Jennifer Grigg of the wonderful Green Bottle Press was kind enough to answer my questions about poetry publishing. Huge thanks to Jennifer for her thoughtful and insightful answers.
1. Why poetry publishing? Or, to put it another way – if, a decade ago, you were asked the question: ‘What do you see yourself doing in ten years’ time?’ would you have answered ‘managing an independent press’?
I had been thinking about starting a small press for a few years, trying out different names! It was in 2013 when Salt closed their single author poetry imprint that I started to seriously consider it. There was a dearth of really small presses around at that time. But no, it happened organically and like most things in life, I didn’t know that it would definitely happen.
2. You only publish poetry debuts. Why the keen focus on poets who have not had a pamphlet or collection published as yet?
I feel, as a writer myself, that there are presses for people who are more well known and the unknowns need a leg up somehow. There’s always the tingle that you might have uncovered a major talent! I hope that the poets I publish use their first publication as a springboard.
3. In your submissions guidelines you state: “Please do not submit to Green Bottle Press if you have not already been published by several poetry journals.” Can you mention some poetry journals you particularly esteem.
4. What are the most common (or egregious) errors that you see in submissions?
Submitting outside the submission window and then expecting to enter into some kind of dialogue about it. Sending more material than is asked for and telling me about all the other stuff they’ve published (novels, fan-fiction, whatever).
5. How important is a would-be poet-author’s professionalism? i.e. if they’re not willing to be edited or willing to promote their work, how would you respond?
My submission guidelines are, by this point, very specific and address editing and promotion. I haven’t had anyone yet who wasn’t up for a little light editing or suggestions – I don’t want to mentor so I get people who’ve usually been around the block, go to workshops, etc. and know that a cold eye is always useful. I have had a couple of mistakes with promotion in that early on someone just disappeared after getting their twenty free copies. But most people are eager to get their work out there.
6. The quality of your books is very high. They’re gorgeous! Did you always know that you’d invest as much in the book-as-object, as well as the writing?
Why thank you! I like a good-looking book and feel that it is hard to read printed poetry that is not on nice paper and well-typeset. Of course, covers are subjective, but the book-designer and I put a lot of time and effort into it. As the cost of short-run printing has gone down through technology there are fewer books out there that are let down by low production values and you want to be proud to show people your first pamphlet. I think it’s a false economy to skimp on paper weight, for example.
7. What has been one of your greatest challenges while running the press? And greatest successes?
It sounds ridiculous, but postage is a nightmare. It’s impossible sending books to the US. You don’t want to make postage so high that you’re almost charging the cost of the pamphlet itself, so you need to make up the shortfall somehow. Success is being thanked by really happy poets and watching them go on and have more success with their work.
8. Do you solely work on managing the press, or do you have other employment?
I work solely on the press now and though I have enough money to do it for the moment, it means that it is just me (might try to get an intern at some point). I don’t think I could do the press, plus an outside job, the kids, the dog, enjoy my life, etc. It was originally supposed to be something I’d do part time, hah!
9. Any hard-won wisdom about the world of poetry publishing (or tips for poets) that you’d like to pass on?
Every book is a unique experience from start to finish and no matter how I try to organize the process something always comes up and then I think ‘Next year I’ll tweak it and solve a, b or c,’ but it doesn’t work like that. I’m always learning. Do it because you want to see poetry being published and because you think poetry is important. There’s no money in it, but there is art. And what is more important than art? We need it now more than ever.
10. As a publisher myself, I know it’s hard to single out any one title as being a ‘favourite’, but if there is one Green Bottle Press that we should all go out and buy right now, what would it be?
I love all my pamphlet babies equally of course, but when I read the submission that became Fourteen by Gail McConnell last year I did get goosebumps.
11. Lastly… tea or coffee, Buck’s fizz or Pimm’s?
Buck’s fizz followed by a coffee or two!