Interview | Michael Schmidt, founder, Carcanet Press | Indie Publisher of the Week

Founded in 1969 by Michael Schmidt, Carcanet Press is the UK’s leading poetry publisher, producing a comprehensive and diverse list of contemporary and classic poetry in English and in translation. The poetry magazine PN Review is produced from the same office.
In 2000 Carcanet was named the Sunday Times millennium Small Publisher of the Year. Four of its authors have received Nobel Prizes, nine have received the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry, and six have received Pulitzer Prizes, among many other honours.

Are (were) your parents great readers? Tell us a bit about yourself.
My parents both read a lot of books and the house was full of books and magazines.

Did you want to work in the publishing industry from the start?
No, I had very little idea what I wanted to do. Banking seemed a good place to be, but I never made the grade.

Has your vision from when you started Carcanet 47 years ago changed?
Yes. I started with no idea of becoming a publisher. I wanted to publish a few pamphlets and then get on with other things. It was not for some years that I realized I was a publisher faute de mieux.

How do you balance originality and profitability publishing general-interest trade rather than educational or technical books?
Profitability has seldom been an issue with Carcanet: we publish books we generally believe in and if/when they sell we are delighted. We do try every avenue and turn every stone to find readers.

Your views on writing?
I am a writer myself and having views on writing seems more appropriate for people outside the vocation.

What makes you decide to publish one writer, and not another?
The perceived quality of the work, which may have to do with its innovative nature or its fully achieved traditional character.

Technology and the rise of Kindle and iPads etc have revolutionised the publishing industry. How have publishers adapted to industry changes?
Publishers who are interested in finding readers have adapted eagerly. Smaller publishers have more to gain perhaps, but also tend to be more hit or miss when it comes to key elements like pricing.

Do you think the physical book will die away eventually?
I do not.

Your views on marketing and distribution?
Marketing for me has to be exciting but always honest and distribution has to be prompt, careful and economical.

How do you deal with your colleagues – are you very involved, or do you just let them get on with it?
It depends on the colleagues. Generally I like independence from and with them so long as we are all on the same page.

How do you relax?

Your favourite qualities in a man?
Intelligence, individual conviction.

Your favourite qualities in a woman?

For what faults do have you most tolerance?
Over-ambitiousness, working too hard, profligacy of various kinds.

Your chief characteristic?

Your chief fault?

Your bedside reading?
Don Quixote.

Your favourite prose author?
Robert Louis Stevenson.

Your favourite poet?
George Herbert.

Your favourite heroes in fiction?
Gulliver, Tristram Shandy.

Your favourite heroines in fiction?
Dulcinea del Toboso, Emma Bovary.

Your heroes in real life?
Christopher Maclehose, Geoffrey Hill.

Your favourite heroines in real life?
Eavan Boland, Brigit Pegeen Kelly, Kate Gavron.

Your greatest achievement?
Carcanet or PN Review, though to call it ‘mine’ is rank hubris.

Interview © BookBlast Ltd, London. Questions format © BookBlast Ltd, London.

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Published by

georgia DC

Bilingual editor, rewriter, French-to-English translator. Has written for 3am magazine, words without borders, The Independent, The Lady, Banipal, Prospect Magazine, Times Literary Supplement. Currently writes for The BookBlast Diary. Founder (1997) of London-based writing agency BookBlast.

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