Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Sian Hughes - a question

Sian Hughes' first collection, The Missing, is exceptionally good. I'll review it in the near future. Sian won the Arvon prize with her poem, The Send-Off, which is included in the book. Both in terms of the award and the subject matter, that's an excellent marketing hook. Her use of language is innovative yet accessible, her subject matter hugely relevant to our lives. Etc, etc...

My post asks the following question: why wasn't she picked up by one of the big guns of the publishing world?

Let's get one point clear - Salt are great; in fact, this is one key example of how important they are in contemporary U.K. poetry publishing, because I wouldn't be sat here enjoying The Missing if it weren't for them. No, my amazement is at encountering a superb poet with wide appeal who can't have slipped under the radar in the context of her Arvon win yet wasn't picked up by one of the top outfits. Incomprehensible.


  1. I can't comment on Sian Hughes's book in particular, as I don't know how she came to be picked up by Salt.

    However, let's imagine a 'Book X' whose author has recently won a major individual poem prize and whose manuscript is clearly very good.

    The trade publishers are only doing about one collection per new poet (maybe two or maybe none, depending) per year and don't have space.

    Let's assume poetry publsihing houses B or C are somewhat interested. B or C has a slot in 2011 or 2012 and expresses a interest in seeing the manuscript. However, Salt look at the manuscript and, within a few days, say they'll get the book out in 2009.

    The author will get more exposure in bookshops and may stand slightly more chance of getting on prize shortlists with B or C. But with Salt, your book will be published quickly, you're part of a team that is producing most of the exciting poetry in the UK at the moment, whose editors are great to work with, and which has the best website.

    I know several poets who didn't even send their manuscript anywhere else...

  2. Hi Rob,

    I understand your argument and fully agree with it. I would probably make a similar choice if in that situation myself.

    In fact, I feel your explanation underlines my point and puts some flesh on it - just what are the big guns playing at, losing out on all this talent?! Finance obviously dictates, but new printing technology should enable them to get more titles out. Several larger publishers are fast losing their relevance.

    As I mentioned in my initial post, this type of example shows just how important Salt are becoming.

  3. Thanks for that vote of confidence. Kate Clanchy recommended Siân to me, and it was a no brainer to take the collection on, it was a fantastic collection. Siân and I pared the thing down over a few months and did a fair bit of editing. It's a terrific book.