At least, if you haven’t got any funding, you can’t have your funding cut. But this turning-down is getting tedious.
I’ve made three applications to ACE for funding support for the CBe publishing programme and all have been turned down. For the last two, the reason given was simply ‘competition for funds’: ‘your application met the criteria’ – I’ve seen the assessment report for the most recent one, and it’s wholly positive – but ‘we had to make difficult choices’.
The application which ACE responded to last week was for money to pay a part-time freelance marketing/sales person for one year. The plan was to use the expertise of this person to set up new patterns of selling which could be largely self-sustaining – that could be carried forward by someone keen but less experienced, or even just me, and not require further external funding. Amount applied for: £12,580. This wasn’t a spur-of-the-moment idea. A year and a half ago I took consultancy (and paid for this myself): look at CBe, I said to the publishing consultants, and tell me how I could operate better, and in particular sell more books. They gave me a report and recommendations, the first of which was: ‘Recruit a part-time marketer.’
The chief difficulties for all small presses are: getting the books known about and getting them out into the world. I’ve tried, I still do. Amazon: they’ll list the books, but unless I join their so-called Advantage scheme for small presses (which involves them buying from me at 60% per cent discount, and me paying an annual fee to be a member of this scheme) they’ll usually list the books as ‘temporarily out of stock’. Waterstones, an example: months before publication, their Independent Publisher Co-ordinator approved proofs of a book I sent him and said he had ‘alerted the relevant buyers’; after publication, no copies in the shops, and when a customer inquired she was told that the book hadn’t been printed.
To bridge the gap between small presses and the retail outlets there is Inpress, which represents around thirty small presses to the book trade and has regular meetings with Waterstones. The presses pay an annual membership fee, and also a cut to Inpress on every book going out of the distributor’s warehouse to the shops (irrespective of whether Inpress has actually had anything to do with the sales). Inpress is ACE-funded, and in theory is a fine idea. CBe has been a member of Inpress since January 2012. But the figures for April 2012 to January 2013 show that the number of CBe books going out of the warehouse was 20% down on the previous year, when CBe had no trade representation at all.
So, the application to ACE. I did have, stupidly, some confidence that it would go through. Marketing and sales are considered important by ACE: back in 2011, when I queried the continued ACE funding to Faber of £40,000 a year (at a time when they were cutting funding to the PBS, the Poetry Trust and a number of publishers), Antonia Byatt of ACE replied that the funding was to enable new talent to benefit from Faber sales/marketing expertise. (Which is a reasonable argument; though the sales figures she gave me were hardly impressive.)
(As for the books the marketing help would be for, forgive a brief rehearsal – for the benefit of newcomers to CBe – of the track record. Start-up costs for CBe in 2007: £2,000. No external funding. For best first novel by a writer over 40, McKitterick Prize 2008. The two first collections of poetry were both PBS Recommendations, were both shortlisted for the Forward First Collection Prize and both won the Aldeburgh First Collection Prize; there’ll be a third first collection later this year. Other shortlistings include two other Forwards and the Popescu translation prize. [I’m wary of the whole prize culture; it’s a lottery; but for a publisher without publicity or marketing resources this kind of public recognition can make a big difference.] Alongside new writers, Gabriel Josipovici, David Markson, Christopher Reid. And Apollinaire, Gert Hofmann, Francis Ponge, others, in translation. Reviews, yes. A TV film adaptation, a Glyndebourne youth opera adaptation.)
Of course I don’t have a right to funding for CBe. And if I do apply, what I really want to ask for is money for a Party, a big and lavish one, because generosity and goodwill and well-lubricated social interaction are certainly more fun and may in the end be more effective than any tick-box marketing initiatives. But right now I’m thinking there’s simply no point in applying to ACE again. (Or possibly anyone else; to an initial inquiry to another funding body last year I received no reply at all.)
Meanwhile, some plans to get more books out there will probably go ahead: a partnership scheme with selected independent bookshops, whereby they commit to ordering CBe titles on a regular basis in return for a healthy discount; the circulating library notion; a pop-up shop for a week in July. But there’s only so much that one part-time person (for a liveable income, I spend most of my time doing non-CBe work) can do, and I certainly can’t carry forward this year’s level of activity into next year without help. Last year a friend sent me a postcard of the cave in Scotland where Bonnie Prince Charlie hid out – I’m tempted. I’m even in training. On the same day the ACE letter came the boiler broke down, and there’s still no heating or hot water in the house. I am in, according to the automated menu I get each time I phone the insurance company, an ‘ongoing home emergency event’.