Turns out it’s hard to get a book by an unknown author from an unknown publisher into bookshops, and it doesn’t help if the author’s a poet and the book doesn’t have a spine. I didn’t expect booksellers to be clamouring for copies of The Flower and the Plough, but it still made quite a change from seeing five-figure orders coming into the production department and being able to identify most of the books on the WH Smith’s bestsellers wall as from Orion. I felt like a trained corporate administrator reduced to the status of a bum.
After many rejections from some nice independent bookshops I’d approached, things started looking up when the Albion Beatnik Bookstore in Oxford agreed to take a couple. The Albion Beatnik is exactly the kind of place I’d imagined the book in: cosy and full of obscure titles and character. It’s the kind of bookshop you’d visit if you just fancied buying a book, any book.
I also sent some to Quimby’s, a very cool-sounding bookshop in Chicago which specialises in ‘unusual publications, aberrant periodicals, saucy comic booklets and independent ‘zines.’ I like the idea of my first publication going ahead to places I might visit one day. If I’m ever in Chicago I’ll definitely swing by Quimby’s, because it looks like a treasure-trove; check out this statement from the founder:
“I really want to carry every cool – bizarre – strange – dope – queer – surreal – weird publication ever written and published and in time Qvimby’s will. Because I know you’re out there and you just want something else, something other, something you never even knew could exist.”
I salute you, Steven.
My friend Helen then suggested I try florists, which was a complete masterstroke. It’s not as though I expect every shop in the country to stock my books, but I do really want The Flower and the Plough to have a real-life presence. I want it to attract people who might not usually make a beeline for the poetry section of a bookshop, and until Rachel or I are household names the only way people are going stumble across this book is if it’s displayed in shops, facing forwards. It’s a tactile, beautiful object and the poems are so fantastic that I think my main hurdle is getting people to pick the book up in the first place; once they’ve looked at a few pages they’ll see how wonderful it is.
I emailed some independent florists asking if they’d like to sell a book of love poems alongside their flowers and a few replied saying yes, they would love to give it a try. Libby Ferris Flowers is a gorgeous, friendly shop in central Norwich, which my aunt recommended to me. Daisies is the fanciest flower shop in Oxford, up in Jericho. I remember going there once as a student in a frantic search for red carnations. Zita Elze Flowers is a magical greenhouse-style grotto near Kew Gardens, which looked all the more magical when I went to deliver the books in the snow last Friday.
Finally, a couple of weeks ago, I went into Magma in Covent Garden, where I used to go on my lunchbreak when I was looking for birthday presents. I was lucky enough to speak to a man who turned out to be the owner and he agreed to give it a go too, and to display the book in the gift shop instead of in the Magma bookshop where it would just get lost.
So I’m thrilled. I count my blessings like Pokémon and I feel very lucky that the Emma Press’s first book is on sale in six real-life shops. What’s more, these are six gorgeous, independent shops run by people who are passionate about their business and willing to take a chance on a small, hopeful, poetry press. The best kind of shop, then, so if you’re passing by any one of them, do go inside and take a look.
I had my first stall at a craft fair today. It was in a barn on Stokes Farm near Wokingham, and before you ask, no, I didn’t make a killing. I had just the one customer, and since this was my friend Harriet’s mum I’m not sure how much this counts if we’re trying to evaluate my sales techniques. But, but but but, making money was not the point of my first fair, and I’d spoken to enough craft fair veterans to realise that this was an unlikely outcome anyway. The reason I did the fair was because I wanted to give myself an incentive to put together a decent-sized collection before Christmas and start learning about the craft fair circuit.
So, what did I learn? The most important thing as far as my business is concerned was:
1. People from the Wokingham area who go to craft fairs on a Friday afternoon do not want to buy silly and romantic cards for their significant others. Literally three women said to me after reading my Napoleon card, ‘Ha, that’s very nice, but not for my husband! We’re LONG past that.’ An alternative interpretation of this data would be: go to Wokingham craft fairs if you want to learn some harsh truths about marriage.
The majority of my creations are love- or romance-themed, so if I want to thrive on the Wokingham scene I’ll have to rethink my product range.
Lesson 2: Alternative ways of arranging my stall. I don’t have a huge amount of stuff right now, so I chose a small table and piled it on as best I could on 3 gold shoeboxes. Looking at the vintage clothes stall next to me, I wondered if I should have been more imaginative in the display of my goods. For example, tiny pigeonholes. I also wished I had more things so I could pile it up even more, and then browsers could discover little gems amongst the rubble.
On the other hand, and on my other side, I had the example of Jayne Ward, whose incredibly cool textile art had plenty of space to breathe and looked classier for it.
Lesson 3: When standing in a barn for seven hours, be sure to wear thermal underwear and two pairs of socks.
All good lessons, I think you’ll agree. Next time I do a craft fair, I should be warmer, better prepared for the demographic, and maybe I’ll even make some money.
I love all the poems in The Flower and the Plough, but this has been one of my particular favourites from the start. What I love most about it is the way it captures the sensation of falling utterly in love but leaves it open as to whether this is a good idea. The reader can bring their own experiences to the poem and remember those same feelings with fondness, or want to scream ‘You little fool! Protect yourself!!’
There are so many lines that just sing out and float endlessly around in my head. ‘I’ve got my toes lined up,’ I think when I’m pulling my socks on. ‘When you spit out glass / though you only got sand,’ when someone says something nice about my work. ‘I think it’s worth it‘ pops up several times a day, whether I’m contemplating a matter of the heart or wondering whether to buy some fabric on Berwick Street. ‘Because when I feel the silk / I think it’s worth it / And when I imagine it going with that other silk / I think it’s worth it.‘
My initial idea for an illustration was a bonfire with a stack of limbs burning away. Then I realised I’m not great at anatomy and also that this would be too literal, as the illustrations ought to give the reader room to form their own interpretations. That’s another thing I like about the poem, though – the visceral, brutal depiction of devotion and the physicality of being in love. It’s hopeful and romantic as well as alarming and far too much, and I just think it nails passion. I hope you like it as much as I do, and do let me know in the comments what you think. Bonfire, by Rachel Piercey
I have felled all the trees in my wood to keep you going,
thrown old faithfuls and flimsy, startled saplings into your
hot ears and come- to-bed mouth. Then all that was left
was the pointy scent of gum and the bellow of an oak.
So I hacked off my hair with barely a second thought,
and both ears were carelessly slung in, then my thumbs
with their crucial opposability. I’ve got my toes lined up
and my unaccountable hips and my knees are ready too,
so please give me more of your particular brand
of alchemy. Because when you temper scraps into treasure
I think it’s worth it, and when you spit out glass
though you only got sand I think it’s worth it. Because I could
spot you a mile away on any frightening night
and when I got there you’d soften me. Because I hope
that when I’m down to just my heart in the open air you’ll keep it warm.