As an entrepreneur in publishing, Richard Charkin had checked none of the usual boxes when he began his new venture – no business plan, no strategy, no list of authors and book titles committed to the venture. What Charkin had going for him, nevertheless, is a record of success in the book business over nearly half a century.
The former executive director of Bloomsbury Publishing and past president of the International Publishers Association, Charkin has boasted that his new company, Mensch Publishing, is “a house with no mission statement and no stated editorial strategy.” What matters is that the imprint only lives up to its name – to do business with honor and integrity.
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“As I approach 70 and look back on an unbelievably enjoyable, rewarding, challenging, stimulating, fun career, I realized that the one thing I hadn’t done was to spend my own money and do things the way I really wanted to do them on behalf of authors and readers,” he recently told me.
On Opening an Independent Publishing House
CHRIS KENNEALLY: How much does it change things, now that you’re spending your own money, rather than someone else’s money?
RICHARD CHARKIN: It changes everything. I’ve started delivering proofs by hand to save the postage. Not sure many major publishers do that. I keep an eye on absolutely everything. I’m discovering things that I never, never knew about how the nuts and bolts of the business work. In fact, one of my duties is to let my previous and current employer, Bloomsbury, know where they might be able to save money if they behaved like an independent spending your own money. It makes all the difference in the world.
CK: Right. Well, we are speaking today, Richard Charkin, in the lead-up to Brexit, the exit for the UK from the EU that will happen, if all goes according to – if not plan, at least according to legislation – this coming March 29. But you were part of a group of representatives from publishing expressing concern about publishing in the UK post-Brexit. Can you tell us briefly about your position on that, what your hopes are for publishing in the UK after Brexit?
RC: Firstly, I should say that I think Brexit is misconceived and is being mishandled. And to be perfectly honest, I’m ashamed of our performance as a country or as a government in handling this. So my prejudices are out there. I would rather remain within Europe, and I would rather be a citizen of the world as well as a citizen of Europe. I’m a second-generation immigrant, and I feel that some of the Brexit vote was about anti-immigration, and I really can’t hold with it. So that’s where I stand.
In terms of publishing, there are some technical issues about split rights, European rights, which will be potentially affected by Brexit. They’re very technical and very dangerous, but I can’t go into them now. Not that it’s a secret, but it’s just hard. But I think British publishing is in good health and will remain in good health in spite of Brexit, because we’ve always been global. We’ve always had to punch above our weight. The UK market is a relatively small market in terms of comparisons with the US or China or even Germany, for that matter. So I think we’ll adapt. It’s a very adaptable industry. But I do think it’s going to – how could I say – reinforce my argument that we should always go for world rights in all the books we publish so that we can serve our authors around the world irrespective of the diversion of Brexit.
Read the full transcript of the interview here.
The first title from Mensch, Time to Go by Guy Kennaway, was published earlier this month.