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Featured Members Archive

Featured Member: Claire Murdoch, Publisher, Te Papa Press

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Publishing was my first real, grown-up job and I can’t imagine ever wanting another career. Picking through the CV compost, it all seems too obvious now: too commercial for academia, too clumsy for film sets, too damn nice for journalism (the photo library was fun, though). All that, and being one of those people who just can’t help reading – anything – so much that they literally bump into lampposts while doing it. Of course, I was a book person.

That first, real job was at Allen & Unwin, Sydney, where against all odds (i.e., not really knowing who Gough Whitlam was at the time ), I was hired as assistant to the late John Iremonger, legend of Australian non-fiction publishing. His list was like a Who’s Who of history and politics and included some seminal biographies, histories and good, gory true crime books. Working for John and (later) academic publisher Elizabeth Weiss at that great independent publishing house, at an unlikely-to-be-repeated moment in time (Allen & Unwin distributed Bloomsbury in Australia and Bloomsbury had just published the first Harry Potter book) was nothing short of transformative.

In 2002 John very sadly died, I turned twenty-six and Te Papa, New Zealand’s unique new national museum and art gallery, turned four. The museum advertised internationally for a publisher to re-launch their press and I applied for the job. ‘Rich’, ‘extensive’, ‘fascinating’, ‘iconic’ – these words are wildly overused in book blurbs everywhere, but they are all true of Te Papa’s collections, and the potential to publish new books drawing on the museum’s exhibitions, scholarship and ma-tauranga Ma-ori, under its very powerful The challenge of balancing commercial viability with corporate bureaucracy and public ownership can be . . . intense‘thumbprint’ brand, was irresistible. After more than six years at Te Papa Press, it still is.

Despite the spiderwebby spectre of worthiness creeping about, institutionally published books really are important and valuable. Done right, they bring big ideas and slow-cooking research to a culture and its readers (who, I reckon, need and want them in good numbers). In the case of museum and art gallery books, they can be very, very droolably produced at the same time. Some museum publishers relish never having to ‘do’ a celebrity biography, fart-joke compendium, mass-market romance or diet book. Some of us fantasise about them at night, for fun.

Of course, institutional publishing has its stressful side (the word ‘institution’ is there for a reason), and the challenge of balancing commercial viability with corporate bureaucracy and public ownership can be . . . intense. Moreover, commissioning, editing and delivering enormous, multi-authored, high-production-value, press-pass-requiring, serious illustrated books isn’t ever easy. At Te Papa Press, as well as keeping a close eye on changing photographic and print technology, we strive to be responsible to the artists and iwi whose work and taonga we represent.

Like everything, it’s all about he tangata: my skilled and clever colleagues, our authors, the booksellers and book-making professionals who make the publishing industry so stimulating, and – above all – the real, live readers out there. Apart from knowing we’ve reached them, what keeps it exciting for me is the furious good fun of just making cool stuff, the endless learning, and the weird, addictive, hopeful act of publishing itself.

Featured Member: Julia Marshall, Publisher, Gecko Press

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I knew I wanted to work in publishing – especially children’s books – when I left university in the early eighties, but I couldn’t figure out how to do it. In New Zealand there was no publishing course, so I worked as a kind of journalist/editor/researcher for a mixed bag of magazines and newspapers – Adventure Magazine, Wakatipu Advertiser, New Zealand Geographic, the New Zealand Herald. I realised that I like putting things together, I like being involved in the whole process, I like a good story, and I like finishing with something in my hand I can be proud of.

For ten years I worked in Sweden making all sorts of magazines for Swedish industrial giants, some of them in twenty-two languages. Then I came back to New Zealand, determined to work in book publishing. Finally, after six months’ trying – I was about to take on a job raising bobby calves – Bridget Williams gave me a job as a trainee. I worked with Bridget Williams Books for two years, learning how to produce a well-made book.

It was tricky to switch from magazines to books: it took me a while to realise that books need longer in the making – there are more layers, and somehow they won’t be rushed. In 2000 I went back to Sweden one more time for a three-year period as regional manager for my old magazine company – like doing an MBA, I thought.

I knew I wanted to start Gecko Press, and to publish children’s books, but still I I was told I would meet a lot of nice people but not make much money. So far that’s truedidn’t know where to start. So, I went to the Frankfurt and Bologna international bookfairs to learn how they worked. At Bologna, a Belgian publisher – Philippe Werck of Clavis – told me to come back the next day and he would answer all my questions because someone had done the same for him twenty-five years before. He told me that one way to start was to buy rights to existing books.

I chose my first book, Can you Whistle, Johanna? – and discovered it had been translated into twenty languages but not English. Oddly, I had stumbled onto a niche – at that time only 1 per cent of children’s books were being translated into English. I didn’t pay any advances on the first books Gecko Press published, because the publishers were so pleased to see their books being produced in English they wanted to give me a head start.

I had no idea when I started Gecko Press in 2005 whether it would work. I was told I would meet a lot of nice people but not make much money. So far that’s true, but every year gets better. Like other people in the book trade, we laugh about how rich we are getting in soul. But we know we have to sell books to make books. We work hard at that. This is the hardest I’ve worked in my life.

In the meantime, I love it – I love that something extraordinary and unexpected happens every week, and that every year we get a bit more established, and we find books we think children and the people encouraging them to read will love. And I love that we are making what we call ‘curiously good books’ that I’m proud to hold in my hand. Long may it last.

Featured Member: Ken Harrop, Developmental Editor, Secondary Schools Division, Pearson

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A blank page and four to five hundred words to justify twenty-eight years in textbook publishing! Fair enough, considering all the teacher-authors I have asked over the years to take blank pages and make a spectacle of themselves in front of their colleagues and peers by saying, ‘I know this well.’ Skating over (and falling through thin ice into) texts ranging from accounting to zoology, I have ended up knowing nothing well, except that authors are a breed apart.

After university and a brief flirtation with teaching (lion-taming soon seemed a better option), I got a job as a perfumer’s technician. But five years later the opportunity to edit textbooks seemed a way back into the education system without the hormone-ridden classroom angst (and that was just me).

On my first day I was given a pile of proofs for a Form 5 maths book, Judith Butcher’s Copy Editing, some coloured pens (green for Greek symbols) and a desk. John Barnett, the fiction editor for Longman Paul and Penguin, gave me good advice such as ‘no one is a naturally good speller; use a dictionary; be consistent; keep lists of decisions you make,’ and other stuff now so internalised I can’t remember what it is.

Soon the pleasures of editing became apparent. Authors had done the hard yards with the writing, starting with blank paper, putting down in logical order words that would help other teachers and their students master concepts and content, and adding ideas for illustrations and photographs for some skilled third party to produce. But naturally (and fortunately) they left plenty of typos and The most rewarding moments come sitting in a train at Wellington Railway Station and seeing students on the platform doing homework from books that we worked on inconsistencies and had little enough visual flair (‘a cartoon illustrating this idea would be good’) to make one feel at least a second-order creativity in working on each project, changing ‘pidgeon’ to ‘pigeon’ in thirty-three places, adding comprehensible, comprehensive instructions for typesetters for whom English was a second language, incorporating photos of one’s family members painting walls or fixing cars or whatever the text required, and working up briefs for illustrators, many of them Australian or dyslexic. These pleasures never fade!

Moving beyond editing as such to acquisitions, you discover the pleasure in getting a project off the ground (the author does the hard work), the pleasure in producing estimates and sales projections that show us all making money (a creative act in its own right), and the real, solid pleasure when the numbers work and the money is made, and the book is well used and much-esteemed. A non-zero sum game indeed.

But the most rewarding moments come sitting in a train at Wellington Railway Station and seeing students on the platform doing homework from books that we worked on; going into schools and seeing dog-eared copies everywhere; being thanked by complete strangers for selling them things we had so much fun making; and most of all, working with authors – God bless them every one!

Featured Member: Karen Ferns, Managing Director, Random House (NZ) Ltd

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The alchemy of risk-taking and creativity joined at the hip with commercial reality has had me enthralled with the publishing industry since I stumbled over it in the eighties. In that decade, a perfect collision of background interests and opportunity occurred when I talked my way into a publishing and marketing assistant’s role at Penguin just as they were taking the first tentative steps to build a New Zealand list. Just as the music, wine and film industry have contributed to our national identity, it has been exciting and challenging to be part of the emergence of a strong and vibrant New Zealand publishing range. In the early days, every book got its moment in the media and on bookshop shelves. That is no longer the case in the rough and tumble of today but the New Zealand list is 20 to 30 per cent of most multinational publishers’ turnover, and we continue to scheme and dream about how to ensure it remains a profitable and developing part of our businesses.

As I have stayed for most of my career within the sales and publicity and marketing departments, my ability to communicate and pitch ideas and sell books has served me well. Books can change lives, spur trade in ideas and contribute to national debate, but not all have such a lofty journey. The trick is to be able to position a book quickly and simply no matter where it fits along the literary-to­-mass-market continuum or adult to children’s market.

Sometimes there are ideas of the moment that you look back on and see have had a lasting I can be as excited about launching a new literary writer as I can about selling thousands of a mass market writer.heritage. Part of the contribution I have enjoyed making to the industry was developing, along with other like-minded publishing and bookselling women, the women’s book festival and guiding the marketing of that over the initial years. Today’s book festivals and awards owe something to the emergence of that early model.

Our industry is often viewed by outsiders as quaint and project-driven, as if we juggle lots of projects because we love books. They fail to see the conceptual thinking that goes into understanding how to meet the needs of each customer base and how to develop and shape a New Zealand list. Overseas bestseller lists and Bookscan data help but what you learn about the past doesn’t necessarily dictate the future because spotting trends is one of the many keys to success. We are always looking for that category killer or, even better, the emerging category. Other times you can’t fully explain why an author like Lee Child or Diana Gabaldon took off in New Zealand ahead of many other territories, but you know a particular mix of what you and your team have done created that success.

My own reading tastes are eclectic. I can be as excited about launching a new literary writer as I can about selling thousands of a mass market writer. You need that ability to celebrate the small achievements alongside the breakouts, as much of what we do is across a very broad product base. Much of it is about believing with a passion in an author over time, as good writing will eventually find its way to a growth in audience.

Selling for many different third parties over the years has filled me with admiration for those who run small publishing presses, often with too little buffer or capital when times turn hard. My own development has been helped by working for two different multinationals, Penguin and Random House. This has allowed me to develop a good understanding of different models of business and the effect that size, philosophy, international structure and scale can have on growing a publishing company. It makes a case for shifting around as you develop your career but that is exceedingly hard to do in such a compact industry.

As a managing director I spend a lot of my time looking forward, developing the skills of our team and working on general business processes that are a part of any company, but the creative aspects of our industry keep the fire in my belly. My natural optimism, alongside retaining a passion for what I do, counts for much of my success. At the heart of it is never losing the feeling of reading a book and getting that instant urge as you close the final page to go out and hand-sell it to anyone who will listen.

Featured Member: Neil Brown, Managing Director, Archetype Book Agents

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I came into the book trade in 1983 by being in the right place at the right time. I’d returned from three years in Australia, where I’d worked as a sales rep in the medical supplies industry. I was hoping to make a new start in publishing. With no experience or tertiary qualification, my best hope was in sales, so I started ringing publishers’ sales managers. My local bookshop in Pukekohe suggested I get in touch with Hodder & Stoughton. By pure coincidence, their Auckland central rep had resigned earlier that morning, so the sales manager called me in for an interview and gave me the job.

Following a later stint as sales manager at Hodder, I spent a short period in retail as the buyer at The Book Corner, and also worked as a rep and then as sales manager at Pan Macmillan. As a result of some industry reshuffling, I then formed the Samuels, Brown partnership with Margaret Samuels.

By the early 1990s, Australian publishers were starting to see New Zealand as an opportunity to grow their markets. Our role initially was to act as commission sales reps to the New Zealand market for publishers based in Australia. Those publishers distributed the books directly to booksellers here. We were the first, and for some time the only, agency doing this, and we were soon approached by other Australian publishers, and even some based in the UK. These arrangements involved organising locally based distribution, as we had no warehouse facility.

As the business grew, we also became more active in marketing and publicity roles. Over time, asI’ve been lucky enough during this time to be involved with some truly groundbreaking titles the market in New Zealand changed, and publishers’ needs changed, so Samuels, Brown changed, and it is now known as Archetype Book Agents. We trade as Archetype/Allen & Unwin to reflect the importance of our key partner, Allen & Unwin. We now also represent a number of New Zealand publishers.

I manage Archetype, for many years also with my partner Heather McKenzie. My role is to sell the books published by our partners to booksellers and libraries around the lower North Island. This is what I most enjoy doing, as it allows me to travel around the country I love, talking about the books I love. I’ve been doing this now for over twenty-five years, and I never get tired of it. Every month there is a completely new batch of great books to read and talk about and sell.

I’ve been lucky enough during this time to be involved with some truly groundbreaking titles, to witness firsthand the Harry Potter phenomenon unfold, and to help turn a few unknown writers into bestsellers. This has been a period of great social, technological and political change around the world, and working in publishing has allowed me to be a part of an agenda-setting business.

Books can and do change the way people think, and I’d like to believe that in some way, I may have helped make somebody’s world a little better.

Featured Member: Harriet Allan, Fiction Publisher, Random House (NZ) Ltd

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I arrived in New Zealand from the UK in 1986, having recently graduated with an MA in English. I had little idea of a career, except that as I loved books, particularly fiction, publishing might be worth exploring. The only vaguely relevant experience I’d had was compiling a street directory of parishes on one of the earliest models of Apple computer (which at the time was as miraculous as making fire in the Stone Age by rubbing sticks together, and every command took as long, too).

As there were no publishing courses in those days (this being not long after the aforementioned Stone Age), I wrote off to various publishing companies asking for freelance proofreading. I had little clue what this actually entailed, so the few jobs I worked on are best forgotten, but I also did some temporary clerical work for Oxford University Press, which gave me useful in-house experience and contacts.

The first permanent job I could find, though, was at the Auckland University Library, which was akin to the punishment of Tantalus – so close to books yet still out of reach (working with them only closed up). I was relieved when I was offered a job at the medical publisher Adis Press and Fiction publishing in such a small market as New Zealand is often precarious, with never enough money or time, but who can complain when our writers are as talented as anywhere in the world?received some decent editorial training from patient colleagues. Medical publishing, though (with its interminable drug names and every other work being about myocardial infarctions), was still a long way from fiction, so I leapt at the chance when OUP offered me their new post of assistant editor. I spent nearly two years there, learning on the job (in other words learning by mistakes) before moving to Century Hutchinson as an editor.

Rather than changing workplaces, I then found that it is just as easy to stay in one place and let the workplace change around me. Since I joined (more than twenty years ago now), Century Hutchinson became Random Century then Random House, I’ve been in four different buildings, nearly ten different offices, survived two mergers and a number of contractions and expansions (at one time the publishing department consisted of only me and my baby daughter, at the largest there have been as many as sixteen of us).

When the department was small, I had to be a jack of all trades, covering most editorial tasks and working on a wide range of fi ction and non-fiction titles, though officially I’ve been editor, managing editor and currently publisher, now focusing primarily on fi ction and literary non-fiction. I’ve been lucky enough to have been working on the literary Vintage list since it started in New Zealand, building it up to a sizeable stable of many of this country’s finest writers. In more recent years I’ve broadened our fiction range by publishing under Black Swan and Arrow as well.

Fiction publishing in such a small market as New Zealand is often precarious, with never enough money or time, but who can complain when our writers are as talented as anywhere in the world?

Featured Member: Barbara Larson, Publisher, Longacre Press

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Barbara Larson, Longacre PressThe first book I remember reading was Alice in Wonderland, a beautiful hardback edition with the original illustrations. I remember the shape and heft, the lovely illustrations, the subtle dustjacket and the print on the page. My name was neatly printed on the half title. The book was mine, and Alice and her companions gave me a world apart.

Many years later and half an ocean away, my introduction to publishing was through illustration. I was offered the job of supplying ‘decorative’ drawings for a book about the history of the car in New Zealand. I’d never before drawn a car but that was something the publisher didn’t need to know. My task introduced me to the world of car lovers: the proud owner of a 1962 Cadillac convertible, a bloke who kept his magnificent Morris Minor up on blocks, another who thought heaven lurked behind the wheel of his custom-made truck. Not one cared that the book was a diatribe against cars. And I was hooked. Instead of working in isolation, here I was, involved in a world I knew nothing about.

The car drawings were nothing remarkable in themselves, but that didn’t stop me from I’m sure it was a publisher who wrote the wishful expression, ‘May you live an interesting life.’ I open my computer every day with anticipation.telling the publisher what I thought of their book and cover designs. I was talking through a hole in my head, but they didn’t need to know that either. John McIndoe offered me a part-time job as an editorial assistant.

I read manuscripts – screeds of badly written, depressing stories as well as collections of verse – and if I started them, I finished them, hoping against hope they’d get better. I wrote rejection letters by the truckload, feeling terrible about each and every one, until I learned to encourage the talented, and not waste time on the mediocre or worse. My real love in those early days was spending time at the light table: we used bromides that were glued onto grids with beeswax. I designed title pages and pasted up books. And I proofread: Owen Marshall’s early short stories, Hone Tuwhare’s Selected Poems, AK Grant’s hilarious piss-takes, along with Cilla McQueen’s poetry and the dark genius of Michael Henderson. It was a rich and happy time. It was a wonderful apprenticeship.

Later I became the managing editor of McIndoe Publishing and worked with Paula Boock – I looked forward to every day. And then one day we up-staked and moved down the road to set up our own publishing house, Longacre Press, with the assistance of Lynsey Ferrari.

They were heady days; we had no idea what we were getting into. Our lawyer thought we were crazy, our accountant wasn’t so kind. We learned more from our mistakes than from success but after two years could finally pay ourselves a salary of sorts. We started a young adult fiction list, we honoured the regional, and we admired the irreverent, the challenging and the individual southern voice. We still do.

It’s a privilege to work with the intelligent and passionate community of people one encounters in this industry. I’m sure it was a publisher who wrote the wishful expression, ‘May you live an interesting life.’ I open my computer every day with anticipation.

Featured Member: Robyn Bargh, Managing Director, Huia Publishers

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My publishing career began in 1980 when I got a job at the University of Papua New Guinea as a researcher and editor. I was thrilled – I knew nothing about publishing but I loved reading and books, and I could see gaps in New Zealand literature that I could imagine being filled by the stories of indigenous writers. The digital revolution had barely begun – we had word processors and the university had a basic two-colour offset printing machine – but this was a great apprenticeship for me.

Over a decade later, after my return to New Zealand and a number of editing, publication and policy jobs in government, memorable more for the technical skills gained and eccentric contacts made than the content of the materials, I decided to set up a publishing company with my husband, Brian. So, Huia Publishers was born.

Here we could provide a forum for Maori stories to be told and Maori writers We knew very little about trade publishing or running a business, but we started with a healthy mix of naivety, common sense and large doses of passion. to get published and a pathway for the cross-cultural stories of Aotearoa to reach the world. This was largely a leap of faith. We knew very little about trade publishing or running a business, but we started with a healthy mix of naivety, common sense and large doses of passion.

As so few Maori writers were being published, we needed to find out how many Maori writers there were, where they were and what they were writing. So, in 1995 we initiated the Huia Short Story Awards for Maori Writers (now called the Pikihuia Awards). This was fantastically successful, despite running the gauntlet of a few fanatical race relations complainants who accused us of unfairly favouring Maori! The Pikihuia Awards are now run every second year, and every other year we organise workshops and mentoring for Maori writers who have proven they have some talent. The awards ceremony is the largest Maori literary event, an opportunity to celebrate Maori writers and an inspiration for all.

International book fairs are an important way of keeping track of what is happening in the global world of publishing. We discovered that from Europe, particularly Frankfurt, the Pacific is seen as one large hole on the other side of the world, about which readers know very little. We had also been getting increasing numbers of manuscripts from Pacific writers in New Zealand, so we began to publish Pacific writers. Their stories combine well with those of Ma¯ori writers to bring a new edge to New Zealand literature.

After nearly twenty years there is still a lot to do. New Zealand is still desperately short of Maori writers and editors, particularly those working in Maori language. Publishers are having to come to grips with globalisation and digitisation and the fast-changing implications for production, marketing and distribution. And the magnum opus facing Maori in publishing is the huge task of recreating a body of work in Maori language that builds on the literary traditions of our ancestors.