Independent press Eyewear Publishing has drawn criticism from the Society of Authors (SoA) over its treatment of poets, including contracts “constituting an unwarranted interference with their civil rights”.
Poets have complained about some of the London-based press Eyewear's contracts, seen in full by The Bookseller, demanding its authors not engage with the SoA which it said was “biased against small press publishing and unduly aggressive”.
The publisher has been running since 2012 under founder Todd Swift and has published poets such as Pulitzer Prize-winner Paul Muldoon, A K Blakemore and Kimiko Hahn, distributing in the UK and the US.
The contract clauses, seen in a contract from this year, state: "Under no circumstances shall the author refer these matters to 'The Society of Authors' as the publishers consider them biased against small press publishing and unduly aggressive.
“The author may not claim any breach on the grounds of 'irreconcilable' or 'personal' differences, unless these can be clearly documented over a period of time and only if the grounds are such as would normally end a marriage or other serious relationship – 'rude emails' or 'hurt feelings' are not enough.”
Solomon described the clauses as "extraordinary" and unprecedented and revealed that Eyewear poets had contacted the society in the past in need of assistance.
“To prohibit authors from contacting the SoA is to prevent them from taking independent advice from their trade union,” she told The Bookseller. “Not only is this unenforceable, it constitutes an unwarranted interference with their civil rights. The termination clause is also extraordinary – the fact that it explicitly mentions the possibility of the publisher sending 'rude emails' that cause 'hurt feelings' speaks for itself.
“The SoA’s role is to defend writers’ interests, and poets contacting us in the past about Eyewear contracts have always been grateful for our input. We have not seen a clause before now forbidding the author to speak to us. I would advise any author not to sign such a contract.”
Swift told The Bookseller the contract clauses were often deleted if a writer objected to them.
“Each contract we have signed since 2012 is bespoke, we try and base on industry standard templates," he said. "They are all discussed with the authors. We are very short on resources and usually if authors object to a clause we delete.
"We are a very small press even if we punch above our weight that basically makes no profit and that has published hundreds of poets without arts funding,” he said. He emphasised that he had worked for six years without taking a salary.
Eight writers have contacted The Bookseller to share their experiences of working with the publisher. While many in the poetry community have reported difficult relationships with Eyewear, others have rushed to Swift's defence, suggesting the situation raises "an interesting debate" about independent publishers.
One poet, who also wished not to be named, told The Bookseller: “My experience of Eyewear and Todd Swift has been excellent... Other authors have stated a similar experience, but in private, not public."
Another writer, who wished to remain anonymous, said the "nuts and bolts of the editing, how to improve the text, and the editorial guidance has been extremely high".
"It does open an interesting debate about the viability of indie presses where poetry books are not financially viable." the writer told The Bookseller. Meanwhile Eyewear has detailed at length on its website the need for more people to buy from indie presses and retailers.
Last week Eyewear prompted a strong reaction on social media from its poets when it published a tweet saying: “In light of the decision by several Eyewear poets to happily announce new books with rival presses today without warning director [Todd Swift] has suspended all further poetry projects. Poets who abandon their debut presses do severe damage in terms of sales and funding to them.”
However, Swift told The Bookseller the since-deleted tweet had been “misread” and the poetry list would not be suspended.