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Otago University Press – small team, big output

By September 18, 2014 September 23rd, 2014 No Comments

Rachel Scott otago042589Rachel 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.”