Sunday 31 August 2014

Next thing: Sonofabook, the magazine

‘What! another literary journal?’ – Stendhal, 1822. (He was writing about a magazine started up by two people who ‘found it would it would be less boring for them to found a literary journal than anything else’.)

Magazines: why, who for, when and how and what? They’re not books; no magazine is going to be in your desert island luggage. They are secondary. But they have their place and their time: lunchtime, café time, between-times. They tease, they flirt, they make rash promises, all good things to do. They are a kind of foreplay. Through time – think Alan Ross’s London Magazine (the associated book list, London Magazine Editions, was the model for CBe at start-up), not to mention all the little magazines with odd names that everyone in the book world grows up with – they become a kind of of backplay. Either way, fore or back, they’re a form of intelligent play.

So: Sonofabook, a magazine/journal from CBe, first issue next March. Spring and autumn; prose (fiction, non-fiction), poetry. (No reviews, not least because if I open that door I will drown.) ACE have granted funding for the first three issues, so it’s for real, and I’m grateful and yes, excited, and daunted. ‘This one will be different from all the others,’ said Stendhal in 1822. They all say that but, first, none of that send-six-poems-max or one-short-story-under-3K-words: either the work is good enough to hold ten or twenty pages or more or it’s not. Second, and this is the defining feature: after the first issue, the contents of each issue will be chosen by guest editors (CBe backing off to a purely hosting role). The first guest editors will be invited from among the usual suspects – writers, critics, editors from other small presses – but if the thing gets going we can move out a bit: booksellers, bloggers, readers. As Hamlet in effect said to Horatio, there is far more literary intelligence and curiosity out there than is adequately represented by those professionally engaged within the book industry.

Each issue of Sonofabook will therefore bear the distinctive character of its editor’s interests, preferences, prejudices. (Nobody can read everything, let alone like everything; this is the point of having the magazine guest-edited.) Collaborative editorships – two or more people – will of course be fine. If the magazine continues beyond the first three issues (and the set-up can change: e.g., more issues per year if that can be made to work) it could become an occasional focus and record of what the mainstream deems not worth publishing but actually is, and here is one place where. (Mainstream is welcome too, but it will have to fight for its place.)

(Submissions. This is all a little bit different from how magazines usually work. Most of the contents of each issue are going to be determined by invitation from that issue’s editor. Very rarely will anything be held over from one issue for consideration for the next issue. Anyone can submit, of course they can, to the address, but best to inquire first and don’t even think of submitting unless you’ve got some idea of what CBe is about and of what the issue editor might be looking for.)

Print, because I like putting physical objects into the world: things that weigh a bit, that involve a bit of manual labour. As each new print issue comes out, the previous issue will become available free online. Because the ACE money will guarantee the first three issues only (including payment for contributors), I’m going to have to work at getting other revenue; invitations to take advertising space (at bargain start-up rates) will be going out this week, and anyone interested in that do please get in touch. Website page up sometime soon.

Sonofabook 1 will include new work by a number of CBe writers, plus others. Issue 2 will be edited by Nicholas Lezard, author and Guardian reviewer. Issue 3 will be edited by Sophie Lewis, translator and editor-at-large for And Other Stories. Editors of future issues will be announced several months in advance.

I think this is such an obvious idea – setting up the form, inviting some of your literary heroes to fill it with content – that I’m surprised it doesn’t already exist. (Why, for example, does the Nicholas Lezard weekly Guardian paperback column work? Both as a guide to good books arriving under the radar and as a lever for sales. Because whoever gives him that space trusts him and just allows him to get on with it. It’s one model for how the magazine may work.)

One Friday eve in early 2011 the idea of a poetry book fair in London at which the full range of contemporary poetry publishers could display and sell to everyone, anyone, also seemed an obvious idea; the first book fair, initiated by CBe and with no funding, was held the following September; then 2012, 2013, bigger each time; the fourth (I’ve now ducked out, it has its own momentum and is more than brilliantly run by Chrissy Williams and Joey Connolly) will be at the Conway Hall, London, next Saturday, 6 September, from 10 a.m. Come.

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