Book of the week: ‘The Division’ – putting it all together with another oxymoron

By late 2003 my publications list included three books on the adventures of the Second New Zealand Division in the First World War: Battle for Crete, Desert Duel and Italian Odyssey.

They sold well individually and by 2006 had gone out of print. The question then was what to do next with them; there was some discussion of reissue in what the trade call a ‘bind-up’, where multiple volumes are assembled into one. I’d actually written Desert Duel and Italian Odyssey back-to-back, still stand-alone; but in terms of the style, content and tone, essentially as if they were one larger book.

Click to buy

But then in mid-2007, and quite suddenly, Reed were purchased by Penguin – it was an incidental outcome of an international transaction in which the Elsevier group’s education arm – which included Reed – was purchased by Pearson, Penguin’s parent company. I was sad to hear the news. Reed were New Zealand’s oldest and largest publisher, an absolute Kiwi institution, I knew the editorial team very well – wonderful people who I enjoyed working with. I’d written so much for them, in fact, that the official Reed historian suggested I should have had my own imprint within their brand. (In point of fact, I am STILL working with most of the former Reed editorial team, but that story’s for another time).

On the other hand, by 2007 I was already writing for Penguin, separately, and knew the New Zealand managing editor and his publishing team well. The question was what to do with my Reed intellectual property, which Penguin had inherited – including all the contracts for my military histories. I raised the idea of a ‘bind-up’, which they liked – but, given the realities of the book trade at the time, it didn’t happen. Later, I asked for – and got – my publishing licenses back from Penguin for the majority of my back-list. And that’s where things sat until 2015 when I was able to organise reissue of some of those military histories. There was still demand.

Last year, I got that bind-up. Three volumes in one, now all in second edition: Battle for Crete, Desert Duel and Italian Odyssey, telling the story of the Second New Zealand Division from 1940 to 1945. It didn’t replace the single volumes, which were also available; it went alongside them in case anybody wanted them all together (and for about 2/3 the price of buying the three separately). The unified reissue needed a title, and as Kiwis at the time had called it simply ‘The Division’, I thought The Division Trilogy would be a good title. It was, of course, another oxymoron. Geddit? A bind-up called ‘The Division’? Oh well…

I still had a bit of work to do on it: there was a new index, for starters – all the pages were renumbered (Italian Odyssey started on p 199, for instance). But that’s the reality of book-writing. And so my account of the division became available under a single cover. Check it out – click to buy.

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2019

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7 thoughts on “Book of the week: ‘The Division’ – putting it all together with another oxymoron

  1. Congratulations, Matthew. So is The Division published by you as an Indie or by Penguin or another publisher? As an Indie myself, I’m curious about how the hybrid system works.

    1. It’s published by Intruder Books – Penguin relinquished the licenses. It’s an imprint I developed for the specific purpose of addressing demand for back-list titles of mine, although not all of them because some simply aren’t economic to do. I don’t know I’d call it indie, as aside from writing I’ve worked 30 years professionally in publishing (among other things, evaluating the quality of proof-editing and hiring people accordingly) and this is a professional publishing imprint (legal registration, book design, pro typesetting, proofing, editorial input, market position, etc). I don’t see myself as working to a hybrid model; from my perspective I write stuff (product) and find ways of having it published and marketed. For new material that means negotiating with mainstream publishers, which is still the way to go if a publisher can be accessed – not least because established publishers carry a name, credibility, and (particularly) have marketing and distribution systems. For my old material I’ve also approached established publishers first off, and with success, but if they feel a book isn’t going to be economic for them to reissue – and if I find there’s still demand – I’ve found ways of getting it out on the Intruder label.

      The thing about what we might call ‘indie’ publishing is that the bar keeps rising; the old days when a self-publisher could walk up to a printer with a wheelbarrow full of money and have 1000 copies of their memoir typeset (by ‘printer grade’ typesetters), then printed, are somewhat gone. So too are the days when anybody could publish on Amazon Kindle and make a good return. These days, from what I see on Amazon, the onus is on for indies to provide professional artwork, typesetting and so forth – all of which is expensive and tends to drive the cost-structures up to the levels of the mainstream publishers. Being able to print via on-demand services helps reduce the initial overhead for short runs, but it doesn’t work for longer runs and on my experience the quality is variable. Nor does it avert the need for proofing, design, competitive quality typesetting and so forth. The point being that the cost to be competitive, vs the usual returns indie books can receive, is one of diminishing returns or – I suspect – absolute losses.

      I hope that doesn’t sound too depressing. In my time in the business I’ve watched the industry go through a variety of changes, all of them demanding fast adaptation. The way the NZ market has gone, particularly, has favoured what we might call ‘indie publishers’ in the past decade – small companies with relatively small lists who meet niche markets and don’t have international corporate marketing targets to meet.

        1. Yes – and it’s one of quite a few in NZ. The challenge is always marketing and distribution; the usual system (Nielsen/repping) is basically uneconomic in NZ and the issue is getting stock distributed. Because the focus at the moment is on my back list, promotions are relatively restricted; sales are always going to be relatively small and retailers usually look for new titles. I did it basically because people kept approaching me in person for copies of my books, which of course I didn’t have because they’d been commercially published up to 20 years ago and authors, in that system, only get their ‘author copies’, or (if they’re lucky) opportunity to buy surplus stock at a discount when the book is remaindered by the publisher.

          1. Yeah, that’s a complaint I’ve heard from a lot of traditionally published authors, and it doesn’t make sense from the publisher’s point of view either. I mean there must be an absolute treasure trove of titles out of print. You’re lucky you could get your titles back.

            1. I got most of my back-list licenses back – luckily I knew the people making the decisions fairly well. I did hear of authors who couldn’t get their licenses back and have lost control of their intellectual property.

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