from my earnings as a freelance editor for other publishers and as an exhibition organiser. Occasional grants were secured for the publication of first collections by new writers, and for translations. And the development of a series of de luxe artists’ books, which has now grown to become the leading one of its type in the UK, helped to subsidise the literary list.
Does your personal background lend itself being an independent publisher?
Stephen: To some extent. In terms of the content of the books, I have some advantage in having a first degree in History and a postgraduate degree in English, and an extensive period of working as an editor for other publishers, particularly Macmillan, Thames & Hudson, Phaidon and Faber. I started my career as a teacher, running departments in secondary schools, which demands a high level of organisation and initiative. On the debit side, I have no training in business and have had to learn on the hoof: for the 15 years I was working on my own I was acting as representative, sales manager, bookkeeper, distributor and dogsbody.
Where does the name Enitharmon come from?
Stephen: William Blake created in visual and poetic form a dramatically attractive muse of poetry and painting and gave her the name Enitharmon. She also represents spiritual beauty.
Could you describe the sort of poetry you publish?
Stephen: It varies enormously, so that the question is almost impossible to answer. We’ve published poets writing both formally and experimentally, with a sound technical skill and with very little framework at all. We’ve published poets of the past (e.g. Isaac Rosenberg, David Jones, Edward Thomas, Ruth Pitter, C. Day Lewis, Rainer Maria Rilke, Frances Cornford, Federico García Lorca) and a wide spread of contemporary writers, from the well-known names such as Geoffrey Hill, UA Fanthorpe, Paul Muldoon, Billy Collins, Dannie Abse, Simon Armitage, Kevin Crossley-Holland, Jane Duran, Tomas Tranströmer and Anthony Thwaite to a radically different young generation of meta-modernists – academy poets such as Keston Sutherland, Simon Jarvis and Marianne Morris. We’ve published translations from some 30 languages, thematic anthologies, critical studies, memoirs and books of letters. And we’ve been responsible for resurrecting the reputations of writers who have been neglected by more commercial publishing houses, such as David Gascoyne and the Marxist novelist Edward Upward.
How are you different from other independent publishers?
Stephen: We may not be different in this respect, but we do pride ourselves on editorial meticulousness, high production values and in working very closely with the authors, providing them with continuous encouragement and with literary, practical and even psychological support.
On average, how many books do you sell in a year?
Do you sell more online or by wholesale/retail?
What have been some of your biggest successes so far?
Stephen: Seamus Heaney, The Testament of Cresseid; Ted Hughes, Shakespeare’s Ovid; UA Fanthorpe, Christmas Poems; Simon Armitage, Out of the Blue; Rainer Maria Rilke, Duino Elegies; Ronald Blythe, At the Yeoman’s House; Jack Kerouac, Book of Haikus; The New Exeter Book of Riddles; Paul Muldoon, Plan B; Billy Collins, The Apple that Astonished Paris; Tomas Tranströmer, The Deleted World; UA Fanthorpe, New & Collected Poems; Jeremy Reed, Piccadilly Bongo; Kevin Crossley-Holland, The Exeter Book Riddles; Geoffrey Hill, Clavics; Keston Sutherland, Odes to TL61P; Simon Armitage, Stanza Stones.
What’s the best thing you’ve found from the unsolicited pile?
Stephen: Jane Duran, Breathe Now, Breathe.
How important is the physical book design for you?
Stephen: Of crucial importance, and every detail of the process is carefully considered. At one end of the scale, we are one of the last publishers to use letterpress-printers for limited edition chapbooks and de luxe artists’ books. At the other end, our small-format paperbacks are planned with a desire for and understanding of the best design and production values – from the cover’s appearance to the typographic niceties. The input of talented designers and distinguished artists is central to the process, and we collaborate closely with them to achieve the best result.
Who prints your books?
Stephen: CPI Antony Rowe, Gomer Press, Short Run Press, The Stonehouse Fine Press, The Rampant Lions Press.
Could you describe your editing process? And how long does it take start to finish?
Stephen: As previously intimated, it is an in-depth process that involves months of correspondence, emails, phone calls and face-to-face meetings with the authors. Suggestions for revisions and corrections are made, several sets of proofs generated, and the finished text reflects the gentle tussles that took place.
What’s your submissions policy?
Stephen: We are currently very heavily committed to projects which have already been commissioned and are unable to accept unsolicited manuscripts for publication. For more information about how to get published we recommend The Poetry Writers’ Yearbook edited by Gordon Kerr and Hilary Lissenden. Another good starting point is to try and get poems published in poetry magazines. The Poetry Library at the South Bank Centre has an extensive collection of publications and helpful and knowledgeable staff and, if you are not able to visit it in person, they have a comprehensive website.
What are some basic mistakes people make submitting to you?
Stephen: Not checking on our policy in advance.
Where do you look for new writers?
Stephen: Magazines, journals, newspapers, readings, broadcasts, online.
What advice would you give to poets today trying to get published?
Stephen: It is advisable to look carefully at submission guidelines, to consult reference books about the best way of presenting your work, and to consider very seriously whether you are ready for publication.
How do you pay your writers? How does remuneration work?
Stephen: In the form of annual royalties.
What is your approach to marketing and promotion?
Whether through formal or informal channels, it has to be done enthusiastically, knowledgeably, diplomatically and persistently.
Do you make any money from publishing?
What would help? Do you think the state or any other institution should do more for independent publishers?
Do you work full-time as a publisher?
Has your work suffered from a diversion of energy into other employments or is it enriched by it?
Who distributes your books and where can I buy them?
Stephen: Central Books in the UK, IPG in the US. You can buy them directly from the Enitharmon gallery and bookshop at 10 Bury Place, London WC1A 2JL, through our website www.enitharmon.co.uk, through serious bookshops and other independent outlets.
Do you have any staff? If so, how many?
Stephen: Yes, six.
Apart from books/pamphlets, what else do you make?
Stephen: Prints (etchings, lithographs, photogravures, photographs, ink-jet prints).
What other indie publishers do you like?
Stephen: I’m bound to say Anvil, Bloodaxe and Carcanet.
How optimistic are you about the future of independent publishing? Are you satisfied with your own solutions to the problems it currently faces?
Stephen: Deeply pessimistic.
Do you have anything to add about e-books / Amazon / the Internet that hasn’t already been said a thousand times before?
What advice would you give to someone starting their own independent publishing business today?
Stephen: It is neither a game nor an amateur pastime.
Pub Chats aims to highlight the extraordinary amount of interesting poetry presses there are today, and the amazing work they do and the incredible writers they publish. We hope this series will give poets and writers alike a greater knowledge of the independent publishing landscape as a whole, as well as providing a public forum where publishers can be honest, open and candid about publishing as a business. Note: a selection of these questions have been taken from Cyril Connolly’s 1946 ‘The Cost of Letters’ survey.