This is part of a series of interviews taking place with small press publishers. This interview series will be partially published online and partially in print, as a part of a nonfiction book to demystify publishing, published in January 2020 and written by Isabelle Kenyon. Pre-order link can be found below.
In conversation with Aaron Kent, Editor
They say… “Broken Sleep Books is dedicated to works that transcend the page, and are more than just poets writing poetry. We believe the greatest pieces of writing exist outside of expectation, and are written with more than the act of writing in mind. We are particularly devoted to minimalist cover designs (such as the wonderful books by presses like Little Island), and wish to encourage more working-class writers, non-binary, and BAME writers to submit. Politically we are left-leaning, and we have no interest in misogynists, racist, sexists, the alt-right, or dickheads in general. Our interests lie in the works of J H Prynne, Anne Carson, Jorie Graham, Kim Addonizio, Edwin Brock, and Haruki Murakami.”
How many people are in your team, either paid or voluntary, and how do you divide your roles?
There are only two of us running Broken Sleep Books, and primarily I do the majority of the work. I asked Charlie Baylis to work alongside as an assistant editor, and originally he was quite involved with the editing process, but recently he has been busy with his wonderful new journal Anthropocene (check it out!), and I haven’t really gone to him much. Charlie still helps by writing the blurbs (not a strong point of mine, but he’s great at it), and he helps by advising on submissions, which means I can have a discussion and debate about new manuscripts. I design the covers, typeset 62 the books, communicate with authors, run social media, and all the other bits that come with running a small press. I do it all without making any money, and any money taken by the press means I’m working well below minimum wage. I teach English as a day job, and run Broken Sleep Books because I love publishing, and want to get the work of great writers out into the world, not because I want to make money. Though a dream would be to run it as a full-time job.
When did your press open for business and what was your first year like?
I began taking submissions at the start of 2018, after I tweeted that I’d be happy to take a look at anybody’s manuscript for free to give out advice. I read Chris Kerr’s Citidyll as part of that and liked it so much I wanted to publish it. The original idea was to publish pamphlets in cassette cases, handbound, miniature - and to publish collections in VHS cases, again handbound. The problem became that it was too restrictive, difficult to get right, meant the work would be extremely limited, and would mean I couldn’t get poetry I loved out into as many hands as possible. So I released Chris’ book in the cassette format, and then pivoted to the current style of 5x8 books. I was so happy with how well received Broken Sleep was in its first year, and that momentum has picked up in the second year.