I invited each of the four publishers who were shortlisted for the Michael Marks Award to answer a few questions. Peter Hughes from Oystercatcher Press (winner of the award) was first to respond. Now Helena Nelson from HappenStance shares her thoughts:
1. What makes HappenStance stand out? Why do you think you were shortlisted?
To be honest, I wasn’t quite sure and one reason I decided to go to the awards evening in London was to try and find out. My pessimistic side thought that perhaps
a) not many people entered
b) some of the good guys (eg the Poetry Business) hadn’t managed to comply with the requirements to have published at least 6 pamphlets in the twelve months before entry. I still think that must have been true.
My optimistic side thought that perhaps I had done a good job of the forms they sent (which asked for a lot of information) and that my publications stood up well against the competition and were perhaps better than some in terms of poetry and production values. Having said this, none of my publications were shortlisted for the single pamphlet award, unlike Templar and tall-lighthouse, so I figured HappenStance probably wasn’t top of the list.
2. A common view is that it’s impossible to get pamphlets into shops, most sell only a small number of copies, and profits are low or non-existent. Why bother?
Some sell quite a lot of copies. Well, quite a lot for a pamphlet – two or three hundred. Depends on the poet really. In my case, it’s not done for profit, but I do need mainly to recover costs in order to keep the thing going. I need some to do pretty well, to offset those which don’t. Besides, there is more than one kind of ‘profit’.
Why bother? Because I’m a poet and a reviewer and I want to put my money where my mouth is, as they say. I want some of the work that I believe in to reach good readers.
3. The Michael Marks Prize for individual pamphlets is open to self-published pamphlets and also vanity publishers. Do you have a view on whether the prize should be limited to bona fide independent pamphlet publishers?
I’m not sure what makes an outfit bona fide (or ‘independent’, come to that). I do think the way a small publishing imprint funds its activities is significant and interesting. I had hoped it might be something we would hear more about when this competition reported its results. It’s certainly been the business of Sphinx to ask those sort of questions . . .