Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Boutique book publishing in New Zealand
Bookman Beattie’s piece first appeared in the Herald on Sunday, August 24, 2008.

What the hell is a boutique publisher?
This question was put to me by Christine Cole-Catley of boutique publisher Cape Catley.
My reply was “you are”!

It would seem that boutique book publishing in New Zealand is dominated by women with the much-admired Cole-Catley leading the way in terms of longevity having been publishing virtually alone for almost 35 years, 27 years based in the Marlborough Sounds and the last eight years in Devenport on Auckland’s North Shore. She normally publishes three or four titles a year although 2008 will see her setting a new personal record with nine titles coming off the presses.

She says Behind the Tattooed Face by Heretaunga Pat Baker catapulted her into publishing initially because she had been working as a freelance editor at Reeds in Wellington when Baker’s manuscript came in and they turned it down. Thinking it was too important a work to let end up as a manuscript in a bottom drawer somewhere she set herself up as Cape Catley, published it, and all these years later the title is still in print, in its 6th edition and film rights have recently been sold. Other important titles from Cape Catley include Margaret Hayward’s Diary of the Kirk Years in 1982 and the re-issue in 1980 of We Will Not Cease by Archibald Baxter, also now in its sixth edition. She once told Millicent Baxter she would do her very best to keep this title in print; 28 years later and it is still in the Cape Catley list.

Ann Mallinson of Mallinson Rendel started out on her own on 1 January 1980 and is still going strong with about eight titles coming out each year. This Wellington-based boutique publisher is best known as the publisher of the ever popular Hairy Maclary from Donaldson’s Dairy (1983), which is still going with over a million copies sold worldwide, and has generated a number of sequels. Other notable titles from the specialist children’s book publisher include See Ya, Simon by David Hill, Annie and Moon by Miriam Smith, illustrated by Lesley Moyes, and After the War by Bob Kerr. Mallinson believes boutique publishers by nature of their size can give individual attention to authors that the larger companies are not always able to.

Also Wellington-based but very much a new kid on the block is Julia Marshall and her imprint Gecko Press. Starting publishing in 2005 Marshall comes from a unique angle for a New Zealand publisher in that she sources children’s books from overseas publishers that are not available here, often previously not published in English, and then publishes them locally under her own imprint. Occasionally this will include work by New Zealanders as was the case recently with Snake & Lizard by Joy Cowley and illustrated by Gavin Bishop which cleaned up the NZ Post Children’s Book Awards last month. It was first published in the US and Marshall snapped up the US rights.

Longacre Press and publisher Barbara Larson are the southern- most boutique publisher on our list but one suspects it will be stretching things to define them as boutique for much longer as they are now up to around 20 titles per year. They look for a distinctly southern voice with some of their standout titles being Dare Truth or Promise by Paula Boock which won the NZ Post Book of the Year Award in 1997, and has been subsequently published in the US, On the Loose by Josh Kronfeld and Brian Turner, The Art of Grahame Sydney, Montana Book of the Year in 1999, and Lynley Hood’s 2001 title which caused such a stir at the time, A City Possessed: The Christchurch Civic Creche Case. Larson says they look for titles that excite them, written by writers with an individual voice with a story to tell.

David Ling is a one-man publishing house who brings out about ten titles a year working from an office in his North Shore Auckland home. After a career with various multi-national publishing houses he started up in 1993 with One of Ben’s by Maurice Shadbolt with other significant titles including Kirsa: A Mother’s Story by Robyn Jensen, Mask of Sanity by James McNeish, and Winkelmann’s Waitemata. He says most of his titles would not have seen the light of day if he hadn’t published them because either they were his idea in the first place or because of his modest overheads he can make sums work on small quantities where larger companies cannot.

On the opposite side of the Waitemata Harbour to David Ling is another eponymous publisher, Remuera-based Annabel Langbein who started publishing almost by accident back in 1987 when she put together in book form a collection of her Listener articles and subsequently sold 10,000 copies out of her garage.
These days Langbein writes cookbooks and publishes them herself enjoying considerable export success as a result of energetic marketing around the world. She is an active participant each year at the Frankfurt Book Fair.
Because she is both author and publisher her output is normally one or two titles a year. She told me “the process feels a bit like a birth really, so much hard work and sometimes you think you will never get there and then it is out and off to its own life, hopefully making lots of people happy.” The Best of Annabel Langbein is one of her best sellers having run through several editions, and I might add it is a favourite in our household.

Roger Steele set up boutique publisher Steele Roberts in 1996 with Dedications by J.C.Sturm being the first title. Unusually Steele Roberts publish a lot of poetry, usually economically marginal and normally the domain of the university presses, but Steele says they “survive through optimism, frugality and philanthropy to publish Aotearoa NZ treasures including many first-time and once-only authors.

This is by no means a comprehensive roundup of NZ boutique book publishers, there are many more, but it serves to show the important role these dedicated and enterprising people play in our literary lives.

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