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Featured Members Archive

Featured member: Otago University Press – small team, big output

By Featured Members Archive
Rachel Scott began as Publisher of Otago University Press in April this year and happily settled into her new role, enjoying the long and gorgeous end of summer in her new home city. An affordable house with both harbour and sea views has been an added bonus of her move to Dunedin.
Taking over from Wendy Harrex, Rachel has a small team, which achieves a large output for the imprint; eight new titles will be released in October and November alone. Though the list already had titles with subjects as diverse as dolphins and diplomats’ wives, Rachel has added two new titles to this year’s list; Maire Leadbeater’s Peace, Power & Politics about how New Zealand became nuclear free, and Creature Comforts, an illustrated history of our relationship with pets by Nancy Swarbrick. “They are solidly researched titles yet very readable,” says Rachel.
As Otago is the medical school’s home, you’ll also find related titles on the list. Reconstructing Faces is about the work of wartime surgeons Gillies, Pickerill, McIndoe and Mowlem; Being a Doctor: Understanding Medical Practice is another with a medical connection, and both were released this year.
The eclectic Otago University Press 2013 list includes sociology titles, two issues of Landfall, history and natural history, Pacific and religious titles, Brasch’s journals and Erik Olssen’s photographic essay Working Lives 1990.
Like all university presses, Otago takes on a lot of “sub-commercial” publishing – important short-run books that no one else could afford to publish, Rachel says. “But there is an increasing expectation that we aim to publish some books that bring in a bigger financial return to cushion the deficits of releasing some of the academic titles.” An editorial advisory committee meets quarterly to review and guide the Press’ operations.
It needs to be observed that the small team must be talented and relentlessly efficient to produce 20-plus titles each year, with Rachel and production editor Fiona Moffat the only two full-time staff. The rest of the team are editor Vanessa Manhire, editorial assistant Imogen Coxhead, publicist Rhian Gallagher and Glenis Thomas in administration who all work part-time. The team are collegial, meet regularly and work to each member’s strengths. (And before you ask, Vanessa is daughter-of-Bill.)
“I was practically solo at Canterbury University Press,” says Rachel. “But I've discovered it is amazing what you can do with a wonderful team behind you!”
Currently, contract casual staff – usually students – undertake dispatch of Otago University Press titles. However, the possibility of contracting out this function in the future is being investigated.

New Zealand must have an enormous number of would-be authors, as Rachel says she receives an average of one submission every working day. This is on top of a backlog of submissions awaiting her consideration when she started the publisher role. With some publishers shutting up shop or retrenching, competition to get published has intensified and the decisions of which titles to accept and which to refuse have never been more difficult.
“There are so many great manuscripts and book ideas; I wish I could say yes so much more often. It is a tough time for authors. I'm having to hone my ruthless gene.”
Meanwhile, there is one more challenge for Otago University Press to tackle in the immediate future: none of their titles are yet available as digital editions. Because of the photographic and art content of many OUP books, this will not be straightforward – but there is every chance you’ll see digital versions of many OUP books within the next year.
Overall, the new publisher is relishing her role. “I've never been busier, but never been more fulfilled. OUP is a great press, and I have fantastic support from staff and the university. I am completely confident in the future of books, and eager to continue to contribute to the mix. New Zealanders have a wealth of wonderful stories to tell.”

Featured Member: South Pacific Press – educational publisher competes in major markets

By Featured Members Archive

3 July 2013

South Pacific Press CEO and co-founder Neale Pitches spent January in the UK dodging blizzards and helping launch CSI Literacy to the Brits. In March and April he was trekking around the US, “re-booting” SPP’s educational profile in that country.

As a company, South Pacific Press began in 2005, in a small office in Wellington, founded by Neale and Meryl-Lynn Pluck, of Rainbow Reading fame. Education runs in Pitches’ blood – former teacher then principal of Onslow College, followed by nine years as CEO of Learning Media.

SPP’s mission has always been to remain close to the classroom, to be nimble and to move into niche markets to address real needs in literacy. In 2007, SPP bought educational contractor Lift Education from its founder, Dr Sue Watson (now Global CEO of the KEA network).

SPP works mostly in joint or co-development projects. “We are quite small, so we like partnerships,” says Pitches. CSI Literacy, a growing suite ofevidence-based literacy resources for years 4 to 9, is a strategic joint venture between SPP (the co-publisher) and Californian-based Pacific Learning, who also distribute the resources in the US. CSI Literacy is SPP’s current major product range, and CSI Literacy Kit 3 won Best Educational Resource or Programme for Export at the CLNZ Educational Publishing Awards in 2012.

“We began development of CSI Literacy in 2007, published the first edition in 2008, and had strong success in the US market in 2010,” says Neale.

Following its early success in the US, CSI Literacy was introduced into Australia and New Zealand, and most recently the United Kingdom and Europe. SPP has distributors in the UK, USA, Australia and Singapore; local warehousing and distribution is undertaken in Nelson by Rainbow Reading.

However, the timing of the CSI Literacy rollout was not ideal – the recession began to be felt in educational publishing in 2007, with a lift from the US market in 2010. Only now, in 2013, trading is up compared with previous years, but from a low base.

“It’s challenging,” Pitches says. “The high NZ dollar and the rush to digital resources mean schools demand resources in formats ranging from completely hard copy to completely cloud-based. We create blended solutions… they’re aimed at needs that we’ve researched, and the solutions are elegant and contemporary, comprising books, digital interactive texts, audio texts and iPad apps.”

Excellent school data, especially for Māori and Pasifika students from New Zealand schools, showed Pitches that CSI Literacy had hit the “sweet spot” long sought after in education – the ability to accelerate student achievement in literacy in the troublesome middle years of schooling.

Pitches has just finished a round of seminars in the North Island on this issue, addressing and gathering feedback from teachers, principals, resource teachers of learning and behaviour and resource teachers of literacy.

“SPP has a positive DNA,” Pitches believes. “What drives us is doing work that is vitally important; doing things no one else is doing and walking on the edge of viability… though we do manage risk carefully.”

The core team numbers around 10 in their Tory Street office, but SPP has a pool of around 100 contractors who have skills they can call on at peak development times.

Recent good news for the company is that SPP’s Lift Education has been contracted by the Ministry of Education to develop the Connected series. This is a series of three science-oriented publications in hard copy and digital formats that includes mathematics, technology and literacy support. The series will focus on the nature of science and have perspectives that include Māori and Pasifika.

Lift Education provides specialist services across the education sector, including publishing services in English, Māori and Pasific languages. It developed the Volunteer Recruit Programme for the New Zealand Fire Service, highly commended in the category of Best Book in Higher Education Publishing at the CLNZ Educational Publishing Awards last year. The SPP/Lift Education team also collaborates with Core Education through their Literacy for You online professional development course.

SPP is a regular attendee of the Frankfurt Book Fair. “Our big focus coming from successive Frankfurt negotiations (these deals can take time) is the UK. In 2012, we signed a deal that was two years in the making, with education heavyweight McGraw-Hill Education UK. We have been very busy developing ‘standard English’ (UK, New Zealand and Australian) editions of three of the CSI Literacy kits and all of the CSI Chapters – a big job.”

This year, McGraw-Hill Education UK launched CSI Literacy as one of its premium new products. These new editions are now moving into UK, European, Australian and New Zealand schools. McGraw-Hill UK has rated it an exciting programme and Pitches sees “green shoots” for SPP in the UK market.

“We attend Frankfurt to keep pace with the industry and to spend quality time with our US and other international contacts. So it is important for us to be there.

“Our big distribution deals are done face-to-face in the markets,” says Neale. “But we do some small deals at the fair. We travel to and from Frankfurt via marketplaces where we have relationships so we make it a business round trip.”

It was CSI Literacy’s innovative, world-first, digital teaching interface that helped seal the deal with some of their international partners, and it is changing literacy teaching in classrooms around the world.

“The SPP team members are innovators and we’re all passionate about education,” says Pitches. “Accelerating student literacy is the key to accelerating overall student achievement in the troublesome middle years. We have a product that has proven results – now we just need to keep moving forward with more world first products.”

Featured member: small is good for Australasian publisher Allen & Unwin

By Featured Members Archive

Why is a nice person like Melanie Laville-Moore getting excited about machine-gun killings? It is because one of Allen & Unwin’s Kiwi Christmas titles is The Bassett Road Machine Gun Murders and their New Zealand director reckons Scott Bainbridge’s backgrounder on these 50-year-old murders will be a bestseller, “Chicago-style killings that marked the end of innocence, and the start of a new, more sinister era to Auckland’s criminal underbelly – what more could you ask for!”

Allen & Unwin has a long and proud history in this part of the world. Originally a British publishing house that established an Australian operation in the mid-1970s, a management buy-out in 1990 created the staunchly independent company that is still prospering today. Most notably, there has been the recent acquisition of Murdoch Books, whose market-leading lifestyle publishing has enhanced the portfolio.

In addition to their vibrant Australian list of around 250 titles each year, Allen & Unwin proudly represents the best of the UK’s independent publishing houses. Bloomsbury, Faber, Atlantic, Canongate, Profile and Nosy Crow are just some whose books are managed through A&U. Melanie says that this is a complementary combination that finds synergy with the major independent retailers here in New Zealand – up to 40% of turnover continues to be through independent bookstores.

The company’s Australian publishing programme has always been strong, and provided a perfect springboard from which to launch a home-grown New Zealand list in October 2009. From a small start of two titles, there are now over 20 New Zealand titles in print, with plans to expand further on the horizon.

A&U’s history in this country is inseparable from long-time colleagues Archetype Books headed by Neil Brown, the sales agents who have represented A&U in this country for almost 30 years. When the first NZ office was opened a decade ago, it was in Archetype’s then premises. Today they are only 20 doors up from the original offices in Queen Street. And not completely coincidentally, Neil’s daughter Nyssa Brown is one of A&U’s local staff along with non-fiction commissioning editor Nic McCloy, publicity and marketing manager Abba Renshaw, senior publicist Josie Brennan, and Jo Rodwell, who provides much-needed backup to the small team’s marketing and publicity efforts. Melanie Laville-Moore says, “We are a small and tight-knit team that manages to achieve an awful lot”.

Melanie is particularly proud of getting local publishing underway, noting its growth has helped fill the void left when the representation of Orion moved in 2007, following its purchase by Hachette. The NZ publishing turnover already represents 10% of overall turnover, and there are plans to see this increase.

A&U’s Australian owners remain hands-on in the business, and their pragmatic and steady decision-making impresses the NZ director. She picks up the phone once a week to “have a good yarn” with former Managing Director, and current Executive Director, Paul Donovan. The long-time Kiwi expat informally holds the portfolio for NZ as he continues to work a day a week at the head office in Sydney. “His contribution adds huge integrity to our operation here in New Zealand, we wouldn’t be without it,” says Melanie. (And continuing the Kiwi flavour, other senior executives at A&U have Ashburton and Alexandra as home towns!)

“We’re very proud that we’re able to sell our Australian lists so strongly here in New Zealand,” Mel says. And this is reciprocated by Australian colleagues promoting New Zealand-originated titles equally well. Titles that have rated especially well in Oz include Lisa Tamati’s Running Hot with overall sales of 7,500 across both markets, plus Wendyl Nissen’s Home Companion and Dom Harvey’s Bucket List of an Idiot each selling in excess of 15,000 and 8,000 copies respectively.

Kiwi-authored titles on the list for this year include Jimi Hunt’s A Bit Mental, his account of a lilo ride down the Waikato River, and A Forager’s Treasury by Johanna Knox, on edible native plants.

Novels for July release include Anne Kennedy’s Last Days of the National Costume and Charity Norman’s The Son in Law. It is back to non-fiction in September with JJ Feeney’s Misconceptions, her heart-breaking account of an inability to become pregnant, and from two military historians, The Battles of Monte Cassino, a full reappraisal of the conflict.

A November release, The World at my Feet is written by Air New Zealand pilot and ultra adventurer Mike Allsop – his exploits include climbing Mount Everest without a guide and running seven marathons on seven continents in seven days to raise money for local charity, Kids Can.

Gift-giving season Kiwi titles include a heart-warming new novel from Danielle Hawkins, Chocolate Cake for Breakfast, about a former All Back and an unglamorous country vet… and back to where we began with Bassett Road Machine Gun Murders. This is the 50th anniversary of the crime, and Scott Bainbridge tells the tale at a cracking pace. He’s interviewed John Banks, whose father knew the criminals concerned, and has uncovered other fascinating facts behind the crime. Melanie rates the manuscript highly and expects it to be one of A&U’s big books for the coming Christmas.

Above image: Melanie Laville-Moore, NZ Director Allen & Unwin

Featured Member: Victoria University Press – well connected

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Victoria University Press came into being gradually in the mid-70s – despite its being only 40 years ago, no one can put their finger on a precise year! Current publisher Fergus Barrowman first worked for the press as part-time assistant to the editor in 1984, before moving into the top job in 1985, but, even before that, in 1983 while a teaching assistant in the English department he was an assessor for Bill Manhire’s undergraduate creative writing course.

The “Manhire course” grew to become Victoria’s prestigious International Institute of Modern Letters, and along the way provide many authors for VUP. One of the students in 1983 was Barbara Anderson, and VUP was Anderson’s first publisher of what became her legacy of eight novels, two story collections and an autobiography.

Barbara gained international recognition for her writing and was one of the first of VUP’s author discoveries who became sought after by international publishers.

That has become a regular refrain for Fergus and the team – launch an author, see them become sought after internationally, and then strive to keep New Zealand rights rather than lose their most successful writers to British and American houses.

Among those writers is one close to Fergus; he and Elizabeth Knox first met when VUP accepted her first book, After-Z Hour (1987), and became engaged at the end of the editing process. “We have had many robust editorial discussions over the years,” Fergus says. “I think it would have become tricky if VUP had remained her only publisher, but after The Vintner's Luck was accepted by Farrar, Straus and Giroux and went on to become an international as well as local success, there have been other publishers, editors and agents in the mix.”

The most recent VUP author to have overseas impact is Eleanor Catton, whose first novel The Rehearsal, initially published by VUP, went on to be published by Granta in the UK and Little, Brown in the US, and in twelve foreign languages. There’s a lot of international investment also in her next novel, The Luminaries, published this coming August. VUP, Granta and Little, Brown remain the English-language publishers. “The Luminaries is a wonderful book, an amazing 850-page occult mystery set at the time of the Gold Rush in Hokitika,” says Fergus.

The economics of VUP

What are the nuts and bolts of a university press? VUP is a wholly owned part of the university; it is governed by a board of academic staff and Fergus reports to Victoria’s Deputy Vice Chancellor (Research) Prof Neil Quigley. Like many other university presses around the world, VUP gets a subsidy from the university; it does not have to make a profit but should not exceed a loss target.

This latitude allows VUP to be less commercial than other publishers, but it must also be aware of its mandate to serve our country’s literary and scholarly culture. In this regard, it is a prominent publisher of New Zealand poetry, and while some of the fiction could be labelled mainstream, new creative writing is important. All four fiction titles in 2012, and four of eight in 2013, are first books.

“The VUP mix of scholarly non-fiction and creative writing was established when I started,” Fergus explains. “I’ve broadened it over the years, for instance adding novels and poetry, but there’s been no significant redirection.”

While numbers probably aren’t the most important factor in a scholarly press, VUP still turned out 37 books in 2011, 20 last year and will print a further 30 titles this year.

One of those titles has already topped Nielsen BookScan’s New Zealand fiction ratings this year – Aorewa McLeod’s Who Was That Woman Anyway? “A novel and a social history combined – a book that would be difficult to publish without university support.”

VUP achieve those 30 books “with a staff of four, two of whom are part-time, plus we currently have a full-time intern under the PANZ/Whitireia scheme, and I can't imagine how we’re going to cope after the six months are up. We do almost all typesetting and internal design, and some editing and cover design, in-house. We use freelancers for editing, proofreading, indexing, cover design and ebook conversion.”

Other 2013 titles Fergus is buzzing about are Unspeakable Mysteries of the Aro Valley by Danyl McLauchlan, a “comedy occult mystery that works as itself but is also a send up of Dan Brown,” and Two Girls in a Boat, Emma Martin’s collection of short stories. The title story won the Commonwealth Short Story prize last year. Elizabeth Knox’s Wake is “hybrid literary/science fiction,” revolving around a horrible disaster which occurs in a New Zealand town.

Fergus attended Frankfurt last year, and says it was a difficult time to sell rights to the kinds of books published by VUP, although one confirmed sale is of Bill Manhire’s Selected Poems to Germany’s Hanser Verlag.

As for the challenge of the future, Fergus says, “It’s almost too big to know what to say. While we would love more bestsellers, realistically the primary challenge for a university press is to find creative ways to continue to publish the same range and diversity of books in a market where average sales of everything except bestsellers are shrinking.”

Image: Victoria University Press Publisher Fergus Barrowman at the launch of Magnificent Moon by Ashleigh Young (on the Day of the Dead). Image credit:  M. Starosta

Featured Member: Catriona Ferguson – future plans for NZ Book Council

By Featured Members Archive

13 March 2013

The New Zealand Book Council is a much accessed and frequently consulted entity that’s been a feature of our literary landscape for 41 years. With over 200,000 readers using the Book Council website’s writers file every year, it is clearly a valued resource. With over 500 New Zealand author biographies, writing lives and published book details, it is the first research step for school pupils and scholars alike.

The other main functions of the Book Council revolve around educational programmes in schools, an international outreach sending our authors to literary events overseas, a members-only Booknotes publication with quality reviewing and discussion of other book-related topics.

Catriona Ferguson is the recently appointed Chief Executive of New Zealand Book Council and since taking up the position late last year, she and the Book Council team have been reviewing the organisation to make sure the Council is concentrating on its core functions, and that programmes are reviewed and refreshed to meet current needs in education and in public services like the writer biographies. So it’s back to the gym and watch the diet so this middle-aged corporate body stays fit, trim and focussed.

Creative New Zealand is a significant funder of the NZ Book Council. The promotion of NZ literature is considered so important that its status, as of 2012, is that of being in the Toi Tōtara Haemata programme – one of the tall trees of our culture. This provides substantial Book Council funding, but the Council itself will be looking to improving the funds it generates from providing programmes to schools and its other activities.

So what initiatives will Catriona and team be putting in place to improve Book Council services and programmes? Especially as budget restraints are a given in the current financial situation for the sector.

“It’s clear from the enormous number of site visitors specifically accessing writer biographies and information on their titles, that keeping writer profiles up to date is a major requirement and that we must provide the resource to do this,” says Catriona.

Other educational aspects are also core Book Council services. A popular development for primary and intermediate schools is Speed Date an Author events. Earlier this year, six authors and illustrators entertained 95 children from 20 different schools at the National Library in Auckland. It was a huge success as everyone got the chance to meet with the authors and talk about books, and it builds on the Council’s earlier authors-in-schools activities.

A fresh initiative is a Books and Brekky programme featuring a well-known children’s author: a before school activity where breakfast is provided, and this time parents are encouraged to come and be part of the audience too. “Getting parents involved in their children’s reading benefits the whole family,” says Catriona. “It seems to be a good way to start a long-term interest in books for families.”

Catriona is passionate and knowledgeable about children’s lit – her first job post university was at the Children’s Bookshop in London’s Muswell Hill. As Mum to 11-year-old Noah and 8-year-old Eliza, she is kept right up to date in that area.

The thoughtful quarterly Booknotes with in-depth reviews of New Zealand books over most genres is an important contribution to intelligent book discussion. The publication is sent to an extensive list of individual, school, university and business subscribers, and is complemented by a monthly e-newsletter which you can sign up to here.

Alongside the online services, the Book Council’s twitter feed has almost 2,000 followers. Catriona hopes to extend this with author and book industry news podcasts.

Yet another strand in the Book Council’s knitting basket is True Stories told Live – “the story must be eight minutes long, have a beginning, middle and an end, and it must be true, but that’s all.” After several hilarious versions of this programme with different authors and stories, this was reprised for National Radio’s four-week Summer Noelle programme. It ran every day to the delight of listeners.

Another function of the Book Council is their International Programme, supporting writers to achieve greater success on the world stage and promote our literary culture outside of New Zealand. Grants are currently being processed for authors to attend major overseas literary festivals. Catriona says a number of our top writers are currently published internationally; she hopes the upcoming grants will take another generation of our writers to prominence in the expectation it may secure them overseas publication.

There’s a strong Board running the book council chaired by Peter Biggs, with Penguin’s Margaret Thompson representing publisher interests. As Biggs does business in Melbourne, Wellington and internationally, the fact that he’s mostly in Melbourne doesn’t lessen the day to day communication between chair and CEO at all.

Nor does the fact that Catriona is Auckland based (though she is down in Wellington at Book Council offices at least every second week) seem to phase the smooth running of the organisation. “You need to make an effort in communication, and make sure you take nothing for granted,” she says. Indeed, she likes the chance to enjoy the buzz of the busy office on her visits, but is grateful to be able to concentrate on policy and decision making without interruption at her home office.

Though Catriona is coming to the end of her review of the Book Council’s many activities, you can be sure that any changes she plans to discuss with the Board will be well considered, made within the context of the key tasks of the Council, stick to core principles and aim for depth in those functions rather than width.

Featured Member: Ryan Publications – Frankfurt brings business for educational publisher

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Dipping a toe in the international market rewarding for Ryan workbooks

14 November 2012

Ryan Publications Ltd’s Anna and Peter Ryan decided to go to Frankfurt for what might be deemed the wrong reason – but they returned with the right results!

Anna thought a business trip would be a great excuse to combine a family visit to daughter Katie, living in London.

As Kiwis, they also believed it would be patriotic to use New Zealand’s Guest of Honour Year at the Frankfurt Book Fair to test their educational workbooks on the international market.

To achieve this, they joined PANZ earlier this year. “It’s taken 10 years to do that – I only wish we’d been in a position to join sooner,” said Anna of the many benefits the PANZ liaison has brought to their company.

Ryan Publications has been building incrementally since starting with its first secondary school workbook English to Go, published in 1999. As you’ve probably guessed, Anna is a former school teacher, and Peter is still teaching. Their write-on workbooks are written for the New Zealand curriculum; they are not textbooks, but rather exercise books that are already partially filled with teaching notes included.

The Ryans have been conservative in growing the business: Anna wrote the first book and more since then; Peter is also an author for some titles. Other teachers have written their now 25 titles (50 if you count the teacher texts relating to each workbook) and design is handled by contractors. Originally targeting Year 9 and 10 secondary school levels in a variety of subject areas, the range has extended to cover primary level English. This followed the approach of a school requesting help for their teachers in grammar and offering assistance in developing the workbooks.

“The company milestones are measured in the release of each book,” says Anna. Ryan Publications was home-based for many years, but they have had office and warehouse premises since 2007. You’ll still find Anna running dispatch – the Kiwi ‘running on the smell of an oily rag’ is almost a business principle!

The firm still uses local printers. “They held our hands through the start-up years while we were learning the publishing business,” says Anna. “I also believe we should keep all possible work in New Zealand and support our own economy.”

Twelve appointments were set up before leaving for Frankfurt. “Only one did not turn up, and the rest expressed huge interest.” In fact, there are two contracts sitting on Anna’s desk right now. There’s strong interest from the UK, Canada, US, Australia, the Middle East, Asia and Latin America. The simplicity of the workbooks with their black and white interiors makes them particularly suitable for third world countries and print on demand situations. “The whole Frankfurt experience has been very energising!” Anna comments.

Further developing the digital side of Ryan Publications’ business is one post-Frankfurt initiative the couple will be working on – with help from son Martin who has IT and accounting degrees – to set up the company website.

In the New Zealand market, Ryan Publications is known for the fact that they charge lower decile schools reduced prices for their workbooks. As their website explains, the standard price is the price paid by all schools, regardless of decile – so nothing extra is added. The $1 discount for decile 1–3 schools (for orders of 20+ copies of student books) is funded from their profit margin.

The workbooks often come under stationery lists which parents provide, rather than textbook allocations for schools, which is why the Ryans have taken this step;an action resulting from Anna and Peter’s religious principles and humanitarian beliefs.

While there are thousands of students using Ryan workbooks, one downside is that because of a perceived conflict of interest, the college where Peter teaches does not use the workbooks! But one secondary school nearby still leaves another 459 receptive to the advantages the workbooks offer.

Anna and Peter would like to thank other publishers for help in preparing for Frankfurt and their encouragement during the Fair. “Mark Sayes, Linda Cassells, Joy Allcock, Lesley Stead and Wendy Pye – your advice, camaraderie and sense of fun are all appreciated. And Anne de Lautour was so patient with the dumb questions I kept asking!”

Anna in turn has advice for future small independent presses tackling Frankfurt for the first time: she used international website Homelink to line up wonderful accommodation in a Frankfurt home. They met their host’s friends over dinner and enjoyed the comfort of a private home for their whole stay at less than the cost of a single night at a Frankfurt hotel!

Dedicated to non-fiction – Awa Press

By Featured Members Archive

A small independent Kiwi publisher of non-fiction, Awa Press gives the impression it is at the very least a middle size one! Mary Varnham, Awa Press’ publisher, worked in the publicity section of Simon and Schuster in New York early in her career and applies that experience to the company’s advantage.

Publishing an average of around 10 new titles a year, with some of their long-running titles reaching sales of 20,000 copies, Awa Press is thriving.

The company was founded in 2003 when Mary, a former journalist, public relations executive, newspaper columnist, Ministerial press officer and Wellington City Councillor decided this was the new challenge she needed.

The choice to specialise in non-fiction was deliberate; she herself was a passionate reader of narrative non-fiction and felt there was scope for development of the genre in New Zealand beyond the traditional histories, biographies and photography books. “Writers such as Mark Kurlansky and Pico Iyer were taking non-fiction in interesting directions.”

However, she quickly realised how little she really knew about publishing. “I was very familiar with writing, editing and publicity, but I didn’t have the foggiest idea about production,” Mary recalls. Fortunately she made contact with Sarah Bennett, who had spent years in London working for Penguin and Lonely Planet and was skilled and experienced in book production.

Eight years and nearly 70 books later, Mary now knows a lot more about production. Not that she needs to – Sarah remains a cornerstone of the company as associate publisher.

One of the tactics that got Awa off on the right foot was the decision to commence publishing with a series, an idea adapted from one Allen Lane found effective when he started Penguin in the 1930s. Lane used one format of paperback, with the orange and white covers alike except for the title. While that would not wash these days, Awa began publishing a series of short books with distinctive covers. This became the Ginger Series, 25,000 word essays written by excellent writers on a variety of non-fiction topics. Justin Paton’s How to Look at a Painting has been the top seller, and all but one of the twelve in the series to date are still in print. Most have been serialised for Radio New Zealand and two, including Paton’s, have become television series.

All of the series are now available as ebooks. The company has also produced a 100 Essential New Zealand series in full colour; subjects include films, music albums and famous golf holes.

Stephen Minchin, Awa Press’ tech guru, has overseen the conversion of all of Awa’s suitable titles to eformats, available for ereaders and tablets. The company’s print titles are also distributed in Australia, the UK and Europe, USA, Canada and South America.

Hand in hand with the expansion of markets, Awa is putting more emphasis on a high standard of production and design, contracting freelance book designers. Printing is done in China using two print firms that produce quality, cost-effective print runs. “They’re so particular they’ve even been known to ring us up when they spot a typo!” Mary says.

Current books that are doing business for Awa include the NZ Post Book Award-nominated So Brilliantly Clever, Peter Graham’s book about the Parker and Hulme murder, Jim Flynn’s incredibly popular The Torchlight List, and An Indescribable Beauty, the 4-part series of which is currently airing on Jim Mora’s Radio New Zealand afternoon programme. A perennial is Antarctica Cruising Guide, which was praised by the prestigious Polar Record and frequently tops as its best-selling Antarctica guide.

Awa Press has a pretty large output for a publisher with only two permanent staff, Mary and Kylie Sutcliffe, and dedicated part-timers Sarah Bennett, Stephen Minchin and publicist Ruth Beran.

The company also supports publishing industry awards as sponsor of the Awa Press Young Designer of the Year Award. For Mary, this is an area of particular interest, and she is pleased to note that in recent years the standard of New Zealand book design has improved astronomically.

So how about a foray into fiction for Awa Press? “We toy with the idea from time to time, but always decide to stick with what we know and love,” says this otherwise fearless publisher. And why wouldn’t you, when non-fiction is working so superbly for the company.

Featured Member: The Wendy Pye Group

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In a small African village, a grandmother was weeping as she embraced learning-to-read supremo Wendy Pye. “Now my granddaughter won’t have to scrub floors for a living – because she can read.”

The legend of Wendy Pye goes like this – a feisty Aussie living in New Zealand, she was dramatically made redundant from children’s early reading publisher Shortland Publications in 1985, a time when it was unheard of to be escorted out of the door without time to clear your office.

She had been about to go to Frankfurt Book Fair for the company, but moving quickly she got together some proposals and went off to represent Wendy Pye instead! It is typical of both her fearlessness and grasp of the big picture.

After signing up Margaret Mahy and Joy Cowley as authors for her educational publications, Wendy decided to crack the toughest nut of the time: the American education market with Sunshine Books.  It took years – and an apartment in New York – to build her company in the States to a size where she was bought out by the owners of the Chicago Tribune as they entered the lucrative market.

“Americans have strict restraints of trade” says Wendy, so she had to return home and put her energies into the local and Australian and Asian markets.

Over the years, Wendy’s team have produced over 2,600 titles for reading and maths learning.

But of course that wasn’t enough for our feisty superwoman. “I saw what was happening with PlayStation.” And she was one of the first to see the possibilities of the net, videos, apps in language learning.

Some of the American proceeds were invested in setting up an animation studio in Auckland’s Mt Wellington and hiring her own team to develop the next stages.

She wasn’t about to neglect the work in developing countries either, putting “a million on the table” to develop literacy courses in South Africa, working with the ANC and NGOs in the area. After many trips there, that was when she was hugged by the grandmother of the woman who got a job as a receptionist . . . and didn’t have to scrub floors.

Imagine, Wendy enthuses, teaching girls in Pakistan and India to read, and lifting them out of poverty – these huge ideals clearly drive her.

But back to where we were, on the cusp of new ways of e-learning, already developed into animated teaching programmes and apps in the Auckland studios.

“We started with a white sheet, and re-thought everything from that point on, using the newest media.

“This has the power to make us the McDonald’s of learning,” Wendy believes. So she is taking it global, with meetings and arrangements in China, Korea (with key Korean companies), Vietnam and Turkey shortly. “It has never been done before,” Wendy believes. “It is all digital content with Step A learning and Step B the digital resource, and everything touch screen. Parents can watch their kids doing it at home – but it can be done anywhere.”

The objective is to make learning to read easy, fun and above all cheaply available with programmes that work on the everyday technologies the developing world uses. For only $3.00 for an app you can offer an entire reading programme and reach 30 million learners. The partners just have to catch the dream, Wendy believes.

The new reading programme will launch in Frankfurt next month – no visuals available until then!

Wendy is clearly unfazed by moving from print to digital, believing this evolution may be the silver bullet for language learning for the next generation.

“When you are pioneering the next strategy for reading, it is scary stuff, and I’m sort of scared . . .” A rare hesitation in the demeanour of this confident business woman, who has a knack of making people see things her way, and insists there is no negativity among her work colleagues at Wendy Pye Group.

Wendy’s achievements so far have already brought her recognition. She is the only living woman in the NZ Business Hall of Fame, an honour she received eight years ago. She has an MBE for Export in Education and was recently awarded a world honour in Washington DC for her work with education for girls around the world. Those successes have also brought her wealth and an enviable lifestyle – or it would be if she took time to enjoy it.

She is also philanthropic, putting her effort into reading programmes for developing countries, and locally, by donating thousand of books to Christchurch.

“We are on the verge of the next major learning discovery,” Wendy believes. “It is not an ego trip for me, but I hope, a worthwhile contribution.”

Featured Member: Annabel Langbein Media

By Featured Members Archive

Annabel Langbein – early to the international market

“An overnight success – 20 years in the making!” laughs Annabel Langbein about the big impact her Annabel Langbein The Free Range Cook television series and accompanying book had on the local and international markets in 2010 and 2011.

The Free Range Cookbook was a dream, an idea, and it took so much thinking and being really focussed to bring it together,” says Annabel. “Then it was just serendipity that it came at the right time when people wanted fresh to the table ingredients and produce.”

For those who have followed her book publishing career, the payoff is not surprising. Annabel started with taking a stand at Frankfurt in 1995. It wasn’t easy – she recalls locking herself in a bathroom at the Fair and having to psych herself into carrying on, and then she lost a very necessary credit card. When her perseverance and the investment in going to Frankfurt paid off with her first international sale deal three years later in 1998, it was for half a million copies of Best of Annabel Langbein.

The elation of success then gave way to the concern of “How the heck am I going to deliver on this?” says Annabel. But she coped with the big step up in scale, and even found she enjoyed distribution and marketing.

She has represented her company, Annabel Langbein Media, at every subsequent Fair.

The years of development have been rewarded with relationships with publishing partners Octopus in the UK, Graefe Und Unzer in Germany, Larousse in France (Annabel au naturel), and Unieboek in the Netherlands. HarperCollins is her Australian publisher.

Recently she has not needed to take a stand at Frankfurt Book Fair because of the strong publishing relationships that exist, but she does attend each year to maintain current contacts and make new ones.

Becoming her own publisher came about first “because I was born with a wooden spoon in my hand and a need to cook.” Followed by: “I’m such a control freak I wasn’t going to have someone else tell me how many pages I could have or how many illustrations.” Her 2007 book Eat Fresh was produced just by Annabel, her PA and a contract designer and photographer.

Early in the company’s development, Annabel embraced new media, with recipe demonstrations available on YouTube, and eventually a full scale accompanying TV series tie in with Annabel Langbein The Free Range Cook.

Today, her team is around eight people with an in-house designer, project manager and others, plus a sales manager based in the UK. Annabel Langbein Media was ahead of most others in establishing a website, which is constantly refreshed with Annabel’s blog and other updates.

Given the importance the Frankfurt Book Fair has had in the growth of Annabel Langbein Media, plus the fact that it is New Zealand’s Guest of Honour year, it is appropriate that she will have a strong presence as part of the New Zealand contingent at this year’s fair. The October event also coincides with the launch of the German edition of The Free Range Cook, entitled Naturlich Kochen.

Following Frankfurt, she has author tours lined up for Germany and Poland, a new market where the Polish edition of The Free Range Cook will be launched later this year.

This activity builds on the recent launch of De Free Range Cook – Pure Gerechten Uit Nieuw-Zeeland on the Dutch market with a big event in Amsterdam. “There’s a big understanding in Europe of the philosophy of what I do,” she explains. The lengthy build up of her profile and brand in those markets also supports the growth in sales of her cook books.

The second season of her TV show debuts on New Zealand television later this year, and an accompanying cookbook will be released in New Zealand and Australia.

If you think the book side of Annabel Langbein Media is big, the reach of the TV series is still greater – 83 territories have bought the first series at last count.

There’s something about being a Kiwi, says Annabel, that means you can go out and tackle the world. “I was a very anarchic teenager, but the freedom of living so close to our physical environment centred me.”

She describes the work of creating cook books as “culinary anthropology” and finds it rewarding. “When someone comes up to me and says ‘Omigod I love your cooking’ it is great. I feel lucky to do something I love.”

For other Kiwi publishers about to tackle Frankfurt and the world, she has good advice:

  • Be brave about business, act with intent and integrity
  • Always look forward
  • Be focussed
  • Believe in your ideas
  • Make sure you have got enough money
  • Learn from your mistakes – learning is stimulating.


Above image credit: Hannie van Herk   

Scholastic NZ titles gain international acceptance

By Featured Members Archive

Books for children were a major career switch for Diana Murray when she arrived back in New Zealand after living overseas. All her UK experience was in publishing academic journals, though she was confident the knowledge gained would transfer over to other fields of the industry.

Her research and preparation for the job interview as Scholastic’s New Zealand Publishing Manager was extensive. “I got stuck in and read lots of children’s books to get an idea of what the market wanted, and got to know the work of our authors.” That must have impressed: Diana has been with Scholastic for over three years and the company’s publishing programme is flourishing.

It is a small team – Diana (pictured left), long-term editor Penny Scown (below right) and more recently, Frith Hughes (bottom right). Yet they produce around 50 titles a year spread over picture books, junior fiction, teen fiction, Maori language publishing and a small number of non-fiction books for children.

When she arrived, Scholastic had just accepted The Wonky Donkey. “That went totally crazy,” Diana says. Illustrator Jenny Cooper had introduced Penny Scown to Craig Smith at a Christchurch children’s book function, and he told Penny he thought his APRA awarded song would be material for a book … the rest is record-number-of-sales history.

One of the first books Diana worked on was the groundbreaking Old Hu-Hu, by Kyle Mewburn and Rachel Driscoll, with its delicate subject matter of love and loss. It was a major critical success, winning the Picture Book category and the overall New Zealand Post Children’s Book of the Year in 2010.

There was further success in 2011 with the Junior Fiction category winner Finnigan and the Pirates by Sherryl Jordan and Best First Book Hollie Chips by Anna Gowan, and in 2012 with Junior Fiction and Best First Book winner Super Finn by Leonie Agnew and Children’s Choice winner The Cat’s Pyjamas. “We took a punt on Catherine Foreman as a new author/illustrator – this was her first book, and for it to win the Children’s Choice Award was just fantastic!”

Scholastic is selective when it comes to authors: they don’t accept unsolicited manuscripts by writers whose work has not been published before, or hasn’t been assessed by a Manuscript Assessor.

“The avenues for unpublished writers to have their work read by us are the Storylines Joy Cowley Award for picture books and Tom Fitzgibbon Award which is for fiction up to 13 years. Through the Tom Fitzgibbon Award, new talents discovered include Leonie Agnew, Anna Gowan and Vince Ford.”

Craig Smith and Katz Cowley’s first book was with Scholastic, and Catherine Foreman and Juliette MacIver are other new contributors.

It is rare for Scholastic to just go with an idea from even their well-known author/illustrator duos. “We usually prefer to see a manuscript or a very detailed outline of what it’s going to be. We occasionally come up with ideas that we ask writers to write – for example, David Hill’s The Red Poppy started with a song called The Little Red Poppy, which I sent to him and asked him to write a war/ANZAC story to go with.”

The publishing team has “huge support” within Scholastic New Zealand, says Diana. But they don’t have all the say – an acquisitions committee of the three in the publishing team plus six other Scholastic executives make the final decision on what goes to print.

What is certain is that Scholastic’s New Zealand publishing is being picked up within major overseas divisions. “Australia take most of our titles,” says Diana. Recent highlights of books that have done especially well in the Australian market are: The Wonky Donkey – Craig Smith, Katz Cowley; Willbee the Bumblebee – Craig Smith, Maureen Thomson, Katz Cowley; There’s a Hole in My Bucket – The Topp Twins, Jenny Cooper; The Red Poppy – David Hill, Fifi Colston; Stomp! – Ruth Paul; Dinosaur Rescue series – Kyle Mewburn, Donovan Bixley; and The Littlest Angel, Lily series – Elizabeth Pulford, Aki Fukuoka.

Titles now published in the US, Canada and elsewhere are (no surprise): The Wonky Donkey; There’s a Hole in My Bucket; Stomp!; Dinosaur Rescue (which is also being translated into Hebrew for Israel, and rights sold into Slovenia); The Grumblebee – Kyle Mewburn, Ingrid Berzins; and The Cat’s Pyjamas – Catherine Foreman (also translated into French for Canada).

There has also been e-action on the Kiwi list with three iPad apps released: The Wonky Donkey, Willbee the Bumblebee and Quaky Cat. “We are currently working on our e-Book strategy for fiction,” says Diana. “This will largely follow the lead of our international affiliates.”

With half the year gone, there are still 20 titles to get out before Christmas. One of Diana’s favouritesis the just released Ransomwood by Sherryl Jordan, “a confronting and uplifting tale; the engrossing narration and realistic characters create a deep, lingering story.” She believes the teen fiction will particularly impress the market.

That said, it is actually Christmas 2013 which she is focusing on at the moment. “There’s a lot more to do here, projects I want to see come to fruition, new books to balance the lists and growing and trying new ideas.

“We will continue to build on what we have already established, and keep working with our treasured and talented authors and illustrators to create books that kids love to read, and that adults love reading with them.”

All of which means constant solid work at the office for Diana, Penny and Frith, and a reading pile of around 500 manuscripts a year being dealt with mostly outside of working hours.

“I am inspired by being able to visualise kids throughout the country – and the world! – being absorbed by the books we create,” says Diana. “Books have always been a huge part of my life and that comes from being surrounded by books and readers when I was growing up. I would get so engrossed in books that I’d walk along the street reading, and I mastered the art of reading while in the shower! I want our books to have that impact and influence on our readers’ lives. The children’s book industry is a passionate community of people who share a strong belief in the work they are doing. It is inspirational to be part of it.”