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Featured Member: Ian Watt from Exisle Publishing

By June 21, 2011April 11th, 2014No Comments

Gold Start, Exisle’s new title last month, is a book for parents by Andrew Lendnal on how to teach children financial savvy. And gold it has proved to be, with Exisle’s New Zealand publisher Ian Watt already having pushed the reprint button.

And Gold Start is as good a place as any to see how a small publisher with offices in Australia’s Hunter Valley and three executives working from their homes in Auckland manages the trans-Tasman divide. It is a title that Ian Watt discovered and developed so it would work for both Kiwi and Aussie parents. Andrew Lendnal was an author willing to be involved with the media, and he currently has a regular spot on television’s Good Morning program and is in constant demand for interviews on Australian radio.

The Australian and New Zealand publishing arms work together but with relative autonomy, but apart from a few specifically local books, Australian titles are expected to sell in New Zealand and vice versa. Exisle doesn’t publish fiction, only adult nonfiction specialising in biography, history, military history, parenting and self help. Sport also features regularly on the New Zealand list, the most recent example being For the Love of the Game, a photographic book on grassroots rugby in New Zealand.

Of the 20 – 25 books per year Exisle releases, around 8 – 10 are of New Zealand origin, says Ian Watt. Crossovers occur: Ian is the military historian on the team, so that sees him as editor of the titles Exisle publishes in conjunction with the Australian War Memorial Museum in Canberra. He also published the substantial official history New Zealand’s Vietnam War by Ian McGibbon last year. “It is ploughing through its print run,” says Ian with pride.

Other recent NZ releases are Purple Dandelion by Farida Sultana with Shila Nair and Jill Worrall’s account of travels in Iran called Two Wings of a Nightingale. Exisle has three markets, says Ian, the third being “the world”. A book’s global potential is always a factor when considering a new title. The company is pursuing rights sales for Purple Dandelion in the Middle East and India.

An upcoming title is Max Cryer’s Preposterous Proverbs. Previous language books compiled by Cryer have all been sold internationally, and Ian expects this one to follow suit. Cryer’s last book, Who Said That First? is selling in both UK and US editions.

Ian’s Kiwi colleagues are administrator and NZ sales manager Carole Doesburg, publicist Lorraine Steele and design consultant Alan Nixon. In Australia are the company’s owners Gareth and Benny (Bernadette) St John Thomas, and three employees who work out of the company offices in the Hunter Valley. Like Ian Watt, Australian publisher Anouska Jones works from a home office. Company founder Gareth is often on the move for Exisle and regularly visits his staff in New Zealand. The two arms of the company are also in regular contact by phone, email and Skype – very 21st century.

In fact it was one of the earliest events of 21C, the 9/11 Twin Tower attacks in America that saw the company begin to work in this fashion. Gareth and Benny were living in New York at the time, and the crisis prompted a move back to Auckland. Gareth, who had extensive publishing experience in England, had established Exisle as a hobby business in the early 1990s while studying for his MBA here. More of the backstory: Benny worked in publishing in Australia for Doubleday and ABC Books. When they returned, Exisle was revitalised, and Ian was the first to join the company as their New Zealand publisher in 2002 from HarperCollins.

After two years in Auckland, Benny wanted to be nearer to her son in Australia. She and Gareth relocated, and so the modern era of Exisle began. Ian finds the distance contact “not as isolating as it might seem.” And from the company’s progress since, it is obviously not inhibiting business. Distribution of Exisle titles is by HarperCollins in New Zealand and Macmillan in Australia.

Exisle is firmly focused on the future, with almost every new title now also published in four to five e-book formats. The company is keen to explore new ways of producing books in the digital age. Ian believes they also have to keep up with the way retail is changing, and an increasing percentage of every print run is now being sold through online booksellers and other websites.

In the meantime, print runs are not noticeably smaller, mainly because of judicious acquisition and developing non-traditional sales opportunities. “With Australia, we have a market of 24 million, not four million.” But, Ian says “We are more careful with what we choose to publish. We look for authors who can self promote and who handle the media well.” Exisle also sets up a web page for each new title as a promotional tool.

As Exisle faces the future, its list continues to expand and its international sales continue to grow. “The Frankfurt Book Fair is very important to us,” Ian says. “Some of our titles are available in more than 20 international editions. We want more of that.”