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Pub Chats: clinic

In today’s Pub Chat, we’re joined by Andy Parkes, Poetry School Programme Manager and,
alongside Rachael Allen and Sam Buchan-Watts, editor at trendsetting independent arts platform clinic.

Hello there! What are you drinking?

A pint of Guinness, in nostalgia for clinic’s early days as a workshop group in a noisy Irish pub in South East London.

How long has clinic been running?

Although the clinic workshops started in 2008, our first publication (a hand-made zine, stapled together using a courgette) came out in April 2009, so as a publishing house we’re currently celebrating our tenth birthday!

What were some of the practical things you did to get started?

After launching our first zine, we began holding a regular event series, featuring poetry, art, and live music; we saved the profits from these events to fund our next publication: a full-colour anthology, showcasing poets and artists who had featured in the live events. Our second book was made possible with a grant from the now, sadly, closed Ideastap as part of their ‘Innovators’ fund, alongside cash saved from sales of our first anthology and continuing live events.

Does your personal background lend itself to being an independent publisher?

I’m not really sure there’s anything that particularly lends anyone to being an independent publisher – when we started out we were just a group of undergraduates with no specific knowledge of publishing, but just a love for beautiful books, short-run editions, and a feeling that there were loads of exciting and diverse poets who weren’t represented in many of the books and live events we were seeing.

Where does the name clinic come from?

One of the very early discussions around putting together our first zine took place in the waiting room of a medical clinic. As these conversations continued we also began to think about the use of medical language in poetry and creating writing education (i.e. surgeries and consultations) and felt that clinic was actually a fairly apposite name for what we were trying to achieve with the venture: a clean and precise aesthetic with a welcoming, inclusive, and also rigorous ethos.

Could you describe the sort of poetry you publish?

We aim to publish a broad range of cutting-edge contemporary poetry, including both lyrical and avant-garde work, alongside new writing in-translation from poets around the world. I would say our tastes tend towards slightly more experimental writers – we love to read work that interrogates and troubles pre-existing forms and traditions, poetry that finds a new language to say something familiar. We also frequently try to work with early-career and emerging poets, with the aim of helping their writing develop and providing a platform alongside more established writers and artists, to stimulate new conversations and collaborations, and create a dynamic, inclusive, and forward-looking press.

What have been some of your biggest successes so far?

Of course, we’ve loved all of our publications over the years, but there have been some really wonderful moments where specific books and pamphlets have particularly connected with readers. We had an excellent response to our first foray into pamphlet publishing – White Hills by Chloe Stopa-Hunt – with this publication very quickly selling out and being named the LRB Bookshop’s poetry pamphlet of the year. Following this, Savage by Rebecca Tamás, was also named LRB Bookshop poetry pamphlet of the year and received a number of generous and kind words from readers and reviewers alike. Most recently our collaborative creative-critical work, THREADS by Sandeep Parmar, Nisha Ramayya, and Bhanu Kapil, has been very well received and is now in its third print run! All profits from THREADS have been donated to the Manuel Bravo Project (a charity providing legal assistance for asylum seekers who have been denied Legal Aid), so we’re particularly pleased to see the success of this one.

What’s the best thing you’ve found from the unsolicited pile?

For our most recent anthology, Clinic 4, we had an open submissions policy and, through this, discovered a great number of interesting poets and poems, including work by Dominic Hale, L. M. Kilbride, and Kate Duckney.

How important is the physical book design for you? 

Very. Our Art Director, Sean Roy Parker, is a fine artist and has a very clear idea on what the clinic aesthetic entails and how our books should look; when combined with the fact that all of us are total bibliophiles and have strong opinions on what makes beautiful books, conversations about the physical aspects of our publications take up a big portion of the process. We want our books and pamphlets to feel like works of labour and consideration at every step – if the publication is a platform for showcasing brilliant writing, then this platform should be just as considered and thought-through as the writing it’s showcasing. Nothing undermines good writing more than a crappy aesthetic.

The search for the perfect inner paper is a forever on-going process! For this, we tend towards an off-white/cream-coloured, highly textured, stock at around 100 gsm, so that there’s a very slight bleed through from the other side (but never enough to affect the reading).

At present, our pamphlets are risograph printed and occasionally have lithographic covers – we have a real affinity for manual printing processes and feel these aesthics really fit with the limited-edition and labour-intensive feel we’re aiming for with our publications.

Could you describe your editing process? And how long does it take start to finish?*

As we are a collective, the editorial workload is shared between us, usually with two people editing a manuscript together (with one of those being the lead contact for the poet). Simultaneous to this, we begin working on cover designs and discussing the physical aspects of the publication with our designers and printers. On average, these processes take around 2-3 months. Once the editorial is complete, one of the team who was uninvolved in the editing then proofreads, before sending the MS to an external proofreader, for a final check, and then off to print. We can normally produce a pamphlet in around 6 months, from receiving the MS to launching it. This can, of course, take a lot longer, with some projects, such as work in-translation or anthology projects, which can run to around a year in production.

What are some basic mistakes people make when submitting to you?

We very often receive submissions from people who have never read a clinic book, or been to any of our events. For us it’s important that the poets we publish are familiar with the work we do, feel at home with our ethos and aesthetic, and would like to join the family of clinic authors, so a working knowledge of the press is a must.

What advice would you give to poets today trying to get published?

Read, read, and read more. Nothing is more important, influential, and developmental in producing your own writing than actively reading the work of your contemporaries, alongside their historical influences, to really be able to find your voice and place yourself within the scene of poets writing today.

How do you pay your writers? How does remuneration work?

We pay an up-front fee for anything we publish, be that a full pamphlet or inclusion in one of our anthologies. We don’t currently use either a royalty or advance payment model as our publications are often short-run, which would result in our authors receiving very low payment, or possibly nothing at all, for their work.

Do you make any money from publishing?

No, clinic is a registered not-for-profit organisation and we do not take a salary for the work we do; instead, we re-invest any profits from book sales back into the company in order to make more publications and continue providing a platform for writers who need it.  

Do you work full-time as a publisher?

No. As we don’t take payment for our work at clinic, we all have other paid jobs to support ourselves.

Who distributes your books and where can I buy them?

We are a member of Inpress and so our books can be purchased in all good bookshops and also directly from us, via our website and at our live events.

What other indie publishers do you like?

The newly-named Prototype Publishing (formerly Test Centre) are producing some of the most exciting and innovative contemporary poetry at the moment – each publication is a beautiful, bespoke project full of challenging writing, experiments, and ideas. We also love the great work coming out of Offord Road Books, Guillemot Press, and If a Leaf Falls, and have also always been hugely inspired by the work of Ugly Duckling Presse in the USA.

How optimistic are you about the future of independent publishing? Are you satisfied with your own solutions to the problems it currently faces?

Very optimistic! We have a vibrant independent publishing scene in the UK, with lots of really exciting work coming out all the time. There is always room for improvement though and definitely space for more voices to be welcomed into the mix. I think publishers here should look at how things are in the US – there’s such a developed and diverse small press scene over there, with so many different publishers bringing out new and exciting work all the time, and collaborating to produce some amazing books. I think the Free Verse Poetry Book Fair does some great work in creating this sort of camaraderie and conversation between UK publishers, bringing people out of their homes and offices and into discussion with each other, and the poetry-reading public, to really take stock of the scene. There’s always room for more of this sort of thing though! The more publishers get to know and support each other, the better the health of the publishing industry and the more great new writing we’ll be able to bring to the public.

What advice would you give to someone starting their own independent publishing business today?

Really, the same advice I would give to any poets trying to get their work published: read, read, and read more. If you plan on going into publishing, it’s important to consider where you will sit within the scene of existing writers and publishers, and work out what you would like to bring to this collective. It’s also important to remember that there’s almost no money in independent publishing, so it really has to be a labour of love and come from a desire to provide a supportive and developmental platform for deserving work.

Tell me something about being an independent publisher that most people don’t know.

More than start-up funds, the one thing you’ll really need is physical space –finding storage for all those books becomes quite a task and often requires some creative thinking to avoid feeling like you’re living in a hoarder’s flat crammed with boxes.

clinic is an independent publisher, producing short-run poetry pamphlets, inter-disciplinary projects, and anthologies of new writing, alongside working with early-career poets and international writers. They have two publications due this spring: a pamphlet of new, translated poems from the celebrated Burmese poet Zeyar Lynn and a sequence of experimental sonnets from Russian-born American poet Eugene Ostashevsky.

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