1 What's your company called?
2 What do you publish?
Poetry by poets of the millennial generation.
3 What's the story of the company?
In spring 2015, I [Mie Hansson] sat with the manuscript of Where Pain Thrives, which was to form my first book of poetry. For seven years I had lived a nomadic existence away from Denmark, and I had never lived long enough in one place to build relationships with fellow writers, pursue publishing, gain credentials, enter competitions, accumulate a group of followers and so forth. I didn’t like the idea of waiting months to receive responses to the manuscript from publishers, and knew that few publishers would bet their money on poetry for profit, least of all when it was from an unknown writer without an existing audience. Within my publishing limitations, I saw exciting opportunities to be in control of my work, and I knew that it would be logical and wise for a writer to get to understand the practical aspects of publishing.
Within three months I raised money through patronage and established Émigré Publishing. I registered with Nielsen, bought ISBNS, found an editor, learned Victorian bookbinding, teamed up with artists to design and produce hand-printed covers and collaborated with a local printer who supplied me with beautiful paper at supportive prices. I received immense support from my community of artists, creatives and friends, and we hand-stitched and bound books around the clock for two weeks. We’d sit at four in the morning accompanied by wine and music, stitching one signature after another. In the meantime, I pursued bookshops in London and Paris, and got books stocked in a dozen places. I threw a release party in July 2015, and by the end of August all 150 numbered, hand-bound copies were sold at £17 each.
The company was birthed by one poet’s necessity to bring out her work by her own aesthetic and literary laws, but since then I have taken poets of the millennial generation that I know from New York and London and published them through Émigré. I don’t believe as much in one work as in the writer and their literary journey. But if I smell a truly original voice and an uncompromising artist they will one day run their own currency.
4 How's business?
We are lucky to have bread and butter on the table, let me put it that way. At this stage, what has made our business possible is the funding we have received from private patrons who believe in Émigré’s vision and writers. In publishing it is commonly reckoned that poetry doesn’t sell, but we are trying to change that—by making poetry videos to help connect people to poets, for example. We don’t yet make a profit and I must work other jobs on the side. To succeed as a small press, a director must be creative and not put all their eggs in one basket.
5 What do you enjoy about being independent?
I enjoy the unrestricted freedom to experiment, and the close contact and dialogue with our writers. They know the struggle; I don’t need to pretend it’s easy, and being realistic about the challenges opens up exciting and creative collaborations. We are all in the same boat and hold the same interest at heart, and our poets are eager to explore alternative, modern formats where we can do a lot for very little. At this stage we need only to survive, and when you can only gain, because you have so little to lose, you can go very, very far without ever having to compromise your artistic integrity and vision.
6 What do you think is the biggest single issue in publishing right now?
Competition. It has come to the point where a bookshop, taking 50% of the retail price, won’t buy a title unless it comes from a big wholesaler, who takes another cut. But it’s the publisher who carries all the risk in unfavourable contracts in which they have no say. Most importantly, there’s little left to the author, to whom the trade owes its existence.
Publishing reflects society in the sense that the richer you are, the greater your tax breaks. It’s the small and medium businesses that pay the biggest prices and who are helped the least. Independent bookshops complain about the rise of the book chain, but in stressful times they sometimes adopt the mentality of those they are up against. In an ideal market, every merchant represents a unique business, and in the symphony of such diversity there is no competition but community.
7 What one piece of advice would you give to a fellow independent just starting out?
Be prepared to learn everything the business requires to operate, but never see the challenges that come along as obstacles. See them instead as opportunities to learn new skills or to challenge the status quo by doing things differently. In times when the business world is consumed by the idea of expansion and economic growth, keep independent with pride and integrity, and never be afraid to have enthusiasm. Let passion be the signature of your work.
8 What do you get out of belonging to the IPG?
I get a sense of community, and a feeling that my business belongs to something larger than myself. When I first became a member of the IPG I felt like I was a small fish in a sea of sharks—but was told it was rather one of dolphins. Meeting so many fellow members has proved that absolutely right. The IPG has a strong feeling of community and has been an immense help to my understanding of publishing and the general book trade.