Wednesday, 22 May 2019

Wellcome Brook Prize, 2019

[This post reproduces a CBe newsletter sent on 7 May 2019]

A red dress in the form of a neural tube, designed by Helen Storey (daughter of the novelist and playwright David Storey, on whose work I once wrote – around half a century ago – an 8,000-word essay) and her sister Kate, a developmental biologist, on display at the Wellcome Institute. And Will Eaves, winner of the 2019 Wellcome Book Prize last week.

CBe is thumpingly proud to have published Will Eaves’s Murmur (and before that, The Absent Therapist and The Inevitable Gift Shop). The generous goodwill heading towards the good Will (and CBe) in the past week has been heartwarming – thank you, all.

‘Unanimous,’ said the chair of the judges. The book was turned down by some much better-resourced publishers (I’m not spilling beans, this is on record). Ten years ago, when CBe published its first collection of new poetry, J. O. Morgan’s Natural Mechanical, the head of the Poetry Book Society told me that many people would be ‘surprised’ that they had made it a Recommendation (it went on to win the Aldeburgh First Collection Prize and be shortlisted for a Forward Prize). That was in 2009; in 2019, the presence of small-press books on shortlists is almost expected.

Critical acclaim and the logistics of getting the books out there don’t, for small presses, mesh. For the latter, the bigger publishers are better: sales and marketing departments and channels and systems, which means overheads, which in turn means they are unlikely to take a punt, and even if they do they’re not going to concentrate financial resources on a hunch. Jobs are at stake, people’s livelihoods.

Very soon – in fact now – publication of Murmur will be taken over by Canongate, who are using the basic CBe cover design but going orange (below). (There’s a prenuptial clause in the CBe contract that says that if someone fitter and/or richer approaches, then the author is free to go with them; and this is fine, in fact it’s terrific, I don’t own the writers I publish and Will’s book will be published to more readers). If you want one of the very few remaining CBe editions of the book, order from the website quick.

Roughly a fifth of the books that CBe has published have sold fewer than 100 copies.

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