Following the departure of Candlestick Press' co-owner Jenny Swann, poet Di Slaney has assumed full ownership of the company. The press produces poetry pamphlets as alternatives to greetings cards. She talks to Natasha Onwuemezi about the state of poetry publishing and her plans for the future:
As Jenny Swann is stepping down, are there any plans to hire anyone new or make expansions?
Jenny leaving the business was a relatively sudden decision, so plans are still being formulated but, yes, expansion is definitely on the cards—no pun intended! As regards hiring someone, or even inviting someone else as a shareholder into the business, that’s something that I think will become clearer over the next three to four months as some of our existing plans for the busy festive season take effect.
What are your plans for the future?
My broad objectives are to widen the title range further, keep pushing for engagement in new markets (the lion’s share of our business development has been in the gift trade in the past two years) and to look for interesting opportunities for range expansion in the UK and overseas.
How do you feel about the state of poetry publishing at the moment?
I see lots of exciting and innovative activity in the independent sector, with many newer, small presses with big ambitions being prepared to challenge the status quo, which is good news for all of us. I also see huge amounts of support within the poetry community for those presses, with an increasing number of events and activities around the launch of new collections, for example.
With my marketing hat on, and being more dispassionately critical, I think more time could and should be spent on the economics of the sector and ways to make it pay. The “product” is improving all the time, distribution channels seem to be making great strides, getting better at getting “stuff” to customers, but other than hiking the price of books outside the reach of your average poetry punter—and offshoring print to get the cheapest production price—I don’t see much thinking behind how smaller presses can survive and thrive.
Where do you think Candlestick Press fits into poetry publishing?
I think that Jenny’s original concept still stands: bringing poetry not only to those who already love and buy it, but to those who will love it but perhaps don’t know that yet. We bridge the gap between the pamphlet and/or full collection and the new poetry reader. We’re their way in to finding those writers they might like to read more of.
Part of the job of our mini-anthologies is to help other presses get exposure by signposting fantastic writers that people might not yet have heard of, by mixing those voices with others that are more familiar.
The fact that we serve a mixed anthology with enough depth to be stimulating but not too stodgy to be indigestible is really the key to our success to date. And when that’s linked to consumers having short attention spans, reading one of our titles is perfect for those short snatches of free time that then don’t seem wasted.
What are the strengths and challenges of being an independent publisher?
The strengths are that we have the ability to move nimbly and quickly–to try new things, learn from them, then adapt and move on, to be free to find a niche and mine it, and to be unafraid of moving outside expected norms. As for the challenges, having the resources to match ambitions, finding like-minded people to work with and share common goals, and knowing when to switch off the laptop and say, ‘Even writers and publishers need to get some sleep.’
Ten Poems about Cricket, edited by John Lucas (£4.95), and Ten War Poems, edited by former poet laureate Andrew Motion (£4.95) are out now.