The first post in Staple Magazine’s month of blogging on incwriters – starting on June 1st, and ending on June 31 – got the introductions and promotions out of the way, before looking at that small word, ‘we’, so often used to describe the magazine’s operations.
Yet despite that ‘we’ being less the royal version than a perfectly valid reflection of our existence within a wider network of advisers and supporters, contributors and readers, Staple itself amounts not to the dedicated team in an office that team-spirited ‘we’ implies, but of myself in an attic room at my own house – and even then, only for two days’ work on the magazine each week, between other freelance assignments, reports, journalism, web copy and all the dozens of things that writers and editors do to earn a crust instead of actually writing and editing.
This makes the recent announcement of big cuts to arts spending over the next few years a source of both optimism and pessimism. On the one hand, it needs to be acknowledged that small publishers are among the most efficient organisations that funding ever reaches: even the biggest, like Salt, Bloodaxe and Enitharmon, rarely add up to more than a handful of salaries and office/warehouse space, while at the smaller end, Staple does everything – paying for time, replying to submissions, posting out orders, doing accounts, organising events – on a total grant equivalent to a middling salary at any other organisation.
In terms of value for money, then, I think most small publishers can fairly claim to offer it in spades: but that very fact has, in previous funding rounds, tended to count against us. Because most small publishing ventures run on enthusiasm and would – in theory – continue without funding suggests (to a certain mindset) that our funds might be cut without impacting too much on overall levels of activity. So when it comes to making the judgements, the old prioritising of large over small scale tends to come into play.
In recent years, the Arts Council had begun to rethink this previously enforced amateurism, and insisted that grant applications cover adequate payments for writers and editors. The professionalism implied in this is important: and those without access to salaried positions, able to subsidise time for what necessarily becomes a kind of hobby (whether that covers writing or running a publishing venture) may be at risk over the next few years – a fact that could threaten the small publishing ecosystem.
Hopefully at least one of the aims of Save Our Presses is to bring together our collective weight in order to counter the unavoidable fact that, individually, we don’t have the means to fight our corners when grants are threatened with the attendant publicity that a major institution – a big festival, agency or even a provincial theatre – can generate in its defence.
Over the next month’s blogging on Incwriters, I hope to draw attention to some of the many results of recent decisions in literature funding – a climate that has enabled many publishers without direct funding to thrive alongside those of us in receipt of the occasional GFA cheque. I hope this hasn’t been too gloomy a starting point, though: my real point is to suggest that we small publishers already have a strong case to make for ourselves as the climate changes: the trick will be to ensure we make it effectively.
Put bluntly, then, a full-strength orchestra might make more noise than a one man band: but with enough one-man bands gathered in one place (under a heading like, oh, I don’t know, Save Our Presses, perhaps?) we can make sure we’ll be able match any orchestra decibel for decibel.