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Book & Print in New Zealand : A Guide to Print Culture in Aotearoa


Publishing, most simply put, is the issuing, usually for sale, of printed matter. As Dennis McEldowney describes it, the publisher 'selects and edits the text before it is printed and sells or otherwise distributes it after'. The publisher does not write the book, nor print it nor bind it, nor sell it to the reader, who is the publisher's ultimate customer. Without the publisher's presence these other activities would, however, be pointless. Even after excluding all of these activities, publishing encompasses a number of complex tasks. The publisher carries out the roles of financier, organiser, and go-between as part of the process by which the written work gets from its author to its reader. These tasks can be divided up according to the relationships the publisher forms with others who perform various actions on or around the author's manuscript, and with those who bring the published work to its eventual market. Some of the activities excluded from the following discussion are covered elsewhere in this guide.

In order to 'prepare and issue (a book . . . etc.) for public sale' (as the Concise Oxford Dictionary defines 'publish'), there must first be a text. Whatever the impetus behind its genesis, a commissioned work or independently created, it has an author (or authors). Once the publisher has decided to publish a text, it becomes the object of attention of a number of the publisher's agents. These include all those people who work on the text or on the book which is to contain it: editor, designer, typesetter and printer. Formerly many of these people were employed within the office of the publisher, but increasingly they work independently of the publishing house, and are contracted to perform specific tasks. The publisher organises all of these: the preparation of the manuscript for printing, the production of the item by printers and binders, the provision of illustrations and covers, advertising and promotion, and the sale of the product to distributors and booksellers.

Central to any consideration of the process of publishing is the fact that publishing is a business. All of the operations described above are financed by the publisher's capital. The publisher must spend most of this money before any return is received. The capital is advanced against a perceived market and therefore a return on its outlay: without a market for the published work, the publisher could not contemplate this financial risk. However, this discussion will concentrate on the editorial processes of publishing rather than the financial side, which remains to be written about in the New Zealand context. Some inkling of the issues may be gained from overseas publishers' accounts (e.g. Stanley Unwin's The Truth about Publishing, 1926) or surveys such as John Feather's History of British Publishing (1988), which devotes considerable discussion to the topics of copyright ('the cornerstone of publishing in a free market economy') and the commercial imperatives of marketing.

What defines the direction of a particular publisher's activity could be described as the result of the tensions between an individual publisher's personal inclinations and the forces of business reality. What makes New Zealand publishing distinctive in this context is probably the level of influence of individuals, and small and medium-sized firms which have often prevailed and had an effect disproportionate to their size as the multinational behemoths fragmented, disestablished, regrouped and refocused around and amongst them. This would not have happened to the same degree in a larger pond.

Outlines from a New Zealand perspective of the process of publishing are to be found in some of the handbooks which have been produced for writers and editors, including:
     Arnold Wall, A Reed Deskbook for Writers (1973)
     Anna Rogers, Write and Be Published (1994)
      First Edition (1993, rev. ed. 1995)
      Write, Edit, Print (1997)

Publishers' accounts of the process are to be found mainly in the autobiographical writings of those involved, including:

Charles Brasch, Indirections (1980)
     Denis Glover, Hot Water Sailor & Landlubber Ho! (1981)
     Phoebe Meikle, Accidental Life (1994)
     Dennis McEldowney, Then and There (1995)
     A.W. Reed, Books are My Business (1966)
     Ray Richards, 'The man in the middle' (1974)