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Publishers Picks of 2020

By December 17, 2020December 22nd, 2020No Comments

2020 has been a year of uncertainty but one thing remains certain, the quality and breadth of publishing in NZ.  To celebrate we asked our members to pick the book they were most thrilled to publish. The we flipped the coin and asked which other publisher’s title they wished they’d commissioned.  From uplifting novels and thrillers, to inspirational memoirs and picture books celebrating the connectedness of the universe as well as translations of international best-selling books into te reo Māori the range is astonishing. If you still need some summer reading ideas check out the suggestions below.

Sam Elworthy, Director Auckland University Press

Sam’s favourite book of the year

J.K. Rowling, Hare Pota Me Te Whatu Manapou.

I never thought I’d get to publish Harry Potter. I also never thought I’d have a hand in getting high quality books in te reo Māori out and selling through Whitcoulls, the Warehouse, PaperPlus as well as the indies. And I LOVE our cover. Great te reo Māori translations of great books selling like hotcakes is fun.

Sam’s book he would have loved to publish:

Sara McIntyre, Observations of a Rural Nurse. This was one of those books you turn down when you love the stuff but can’t see the market. Then some other publisher loves it too and can see the market and succeeds. Ka rawe, Nicola.

Nicola Legat, Publisher Te Papa Press & Massey University Press

For Te Papa Press I so loved working with the legendary photographer Jane Ussher on Nature – Stilled. There couldn’t be a more luscious and evocative way to share the magic and mysteries of the museum’s vast natural history collection of one and half million specimens. The design by the team at InHouse is just remarkable, making this a perfect package.

At Massey University Press I’m not going to choose one – they were all amazing in their own way and I can’t choose between them. But if you push us I would venture Sara McIntyre’s Observations of a Rural Nurse. We were so privileged to introduce her astounding talent to a wider audience, and that audience has loved it.

Books we would have happily published are the kids’ books published by AUP for the Kotahi Rau Pukapuka programme, Upstart’s Charlie Upham biography by Tom Scott, PRH’s new Chelsea Winter cookbook (for the loot it would have delivered into our bank account), VUP’s marvellous Remote Sympathy by Catherine Chidgey and, for HarperCollins, the Stan Walker memoir.

Kevin Chapman, Director, Upstart Press

I don’t think that I can pick a favourite, but obviously Searching for Charlie by Tom Scott is a standout for us. The response to the book has been incredibly heartening, especially for Tom who battled through a lot to get this finished. We thought our first print was aggressive but it disappeared in just over four weeks, and then the reprint got caught in the shipping delays. But travelling the country and seeing people come out to listen to Tom, with their stories of some connection to Charlie, has been very touching.

On what I would like to have published, One Minute Crying Time by Barbara Ewing was a book that told an important story. The reaction to a Māori-Pakeha relationship in the 50’s was shocking even if you thought you expected it. Barbara is a national icon, and it was great to see her get the coverage she deserved.

Claire Murdoch, Head of Publishing, Penguin Random House

This is such a cruel task, Shanks & Ferguson! Not least in a year when I’ve had the chance to work with that legend, Chelsea Winter, on her biggest book ever – the vegan Supergood – and see Vince O’Sullivan’s Hotere bio published at long last — but I have to say I’m proudest to produce the audiobook of Māori Made Easy – all 24 hours and more – read by the author Scotty Morrison himself, and made with the amazing roopu at Māori Television. It’s a step-by-step, immersive, introductory te reo class anyone can do – and people are just loving it.

And my stan is Stan Walker’s Impossible: My Life. What a perfect piece of publishing, beautifully written, of course, and such a killer read. Hats off to HarperCollins. 

Margaret Sinclair, Publisher – General Non-fiction, Penguin Random House

Stop Surviving Start Fighting by Jazz Thornton is my highlight of the year – I was extremely proud to see the success of this

book with its intended young audience and its huge success in both audiobook and ebook formats. Jazz’s voice of lived  experience and the hard times she has been through is both grounded and inspiring.

I wish… Bella: My Life in Food. We always knew Annabel had a great story to tell, along with her superb recipes, but hesitated too long and ‘snap’ she was taken!

Harriet Allan, Fiction Publisher, Penguin Random House

I listened to Karlo Mila reading from her new poetry collection Goddess Muscle at the wonderful Women’s Litera-tea this year and was taken back to a similar event after she published A Well Written Body back in 2008: she’s still as impressive and expressive, provocative and lyrical – it’s been worth the wait.

From my own list, Navigating the Stars by Witi Ihimaera is one of those books that leaves you with a much deeper understanding of life, the universe and everything. These are our founding myths, and Witi Ihimaera conveys their relevance, richness and complexity with humour, insight and delight. It is a momentous work. And The Tally Stick really excited me when it came in, given it was 7 years since I published Carl Nixon’s previous novel. It blew me away, and I think it’s his best novel yet. It is tense and intense, cinematic, astute, thought-provoking and utterly compelling. It was particularly pleasing having so many of the staff raving about it as well.

Catherine O’Loughlin, Children’s Publisher, Penguin Random House

2020 highlights include Vasanti Unka’s amazing I am the Universe. Prepared to be dazzled by her illustrations and the minimalist power of her words. If ever there was the perfect time to publish a story demonstrating our connectedness to everyone on the planet and everything in the universe, this is it. And it’s going global – rights sold to Penguin Random House Germany before it hit the shelves here.

I’m loving Where Is It? A Wildlife Hunt for Kiwi Kids by Ned Barraud. What a fantastic and innovative concept and lovely piece of publishing. Congrats to Ned and to Potton and Burton.

Rachel Scott, Publisher, Otago University Press

Among my many favourite books of 2020, the one I am the most proud to be publishing is Letters of Denis Glover, selected and edited by Sarah Shieff.

We contracted this book in 2014 after I shamelessly pursued Sarah, on hearing that she was working on it. I have always loved Glover’s poetry and always been intrigued by the contradictions inherent in this hugely entertaining and talented yet disastrously flawed wastrel. Since once finding him asleep on the sofa in my mother’s home (I was about 10), and passing him the gin bottle at his request (it was about 8am), I have held an ambivalent fascination for all things Glover. I knew Sarah would do a superb job, and I was delighted to read the intro to the Listener’s review: ‘A brilliant collection of Denis Glover’s letters reveals the poet’s talent, sharp observations and bad behaviour, says his contemporary, Peter Bland.’ Job done.

A book I would love to have published is Leonard Bell’s magnificent Marti Friedlander: Portraits of the Artists (Auckland University Press). It is so good to see these classic portraits given the treatment they deserve.

Carolyn Lagahetau, Editorial Director, Oratia Books

With insect populations declining in much of the world, here in Aotearoa we need to be doing our bit to help our own little critters. I was delighted to work with author Dawn McMillan and illustrator Stephanie Thatcher to celebrate weta and friends beetle, huhu and others as they make mischief in the second of Dawn’s nature-themed picture books, There’s a Weta on my Sweater – He Wētā kei runga i tōku Paraka, which we published in early November.

Did that book make me bug-eyed? It might have, because one of the books I’d love to have published is George Gibbs’ An Exquisite Legacy: The life and art of New Zealand naturalist G.V. Hudson (Potton & Burton). Photography of insects has improved immeasurably in recent decades, but there’s something truly wondrous about hand-drawn illustrations like those Hudson produced.

Jenny Hellen, Publishing Director, Allen & Unwin

The Book of Overthinking was published at the very start of the year, before we even knew the word Covid, and it’s turned out to be one of the year’s most essential books for coping with life’s insecurities. I’m enormously proud to have published it, to be able to help Gwendoline get her excellent advice out in such an accessible way. It’s helped so many people struggling with all the what ifs and worries that this year has thrown at us. In publishing terms, it’s a phenomenon with over 25,000 copies sold so far and rights sales in key territories.

And hats off to Scholastic NZ for their creative ongoing publishing in the ‘Wonky Donkey’ genre. It’s great to see such success.

Alex Hedley, New Zealand Publisher, HarperCollins NZ

Well February seems like a long time ago now but working with Kaiora and Francis Tipene on Life as a Casketeer at the start of 2020 was an absolute joy. As it was with Tom Sainsbury, and his side-splitting book about typical New Zealanders. Our December title on the rise of organised crime in New Zealand, Gangland, definitely fits the tag ‘thrilling’! But if I have to pick one, it’s hard to go past the inspirational Stan Walker and his book Impossible. When I first had the opportunity to meet him, I could see there was something really special about Stan. His book did not disappoint. It’s an inspirational, compelling, and important read.

As for the competition! It’s been a really strong year for all publishers, but I’m most envious I think of Tom Scott’s book Searching for Charlie. Tom is such a talent, and big ups to Upstart for treating booksellers with phenomenal sales leading into Christmas.  

Julia Marshall, Publisher, Gecko Press

Inkberg Enigma by Jonathan King was the result of three year’s work, and it is worth every second of wait.

Since its release, I have had librarians tell me it is ‘always out’. Last week Jonathan received a letter from a mother who says her autistic daughter just can’t get enough of it. “As an individual who has struggled with reading, she really sunk into your book.”

At Gecko Press we never know that a book is truly good till it is in the hands of the readers, so this feedback is the best end of year present for us!

A book I would like to have published:

There are many! What a year for good books. In order to encourage a sale, the book I hope I may be given in my stocking is:
We Are Here An atlas of Aotearoa by CHRIS MCDOWALL AND TIM DENEE. I love a lateral approach to information and knowledge, and this seems to me to be poetry, knowledge, critical thinking, philosophy, art, all in one.

Louise Russell, Publisher, Bateman Books

The book I was the most thrilled to have published this year is Addressed to Greta by Fiona Sussman. This funny, moving and uplifting read was just the tonic in a year deprived of international travel. It also marked the launch of Bateman’s fiction list, which we’re extremely excited about. The book I would most like to have published is Dead People I Have Known by Shayne Carter. The best kind of memoir, in my opinion, is well written and unflinching in its honesty – this book has all that in spades.

Kat Quin, Director, Illustrated Publishing

Kuwi & Friends Māori Picture Dictionary is our most thrilling pukapuka to publish, of 2020.

We released her in February 2020, and even with the year that has been, it has been our best-seller, and most widely acclaimed title. We have also received incredible, positive feedback from readers. It was our most challenging to create, and rewarding pukapuka to date!



Alison Shucksmith, Product and Publishing Manager, Hachette NZ

The book I was most thrilled to publish in 2020 was the new edition of Margaret Mahy’s The Boy with Two Shadows with gorgeous illustrations by Sarah Greig, the winner of the inaugural Margaret Mahy Illustration Prize. This edition combines Mahy’s iconic text with timeless beautiful illustrations to create a perfect gift for adults and children alike.

The book I would have loved to publish is Kat Merewether’s Kuwi & Friends Māori Picture Dictionary. It is a beautiful piece of publishing that effortlessly combines fun and energy with the sharing of knowledge; it is the highly successful mix of a book which will be used every day yet is special and so beautiful to also be the perfect gift.

Robbie Burton, Publisher, Potton & Burton

No one is going to persuade me to risk insulting my authors by choosing one favourite book from our list this year. But I can single out one title that was particularly rewarding to publish, largely because of personal association. This was Tamatea Dusky: The Remarkable Story of Fiordland’s Dusky Sound. Beautifully written by Peta Carey, it was very easy to become completely absorbed in its publication, as some years ago I spent an extremely memorable week down there living on a yacht, as part of a small eco-tour. The mix of landscape, human and natural history was intoxicating, and I relished reliving this trip through this illuminating book. With Covid forcing my hand, I also finally learnt the basics of InDesign during and after lockdown, and Tamatea Dusky is the first book I have ever laid out. I relished the process, a silver lining to this mad, turbulent year.

A book I would have really liked to publish in 2020 is VUP’s In the Time of the Manaroans, by Miro Bilbrough. The work immerses the reader in her complicated, messy time as a teenager living in a variety of counter-culture communities at the Top of the South in the late 70s and 1980s. Both funny and at times, heart-breaking – too often the supposed freedom of the hippy life felt periously close to neglect  – I found it an astounding, dazzling piece of writing. It’s a book I would have been proud to shepherd out into the world.

Fergus Barrowman, Publisher, Victoria University Press

I’m proudest of the four astonishing first books we published at the beginning of the year: Eamonn Marra’s novel in stories, 2000ft Above Worry Level, Madison Hamill’s memoir in essays, Specimen, and Freya Daly Sadgrove’s Head Girl and Oscar Upperton’s New Transgender Blockbusters, both poetry. Four very different books that share vibrancy and self-possession. It was such a bright moment and it seems so long ago!

The book I wish I’d published is Vincent O’Sullivan’s The Dark Is Light Enough, a biographical portrait of Ralph Hotere. When I proposed publishing this without paintings a few years ago, Vincent thought it wouldn’t work, and I’m pleased he changed his mind because it really does. What moved me most is the richness of Vincent’s account of Hotere’s family and childhood up north, and his careful tracing of how important they remained throughout the years down south.

Sally Greer and the Beatnik Publishing Team

Hare & Ruru is our favourite book of the year at Beatnik Publishing. Laura Shallcrass is an exceptional artist, but as well as being visually beautiful, her book is a gentle story that will help anyone who suffers from anxiety. In the story, Hare struggles with an un-named mental malady self-described as ‘noise’. Hare goes on a journey to try and find a solution. Just when Hare thinks there’s no hope, a friend, Ruru, flies calmly down and gives a suggestion, and Hare learns some valuable lessons about the value of talking to someone, focusing on breathing and connecting with nature. We have also published a Te Reo edition.

The book I wish I’d published is Hiakai by Monique Fiso, which is a breathtaking account of Māori food.


Odessa Owens, Senior Tutor, Whitiriea

Specimen by Madison Hamill (published by VUP in March) – Maddy is a graduate of our course, as well as IIML and this collection of personal essays is insanely well written and genuinely original.

A Vase and a Vast Sea (published by Escalator Press in October, produced by our publishing students) – a gorgeous collection of new and established writers, all of whom have a connection to Whitiriea through the now disestablished Creative Writing Programme

 Marie Hodgkinson, Tutor, Whitireia

I’d like to nominate No Man’s Land by AJ Fitzwater as my most thrilled to publish – a queer love story that combines NZ’s forgotten wartime and queer histories with magic and the gorgeous landscapes of Central Otago.





Beau Davidson, DHD Publishing

Our favourite thus far published in October 2020 is Grandma Lost her Corgis and the one we wanted to publish but have to wait until next year is Hatty and Tatty.

Theo Gibson, CEO, Audiobooks NZ

I think one of the favourite audiobooks we have made so far this year is classic A Good Keen Man by Barry Crump Narrated by his son Martin Crump.

Renee Hollis, Exisle Publishng

Exisle Publishing are thrilled to have published…

The Reality Slap: How to survive and thrive when life hits hard by Dr Russ Harris and Guiding Lights: The lives and legacies of lighthouse women by Shona Riddell

Exisle Publishing wishes that we had published: A Promised Land by Barack Obama