Thursday, 16 May 2013

The demise of Salt's poetry list

There was a major shift in the U.K. poetry publishing scene yesterday with the news that Salt are giving up their verse arm apart from their annual anthology (see their blog post here). Bearing in mind that they've published more than 400 collections over the past thirteen years, this is serious stuff.

I'll always be grateful to Salt for having introduced me to the work of many great poets such as Sîan Hughes, whose The Missing is one of the most outstanding poetry books to have been published in the U.K. since the turn of the century. Salt was responsible for bringing out numerous first full collections, offering numerous opportunities for excellent poets to find an outlet. However, many of those same poets now find themselves in a unsettling position and on rocky ground: no publisher for that awkward second book, no long-term commitment.

The demise of Salt's poetry list might well be down to a wide range of causes. The fact is that they found it very difficult to place their verse collections in major bookshops. Furthermore, I do feel they might have overextended themselves in terms of the number of collections they published, especially 2/3 years ago. It's clear that poets must put major work in to market their own books, but they also need strong support behind them in the form of their publisher. With extremely limited human resources, Salt sometimes had to let poets (and their books) very much sink or swim. It was a huge achievement just to publish such terrific poetry in gorgeous packaging in those circumstances!

It's also ironic that after having gone through a number of turbulent periods of cashflow problems, etc, (e.g. the Just One Book campaign), Salt now seemed to be on an even keel on the back of Alison Moore's novel, The Lighthouse, having managed to make the Booker shortlist. In fact, I'd speculate that this major success may well have sharpened Salt's focus on prose as their growth area and the basis on which they can build a sustainable, non-funded business model.

I can only hope that Salt might find a way back to publishing more poetry in the future. For the moment, I feel very sorry for the numerous poets from Salt's list who must be waking up today, looking at their manuscripts and wondering just how they are going to find a home for their next book.


  1. Cogent post as always Matthew. My own view is that Clutag Press in Oxford provide a great model for the future - high quality, limited edition pamphlets of poetry, which effectively mean that you own a rare work of art. And priced to match at 20 pounds. Regarding Salt, my own view is that their poetry was somewhat expensive at 12 pounds a copy - that's asking a lot of people for first time authors. And there was something of the old Bloodaxe about them as you suggest, publishing so many people. Interesting to see that Bloodaxe have now cut back on the number of people they publish: it's also an issue of being able to service your authors, as well.

  2. Thanks Matthew. I did wonder throughout those highly productive years if a smaller list might have allowed Salt to better support and better publicise some of their outstanding award winning poets like Andrew Philip and Antony Rowland. Hopefully Salt will return to single collections as there are so few small publishers in the market. Thank goodness for the heroic Shoestring, Ninearches and others who continue regardless of not generally getting stocked in bookshops or reveiwed in the national press.