Charles Boyle is the quintessential self-published author who also publishes books by other authors (similar to Virginia and Leonard Woolf who set up the Hogarth Press in 1917 and published works by key modernist writers as well important works in translation). CB Editions publishes books that are enticing, witty, essential reading. His blog is at Sonofabook.
Here is a selection of CB Editions’ top reads: Jennie Walker (one of Boyle’s pen names), 24 for 3 which was picked up by Bloomsbury; Jack Robinson (one of Boyle’s pen names), Days and Nights in W12, Robinson, By the same author, An Overcoat: Scenes from the Afterlife of H.B.; Gabriel Josipovici, Only Joking; Andrzej Bursa, Killing Auntie & other work; Gert Hofmann, Lichtenberg and the Little Flower Girl; David Markson, This is Not a Novel ; Lara Pawson, This is the Place To Be; Diane Williams, Fine, Fine, Fine, Fine, Fine; Will Eaves, The Inevitable Gift Shop.
Charles Boyle has given us an exclusive interview, so here he is in his own words:
“I was born in 1951 into the most privileged white male generation in Western history: post-war, grants to go to university, jobs available, housing affordable, a decently funded NHS. My mother, before she married, was a librarian at the Brotherton in Leeds, and there were books on the shelves at home; my father, as far as I know, didn’t read them.
“I taught English in North Africa for a few years and then worked in mainstream publishing, mainly in back-room jobs – production as well as editing. I was writing and publishing poetry during that time. (Poems can be written in the little gaps of time that 9-to-5 jobs allow. Especially after I had children, I considered earning a living more important than writing poems.)
“I went freelance at the end of 2005. I was grateful to the publishers who paid me to copy-edit and typeset books at home, but I did wonder why some of those books were being published at all. An uncle died (aged 100) and left me £2,000. I googled ‘West London printer’ and learned I could use that money to print 250 copies each of four titles. The first four books were published in November 2007. I put copies in a bag and walked into some of the London independent bookshops. I had no distributor and no plans to publish anything else – but I found, unexpectedly, that I’d stumbled upon an addictive activity.
“Between 2007 and 2016 CB Editions published 54 books: roughly 40% fiction, 40% poetry and 20% non-fiction of various kinds. Around 20% of the titles are published in translation. These proportions were not planned: I’ve always seen CB Editions as, quite simply, a natural and logical extension of my interests (and prejudices) as a reader and writer. I’ve had subsidies for a few of the translations but otherwise no funding for any of the books. Because I picked up some design and typesetting know-how while in full-time work, and am happy to do these without costing them to the press, this hasn’t been a problem. I do understand that for those without my privileges – of background and relevant work experience – some form of funding for those wanting to publish outside the mainstream is necessary, and not just for themselves but for the whole of society.
“Some of the books have garnered prizes (for fiction, poetry and translation) and there have been many shortlistings. These have helped to publicise the press and increase sales in a useful way. Personally, I am not good at – and don’t enjoy – any kind of marketing, and have relied on word-of-mouth and some very supportive readers (and luck). I am no less proud of the books that somehow escaped the attention of the prize-givers.
“I know nothing about the implications of Brexit for publishing. More generally, I happen to think that many of votes cast for Brexit were a protest against the arrogant indifference and stupidity of the UK’s governing elite, and that these are still the elite’s hallmarks, and that honest publishing and writing are themselves a form of protest, and that intelligent protest is more necessary now than at any time in my life.
“In late 2016 I decided to downsize CB Editions. I’m not fully retired, because neither writing nor publishing is work I can simply close the laptop on and go out to play golf. In 2017 there were two books, and this year there will be another two (Will Eaves’s Murmur, published in March, and Philip Hancock’s City Works Dept. in September). At present, just one title is planned for next year.
“The reasons why CB Editions is semi-retired – the ‘semi’ allows me to swing both ways – are various and mostly personal. (The same could be said of the reasons why, back in 2001, after publishing six collections of poems with Carcanet and Faber, I stopped writing poetry.) After running CB Editions single-handed for a decade, I felt that I’d probably reached the limit of what a one-man-band can do, and I find myself temperamentally unsuited to the ‘growth’ model. I enjoy the more mundane tasks – packing books and queuing the post office, lugging boxes from the printer to the distributor’s warehouse – and see no reason to deprive myself of those by delegating them to others. I am not a manager. Besides, since 2007 many excellent new small independent publishers have arrived and are doing great work. CB Editions turns out to be necessary for myself, but in the wider publishing world it is not indispensable.
“Since the downsizing, I’ve had more time to read what I want to read (which turns out to include more old books than new ones) and to write (slowly). I currently write prose that shifts between fiction and non-fiction (most recently, An Overcoat: Scenes from the Afterlife of H.B. and Robinson, both 2017). Cross-genre books have benefited from the innovative publishing of many independent presses in the past decade, but the borderlands are still largely unmapped and you can go a little wild in there.”
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