Between them the Oratia Media publishing team have seven languages – Japanese, French, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish and te reo Māori as well as English – so it is no wonder their publishing is reaching both New Zealand and world markets.
Oratia Books has a place to stand in the hills of the area’s West Coast Road on their own acre and a quarter with home and office surrounded by native forest. Their publishing reflects West Auckland too – three recent titles and a fourth in production are all firmly grounded in the Waitakeres. Voices from the Surf, 80 years of Karekare surf lifesaving history, events and recollections edited by Sir Bob Harvey was a highlight for the company last Christmas.
However, the Oratia tūrangawaewae had unlikely beginnings: when Cantabrian Peter Dowling and North Italian native Alessandra Zecchini met it was in England where she was an art student and he was working for a business publishing house in Surrey. Next move was to Tokyo where Alessandra taught Italian and Peter worked for a small Japanese English-language publisher and for Kodansha International. Back in New Zealand in 1997, Peter joined Reed Publishing (NZ) and became publishing manager over a ten-year stint.
Oratia Media became an entity in 2000 under the management of Alessandra until Peter went full-time with the company eight years ago, joined part-time by erstwhile Reed managing editor Carolyn Lagahetau (a children’s and non-fiction specialist).
Oratia’s team – today Alessandra, Peter, editorial director Carolyn and sales & marketing consultant Belinda Cooke – took time to review their business and imprints in mid-2015. Out of this process their Libro International brand has now been absorbed under a new imprint, Oratia Books. “We realised the brand belongs here and can encompass both our own titles and those we publish for third parties,” Peter explains.
Alessandra’s distinctive nikau palm graphic has now been updated, either standing alone or with the strapline ‘Quality books, media and publishing services’. Long-standing design partner Cheryl Smith of Macarn Design created the new logo suite.
Website visitors will find the fresh new look at www.oratia.co.nz. The site offers interactivity with mobile devices and – a drum roll for this essential – will add an e-commerce facility in early April.
“Belinda guided us through the rethink,” says Alessandra. “She had the advantage of being distant from the day-to-day work, and her marketing knowledge was invaluable.” The strategic review involved getting feedback from authors, booksellers and others in the book trade. “It was gratifying that people took time out to offer constructive criticism,” adds Peter. “Some of the comment was that we at Oratia were too retiring and should be more out there!”
But frankly, Peter is more “out there” than many New Zealand publishers. He has attended the Frankfurt Book Fair every year since 2010, selling children’s and non-fiction titles to and occasionally buying rights for books he thinks will suit NZ and other markets where the company has a presence. Peter went to TIBE in Taipei in 2014 and 2015. With the relaunch in full swing he missed this year, but intends to return in 2017. He also travelled instead to Mexico’s Guadalajara International Book Fair last November, coming away with a favourable opinion of Latin American publishing values. “We’ve taken inspiration from some beautiful Mexican children’s books in how we’ll be approaching our own picture books” Peter days.
Oratia’s own children’s books do well as exports, New Zealand bestsellers Dawn McMIllan and Ross Kinnaird have secured rights deals in major markets such as the US and China, and are steady sellers through European and North American distributors.
Nuts and bolts stuff is already emerging from the Oratia think tank (which Belinda officially joined part-time last December). They have a five-year publishing programme ahead, beginning with ten new Oratia titles for 2016, alongside a similar number of commissioned book projects for clients.
With a deft hand the team have rebranded Oratia as a thoroughly modern publishing house, and one that is expanding. “We see positivity in the New Zealand book market and we intend to deliver quality books, media and publishing service for clients, readers and writers everywhere,” Belinda promises.
The 2016 Oratia catalogue is out mid-April. It features new editions of major histories like Christopher Pugsley’s The Anzac Experience, recounting how Kiwi, Aussie and Canadian troops were forged from civilians into remarkable soldiers in the Great War, and Don Stafford’s magnificent Te Arawa: A History of the Arawa People.
There is a strong commitment at Oratia to tell Māori stories – Peter’s even gone back to class to improve his te Reo this year! Three of this year’s children’s titles will be bilingual or with strong te Reo content, and Peter has revised A.W. Reed’s classic Māori Place Names for publication during Māori Language Week this July.
“We’re actively commissioning and picking up a lot of interest since the relaunch, so 2016 promises much,” Peter concludes. The view from the Waitakere foothills across the nīkau and kahikatea is looking bright.