Chronicling the changes in the publishing industry!

In his memoir ‘My Back Pages,’ Richard Charkin uses his unrivalled experience to illustrate the profound changes that have affected the identity and practices but not the purpose of publishing.


At the recently concluded London Book Fair 2023, Richard Charkin signed copies of his book ‘My Back Pages: An Undeniably Personal History of Publishing, 1972-2022,’ co-authored with Tom Campbell. In conversation with All About Book Publishing, Richard recalls his initial attempt and efforts to write the book.

“I keep giving lectures on publishing courses in London quite regularly. I talk about the changes which have affected our industry through my perspective and was suggested to write a book, though I did not like the idea of a memoir. But one of my daughters talked to my old friend Tom Campbell, a novelist, who agreed to co-author the book. For six months, we met once in a week, either at a café in the morning or a pub in the evening. That’s how we started to draft the manuscript, discovering how hard writing a book is, and finding a theme and chronology.”

50 years in publishing!

‘My Back Pages’ is an undeniably personal history of publishing from 1972-2022. “Many people have worked in publishing for their entire working lives, and so I am hardly unusual in that regard. In the last fifty years, I have worked across almost every kind of publishing there is—trade, fiction and non-fiction, academic and scientific, journals, medical textbooks, children’s literature, education, dictionaries, and reference,” narrates Richard.

Richard worked for family-owned companies, public companies and start-ups. In his memoir ‘My Back Pages,’ he uses his unrivalled experience to illustrate the profound changes that have affected the identity and practices but not the purpose of publishing.

What the book entails?

Richard wanted to make it as impersonal as possible – more about events than about him. But, the perspectives were so interesting that Tom Campbell has penned all his narratives. Both current and future publishers will find valuable lessons in the book while business historians can hopefully enjoy the attempts of an amateur chronicler. ‘My Back Pages’ is largely about social changes, emergence of women leaders, globalization of the industry, conglomerations in different areas, struggle with public libraries and keeping them well-funded, relationship with literary agents, emergence of technology etc.

Chronicling the trends in publishing…

The last fifty years have unarguably seen more changes in the publishing industry than the previous five hundred years. In this perspective, Richard’s experience as a publisher is unique among his generation. Over the past fifty years,he has been a scientific and medical publisher, a journal publisher, a digitalpublisher and a general publisher. The book is about business, chronologically put in first person.

As Richard puts it, “We should be very conscious of the impact of books on the environment.Now we have the technology to make the books available globally, which I think is a better way of doing.”

In his message about his new book and extensively to the people of the publishing world, Richard heralds, Don’t be afraid of the change and challenge everything. Hope you all would enjoy reading ‘My Back Pages’.”

War cannot stop books from being published

Ukrainian publisher Vivat, together with the book’s translator Sergiy Zhadan, presented Go the Fuck to Sleep (GTFTS) to Ukrainians from one of the Kharkiv bomb shelters.

While working on the text, the Ukrainian writer Zhadan was inspired and created a song, which he performed for the first time with his friends – the Kharkiv group “Seloi Liudy.”A rocket fell nearby just a few hours before the performance, but the artists went ahead as planned, broadcast via the Vivat publishing house to raise money for the needs of the army.

The book is a storybook for parents, inspired by Mansbach’s many exhausting and exasperating failed attempts to get his then 3-year-old daughter to go to sleep.

Vivat is the second largest publishing house in Ukraine with approximately 3,000 titles in print. Despite its hometown of Kharkiv having been under constant bombardment from Russia and much of the city destroyed, the company is trying to continue its work.

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