Saturday 23 May 2009

Save Salt Publishing, One Book At A Time

In a horrible example of synchronicity I have today discovered that Salt Publishing, home to Tania Hershman's wonderful collection The White Road and Other Stories (which has featured for the last three weeks in my Trios series) is desperately short of cash.

From Salt's blog, Salt Confidential:

As many of you will know, Jen and I have been struggling to keep Salt moving since June last year when the economic downturn began to affect our press. Our three year funding ends this year: we've £4,000 due from Arts Council England in a final payment, but cannot apply through Grants for the Arts for further funding for Salt's operations. Spring sales were down nearly 80% on the previous year, and despite April's much improved trading, the past twelve months has left us with a budget deficit of over £55,000. It's proving to be a very big hole and we're having to take some drastic measures to save our business.

Here's how you can help us to save Salt and all our work with hundreds of authors around the world.


1. Please buy just one book, right now. We don't mind from where, you can buy it from us or from Amazon, your local shop or megastore, online or offline. If you buy just one book now, you'll help to save Salt. Timing is absolutely everything here. We need cash now to stay afloat. If you love literature, help keep it alive. All it takes is just one book sale. Go to our online store and help us keep going.

UK and International


I am now off to buy at least one book from Salt Publishing, and I ask all of you to do the same. And while you're at it, buy something from another independent publisher or two. If no one buys their books, they can't publish ours. I think that makes sense.


Nicola Morgan said...

Done! I've just bought Tania's book. Really looking forward to it. So hope that Salt keep going. Very tough. Thanks for telling us about this, Jane.

pinkgecko said...

Done. I love finding new collections of short stories if only because it helps me to write them better. Looking forward to getting my Amazon package.

JP_Fife said...

I had a look around the site and bought "The Searching Glance." I note there are some podcasts on the site and I would suggest that they put them on itunes and have a link to them as they might be causing a big hole with bandwidth.

JP_Fife said...

Dumb. Forgot to add that I think they should look into doing something similar to subterranean press:

They do small limited special editions of books signed by the authors along with more mass market editions. Worth considering.

Sally Zigmond said...

Ditto--and blogged. Ha!

none said...

I'd already bought Tania's book, does that count? cos I'm broke.

Jane Smith said...

Buffy, don't worry, I just went and bought myself another copy of Tania's book, and two more besides. That lets you off the hook and will also give me enough good books to read for a couple more days, thus keeping me out of trouble.

Jane Smith said...

Ooops. As well as Tania's collection, I bought Some New Ambush, by Carys Davies; and Balancing on the Edge of the World by Elizabeth Baines. I love good short stories, and was faced with far too much choice: Salt has so many good books available.

Once we've all read the books, we must remember to write reviews of them for Amazon, Library Thing etc. Spread the word.

Anonymous said...

'A fool and his money are easily parted.'

Jane Smith said...

What's the matter, Anonymous: did Salt reject your book?

Moving on: if you're going to quote someone then it helps if you (a) get the quotation right and (b) attribute it correctly. Here's what you should have written:

"A fool and his words are soon parted; a man of genius and his money." William Shenstone (1714 - 1763).

As Mr Shenstone has been repeatedly misquoted over the intervening years, his original meaning has been lost. Have another crack at appearing witty if you like, but please try to get your quote right next time. It helps so much. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

I'm not a writer. But I know a good sob story when I read one. Perhaps Salt Publishing should try publishing books people want to read rather than resorting to emotional blackmail. And I may not have your wit or literary acumen, Ms Smith, but I'm not the one gullible enough to fall for such a blatant marketing gimmick.

Jane Smith said...

Anon, if you're not a writer then what is your interest in my blog?

It didn't take much literary acumen on my part to look up a quote--I used a book, but I'm sure Google would help you if you don't have a good quotation dictionary to hand.

Now onto your main points. Please: this isn't a sob story, and it's not a marketing ploy either. With the current financial squeeze there are many excellent small publishers out there which are struggling, and if people don't buy their books, they're not going to make it through the next month or two, let alone the next year.

As for no one wanting to read the books that Salt publishes: that's nonsense. If it were true, then Salt would never have developed its somewhat stellar reputation.

Next time you comment here do please have the bottle to do so under your own name: I don't like people who are only prepared to be critical when they can't be identified. It's cowardly and embarrassing.

Anonymous said...

Well at least you've proved your point by calling me names. But I must apologise, I hadn't realised your blog had an exclusive readership. I assumed that a public blog could be read by the public. Perhaps you would only prefer people who agree with your opinions to read and comment on your posts. Similarly, while accepting without question your claim that Salt has a stellar reputation, it does seem a little strange that a stellar reputation has not generated stellar sales. If only the book buying public had your wisdom and insight. Be that as it may, since you prefer not to have readers who refuse to pay homage at the shrine of your literary pretensions, I will say no more on the matter. I merely wish you every success in placing your next book with one of the publishers you are now advertising via your site (though perhaps not Salt Publishing).

Jane Smith said...

Anon, I see you're still not prepared to own your own words. If you're only prepared to say these things anonymously, then might that imply that your motives are suspect? I think so.

Your comments make it clear that you have little understanding of the workings of the supply chain in publishing. It's not nearly as simple as publishing books that readers want to read: you could find out more about that by reading a few of my other blog posts here, if you're interested. It's a complex and expensive system which defeats many independent publishers, regardless of the quality of the books they publish.

As for my placing my next book: well, I don't do that. My agent does, and what I write here has no effect on the publishers she approaches. It's entirely separate. Just so you know.

Most importantly, though: please, don't muddy the waters here. You might not like me, or my blog: that's fair enough, everyone is entitled to their own opinion. But it's downright nasty to imply that Salt is a bad publisher simply because I think it's a publisher worth championing.

none said...

Eh, Jane didn't call you cowardly; she called your actions cowardly. It's not the same thing :).

And thanks, Jane, for throwing in my widow's mite for me :D. Much appreciated! And I shall try to get to Tania's book soon, although I am presently immersed in Dava Sobel's "Galileo's Daughter", which I highly recommend, btw.

(word ver: shryp)

catdownunder said...

I wish I had the money to buy a lot of books. The books that I would like to get my paws on are often from smaller presses. Sometimes they will have a limited readership. Let's face it 'bestsellers' are (a) not always well written and (b) not always read by those who buy them (or even borrow them). They are often about advertising hype rather than readability.
I suggest 'anonymous' tries actually reading some of the books from a smaller press and then lobbies government for more support for such enterprises! Miaou!

Nicola Morgan said...

How disrespectful to call someone who chooses to buy a book a "fool". So, who is this strangely vitriolic "Anonymous"? Not a genuine book-lover or someone even remotely knowledgeable about or interested in the world of books. In which case, irrelevant?

none said...

I'm thinking troll. In which case a starvation diet is called for!

Anonymous said...

BuffySquirrel put the sign up before I got the chance: DON'T FEED THE TROLL.

Jane, thanks for this post and not only will I check out the lists from Salt Publishing, but I will look at the other small independants for my next batch of book buying.

Could you help me with a question in the meantime? What happens to an author's royalties if a publishing house folds? Do they get their money or do they become another creditor?

Judith said...

Thank you for posting this. I bought 2 books, one directly from Salt and the other from Amazon. I would have bought both straight from Salt, but it seems they have run out of The White Road. I hope that is a good thing ;)

It's sociologically interesting when people don't even have the balls to post under a pseudonym. It says more about the person posting than his or her comments.

none said...

It's a great thing right up until the unsold copies start coming back....

(word ver: scrimpi -- the lifestyle i should be living)

R.R.Jones said...

Wow Anon.
Why all the hate?

Jane Smith said...

Donna wrote, "Could you help me with a question in the meantime? What happens to an author's royalties if a publishing house folds? Do they get their money or do they become another creditor?"Donna, if a publisher folds then the authors become creditors, just like anyone else the publisher owes money to; and (what's perhaps worse) is that their books are seen as assets of the publishing house, and will often be tied up by the administrators for quite some time--a year or two isn't unknown. Sometimes those rights get lost forever if the publisher disappears completely. It's a big problem, and one I might well blog about.

Jane Smith said...

Thank you for the troll alert, everyone: I thought about ignoring the comments, but didn't want anyone who found this thread think that I couldn't respond, as that might have reflected badly on Salt and things are already hard enough for them.

I'll have to write a post about "owning your words", won't I? I'm planning a series about reason; it would fit in very nicely.

Anonymous said...

I have to say I find their website extremely cumbersome to navigate. I have to click three times to find out anything about a book, for instance. It would be improved if they had a short description before the read more bit. I've never heard of any of the authors, so have to click each one to find a book that I may like is a bit off putting. The categories are also a bit vague - Drama for instance. What does this mean? I clicked one of the books because the cover made me think it was sci-fi, then the description made it sound like non-fiction and the excerpt just left me confused but realising it was in fact fiction.

I'd also say that the website has too much flash/images. Some of the pages were taking me a good while to load and I've got broadband. I pity anyone on dialup.

I think you've got sixty seconds to hold a users attention before they navigate away. This website failed with that for me, I really don't have the time to hunt around to find out if anything they are selling will appeal to me. I guess I'm not the only one.


Ms Baroque said...

Well, I'll weigh in here, as I'm published by Salt. My book has been selling just as well as any poetry collection can be expected to, and better than many - on both sides of the Atlantic. It has been reprinted once.

What Salt is doing as a company is deliberately publishing, with a view to reviving commercial interest in, two genres that are considered "hard to sell": poetry and short stories. They have had Arts Council funding for several years to develop the lists and the marketing tools - ie the website, e-book facilities, podcasts etc. Their business plan is based on the goal of becoming 100% self-sufficient, on sales alone. This is unheard-of in professional poetry publishing. The director Chris Hamilton-Emery reports that inf act sales are not bad: the issue is that they have had their final ACE cheque, and the growth they had forecast for this year has been scuppered by the recession. He reckons that if they can stay afloat they are within a year of really being able to manage on sales alone.

They are essentially a husband and wife team, publishing poetry, short stories and criticism in the UK, USA and Australia. In 2008 they were awarded a Nielsen Innovation of the Year Award in the Independent Publishers Association Award for developing poetry sales.

If they succeed in what they are attempting it will be like the publishing equivalent of scaling Mount Everest. They are a dazzling example to other publishers, and have set new standards in several ways. Jane is right to call their reputation in the trade "stellar".

Hamilton-Emery has a long and senior track record in publishing, is a brilliant marketer, and is also committed to producing beautiful books. Salt books are much better made than many, with good paper, a beautiful typeface, and coloured endpapers.

As for not having heard of many of the authors, well I am more familiar with the poetry list. Luke Kennard was the youngest poet ever to be shortlisted for the Forward Prize, two years ago, at the age of 26. His book sold far more copies than most poetry collections published by, say, Faber or Cape could expect to sell. Simon Barraclough was shortlisted for the Forward Prize for Best First Collection last year. Sian Hughes' book is a Poetry Book Society Recommendation. Don Share is senior editor of Poetry (Chicago) - probably the most influential poetry magazine in the world. The Russians Katia Kapovich and Philip Nikolayev run the amazing, highbrow, doorstop annual, Fulcrum, in Boston where they live and teach.

As for the fiction list, I do know that Charles Lambert's first novel - published by Picador - recently made the 3-for-2 tables at Waterstones, and when it came out in hardback it directly led to Salt picking up his short stories, which have been praised highly by, eg, Scott Pack, who used to be director if Sales at Waterstones. Not someone who can't tell. Lambert's second novel has just been picked up by Picador.

The criticism is the thing that sells the least, but Hamilton-Emery is committed to publishing it because it is important to the art.

Rae, I hope this information clarifies things for you somewhat.

Ms Baroque said...

By the way, this is all off the top of my head. As I say, my knowledge of the list is partial...

Jane, thanks for covering the story. Naturally I confess to an interest in the case, but even if I weren't a Salt writer I would care - for the reasons you cite. Rae might be interested to know that in fact I sent them my ms in the first place because I was excited by what they were doing. I had watched and waited, and when I felt the time was right (for me as well) I sent it in. I sidestepped the so-called biggies, and went where it looked like the party was - and I've been rewarded for that, because it's been great.

Anonymous said...

No I'm sorry Ms Baroque, that is really no help at all. When I said I hadn't heard of most of the authors I meant was not aware of what they had written, so I couldn't immediately make a judgement about what to buy. It takes too much time, to go through that website. It should be a lot more user friendly than it is - for instance the excerpts should be on the webpage rather than potential customers being expected to download pdf documents.

Telling me about the awards that someone has won (most of which I've never heard of) really is no help. As for the guy that got picked up by Waterstones - at least when you go into waterstones, the books are categoried in a format you recognize. Or you can pick up the book and turn it over, which is a lot easier than clicking on a vague category. Scrolling down a list to see if a title jumps out at you, then click on that. Reading the confusing blurb and downloading an excerpt. Just to find out what the heck the book is about. Never mind whether I want to buy it or not. I suppose it's fine if you know what you are looking for.

There are just too many steps for the uninitiated, other book websites are not quite so cumbersome - I guess that's why they aren't having problems with sales.

Sheila Bounford said...

I've been intrigued by the heat in the debate going on between Anon (Rae) and various others. I'm a huge fan (and friend of) Salt. However I don think it is right to dismiss Rae's comments out of hand because there are some important points embedded in them. (For example points about the website are interesting - and I certainly like the Salt website less now than about a year ago. It seems to have grown like Topsy and become less intuitive to navigate.)

The debate has also set me pondering (again) about what makes a successful publisher - and indeed what success is. In a sense Rae is right - what Salt are doing is a marketing gimmik - although the word carries pejorative overtones which for those who know Chris and Jen at Salt are upsetting because we know how hard they have worked for the past ten years, and know something of the sacrifices they have made on the way. But just because they have worked hard it doesn't mean they have done everything right!

There is no doubt that Salt produce fantastic books - with far higher production values than any other publisher of new poetry (other than fine press and privately published editions). Salt's books (now they have abandoned print on demand) are a joy to hold and turn the pages of -as well as to read.

Salt have also been making wonderfully creative use of Facebook and other social media to promote what they are doing. But it has not yet all coalesced into a successful business model - for a whole host of reasons too complex to speculate on here. Maybe campaigns such as the Just One Book Campaign - even if Rae feels it is gimmicky - are precisely what is needed to transition Salt from being innovative publishers of new work - into innovative publishers who are also successful at selling and developing new markets and readerships. I certainly hope so.

Pat Monteath said...

Anonymous said...
'A fool and his money are easily parted.'

Jane Smith said...

"A fool and his words are soon parted; a man of genius and his money." William Shenstone (1714 - 1763).

As Mr Shenstone has been repeatedly misquoted over the intervening years, his original meaning has been lost. Have another crack at appearing witty if you like, but please try to get your quote right next time. It helps so much. Thank you.

However Jane I would suggest, with respect, that Anon was correct in his words based on the fact that if you choose to check the name Thomas Tusser (English Farmer and Writer 1524 - 1580) you will find he actually stated "A fool and his money are soon (de)parted".

There again we can quote A fool and his money are quickly parted. - J. Bridges (1587).

However I would suggest that the words used by Anon would have been from Tusser (please refer to Wikipedia) and Tusser's proverb which actually stated "A fool and his money are soon departed." This I believe has one and the same meaning. In view of this I would suggest - respectfully of course - that should you wish to castigate someone about their choice of phraseology then you should make sure that what you are offering is correct. In addition I would also like to add that Anon may have come across as super-cynical, but surely he/she is entitled to an opinion just the same as you or I? In this instance I don't necessarilly subscribe to either of your opinions, however I do see the core discussion being around whether or not the "Save Salt Publishing, One Book At A Time" was a good marketing ploy? which doesn't really matter from Salt's point of view provided it worked, and provided you and everbody else who bought a book are happy. If it was designed as a marketing tool then Salt have achieved a result. If, on the other hand, it was aimed primarily at highlighting an existing situation brought about by the economic downturn, then likewise it got a result, so a win, win situation. In this instance my gut feel is that it was a marketing ploy. My reasoning is that Ms Baroque states "Chris Hamilton-Emery is a brilliant marketer" and this to me would be indicative of how a good marketing man/woman would go about trying to meet a target in today's economic climate. In this case the target is SURVIVAL. Nothing wrong in that and what's more it seems to have worked - BRILLIANT. Now surely this was all Anon was meaning with his comment 'A fool and his money are easily parted'. I would suggest that he identified the fact that it was a marketing ploy, a sales pitch! Not for one minute do I feel that it was aimed at Mr Hamilton-Emery, but was possibly suggesting the gullibility of some people today. If it has worked and saved the company then all I can say is well done Mr Hamilton-Emery. To those of you who have bought books enjoy what you have bought, but whatever else you do, do not flame people for having an opinion, you may not necessarilly agree with their opinion but nonetheless they are still entitled to it.

Jane Smith said...

Pat wrote, "To those of you who have bought books enjoy what you have bought, but whatever else you do, do not flame people for having an opinion, you may not necessarilly agree with their opinion but nonetheless they are still entitled to it."

Pat, I agree absolutely that everyone is entitled to their own opinion; and I value debate highly. What I don't like is people making snarky comments but not having the gumption to do so under their own name. If you look at the text just above the comment-box I specifically ask people to leave their name here: it's a basic courtesy. If they aren't prepared to do that, and have no good reason for preserving their anonymity, then I'm not going to indulge them. My blog, my rules, and all that.

Sheila Bounford said...

Hello Jane.
I've been enjoying looking around your blog (impressed by the amount and diversity of information on it).
This comment thread set me thinking and so I posted about it today.
by your standards its an infant blog - but I'm enjoying experimenting with the medium. And in the meantime I wanted to say more about Salt.

Anonymous said...

I agree with (the other) Anon in some respects, but not in others.

I find the Salt web site to be quite inspired. There is clear talent and eye for layout that is uncommonly excellent. However (the other) Anon's comments on navigability are endorsed by the web stats - high bounce rate, low time on site/visitor, low # of page views. All indicators that visitors don't "get" the site. It is a beautiful site, but not a commercially profitable site.

Bravo for the viral campaign. It will provide a one-shot surge of cash no doubt. An act of genius precipitated by desperation, not by coherent strategy. Such campaigns do not have residual value so unless Salt is structured for longer term growth that a short-term surge can solve they are still fundamentally in trouble. Perhaps "Just One Book A Month" would be more sustainable, at least for another 12 months until the economy reaches upturn. However, I'm yet to see evidence that Mr Hamilton-Emery is a strategic marketer which is essential for Salt's future.

Now, Salt is not discerning as to whom is published and what specific offensive works, by association, Salt endorses. Works of beauty and enlightment are one thing. Works that cause a perpetuity of personal harm and grief to the innocent (either through intent or indifference) are entirely reprehensible.

I've bought one book from Salt. I may buy again, or I may not. Take that as you like.

Chris Hamilton-Emery said...

Thanks for the feedback and support, and for some insights into how people see me! To provide some context here, the Salt Web site gets about 21M hits a year, about 60K visits a month, at its highest point a year ago it was getting around 80K visits a month. Since focussing on Web developments for our marketing the business grew by 72%, till the recession hit, but as the JustOneBook campaign has accelerated we've seen how a branded offer can bring people to us and hopefully help us give them the books they want.

The campaign has to change, it's broadening to become a more general appeal to customers to sustain literary presses. If we want an independent sector then it needs customers as much as it needs strategies and marketing. No amount of the latter makes up for the former. So we want to offer customers more. More audio. More video. More free magazines. And soon to be launched in 2010 a new children's list. Salt needs to diversify to build a more secure financial profile.

Thanks to everyone for their thoughts here.

Very best from me

Anonymous said...

Why did a print-on-demand publisher like Salt need arts council funding anyway?

And how come Shearsman has managed to keep afloat? Could Salt learn a lesson here, perhaps?

Jane Smith said...

I do find it wearying that so many people are only willing to take a pop at others on the internet when they can do so anonymously. It's cowardly and small. Anon, if you think your points are worth making then have the guts to take responsiblity for them, and stop this weaselling around. It's embarassing, and you should be ashamed of yourself.

As I understand it, Salt got its Arts Council funding because it publishes collections of short stories and poetry which wouldn't otherwise have been published: not because they're not good enough, but because it's a very limited market.

Salt wouldn't have received funding if they were publishing mediocre work, but they're not: every single one of the Salt books I've read have been stunning, and of very high quality. I'd be proud to be a Salt author (sadly I'm not--my writing doesn't fall into the area that Salt publishes), and consider Salt's excellent reputation as being very much deserved.

Anonymous said...

I meant that seeing as print-on-demand is a cheap process, why did they need funding. Other POD publishers don't.

Jane Smith said...

Anon, didn't you read my last message to you? If you're going to post here, leave your name. I'm going to answer you here because it's a valid point AND because you've posted identical comments on articles about Salt elsewhere, including on The Bookseller's website:

It seems to me that you might have some sort of grudge against them: perhaps they rejected your book. I can't imagine why else you'd be suddenly making these comments now, so long after the event.

Onto your question. POD incurs little or no upfront charges for printing, you're right: but printing isn't the only thing that publishers spend money on for the books that they publish. There's editing, design, jacket design, typesetting, copy-editing, proof-reading, selling, and so on. Add to that the cost of maintaining a website, promoting the company and its books, and sending out review copies (often 150 review copies are sent out per title: that's expensive enough on its own) and you'll realise that saving the cost of printing by going POD isn't a big deal for most good publishing companies.

Which brings me to my next point. The Salt titles I have on my shelves aren't POD, I don't think. They don't look it to me: the quality is different. So I do wonder if you're wrong about Salt using POD to print its books.

And even if it does use POD, then that doesn't put it into the same category as the POD publishing houses that are not much more than vanity presses. They can afford to exist--flourish, even--without any external funding because they make all their money from the authors they publish, and not from selling their books to readers. Such presses don't need to sell to readers, and so don't have to be so exacting about their standards.

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't say POD publishers are vanity presses. POD is the way things are going. That's why Salt did it.

And, no, I haven't had a book rejected by them. I have better things to do than try to write books.

I have noticed though that Salt do/did overpublish lots of new and mediocre writers, which is why they are in the situation they are now in.

Jane Smith said...

Anon, I wouldn't say POD publishers are vanity presses either. Not all of them, and not automatically. But a lot of them are.

As for the books which Salt publishes, I've yet to read a bad one. In fact, all that I've read so far have been of stunning literary quality, and I've read a good few. You're allowed to have a different opinion, of course: but similarly, I'm allowed to think that you're completely wrong.