Interviewing Barnaby Rogerson, Publisher at Eland – by Bookblogger
Eland Publishing can be found at https://www.travelbooks.co.uk/
Can you tell me a little about the history of Eland?
Eland was started thirty-six years ago by John Hatt in a fury that none of the publishers he contacted were interested in reprinting Norman Lewis's book about Vietnam, DRAGON APPARENT. A book which if read could have informed any US politician about the likely end result of the Vietnam War….
I wrote him a fan letter ( in green ink) whilst a history student, but instead of binning it, he invited me for tea on the strict understanding that he was never going to employ me. I later became a writer of guide books, so we kept in touch. After 20 years running the business he wanted to get out, having made a fortune from setting up cheapflights.com which also nearly killed him with overwork.
How is the company organised today and how many people work for you?
Eland is passionately independent and is entirely owned by its three directors, has no other shareholders, and (at the moment) no debt. It takes no subsidies from the UK or any other government or pressure group. It is currently run by a husband and wife team (Barnaby Rogerson and Rose Baring) in an attic (a three storey walk-up above a popular London street market) who make use of a dozen skilled freelancers who either work from home or pop in once a week or once a month and hot desk in this attic while we feed them cups of tea. The freelance sales force in the UK is supplied by PGUK, the physical books are stored ( and invoiced) by the incredibly efficient GBS/TBS. There is a network of freelance reps for our various foreign territories plus two stock holding distributors in AUS and the USA. We also sell to individual readers through our own website, which though it only achieves a tiny 3% fraction of our turn-over helps keep us in touch with our customer base.
What is the company philosophy when it comes to selecting for your catalogue?
We can never quite define what we are looking for until we stumble across it but it needs to be observant of others, capable of summing up a spirit of a place and catching the moment on the wing - aside from such everyday literate skills as being funny, wry, intelligent, humane, universal, self-deprecating and idiosyncratic - plus the whole book has to be held together by a page-turning gift for story-telling. Increasingly we look for travel books that are not defined by heroic adventures but the ability to listen ( and maybe understand) other cultures – 'anthropology lite.'
How do you go about choosing the titles to be included in your portfolio?
Eland is essentially a co-operative of passionate readers. Some of our best book suggestions come from our customers, who write in by postcard, letter or e-mail (typically listing half a dozen books that they adore about one region and that we do publish) then casually mention 'but why not this as well'. This happened yesterday for instance. Our other principal sources of information come from the well-read staff who run bookshops and of course writers.
Tell me about your process after selecting a book for publication.
How much effort goes into the design of the book, for example the cover design, font selection and so on?
Some-times it takes a year to find the right image. We pride ourselves on getting the mood right for the cover of an Eland book, and have a loose rule of thumb that fiction can be best expressed by a painting and fact by a period photograph. Various versions of a cover get created, pinned to the wall, then after a bit you find the most appropriate one.
Are there any up and coming books that you are publishing soon that we need to look out for?
We are thrilled that we have recently acquired the entire back list of one of the greatest post-war British writers, due to a supportive literary agent who admires what we do. In May 2018 we will release Jonathan Raban's OLD GLORY, ARABIA Through the Looking Glass, HUNTING MR HEARTBREAK, COASTING and FOR LOVE & MONEY. He is wise, irreverent, clever, wicked and funny.
What debut authors are you publishing this year?
None. In 2018 we are back to our principal role of reprinting travel classics, which will however include the first English language publication of the iconic French travel-writer Nicolas Bouvier's SELECTED WORKS.
How did you come across them?
My wife, Rose Baring, who reads in French and Russian, discovered Bouvier.
What title of yours has been an unexpected success?
The Road to Nab End by William Woodruff.
What would you say were the undiscovered gems in your catalogue?
Some of our publishing rivals/friends would say half the Eland list ! But off the top of my head - Warriors by Gerald Hanley, Peking Story by David Kidd, Living Poor by Moritz Thomsen, People of Providence by Tony Parker
How do you use social media for promoting books and authors?
Our publicist Stephanie Allen, who used to work at John Murray and helps run the Literary Magazine SLIGHTLY FOXED, has led the way. Getting us to send out quarterly chatty newsletters ( that do not endlessly try to flog our books), which she then supported by setting up an Eland Facebook page, then twitter, then Instagram. Her recent round of energy, has been connecting Eland upto the fascinating world of freelance literary bloggers (whose motivation is often very similar to that of Eland). Beside this we continue with traditional means like drinks parties, launch parties, lecture, pop-up shops, not to mention sending books out to review to the print medium of magazines and newspapers.
Is working with book bloggers becoming a larger part of that process now?
Yes, there seems to be a natural and immediate sympathy between the thoroughly independent nature of Eland and the world of book blogging
What book do you wish you had published?
Lords of the Atlas by Gavin Maxwell – even though I know he was in many ways a total monster, as revealed by Douglas Botting's biography – which we reprinted last year !
What does the future hold for Eland ?
After 36 years of work, we have now built up the Eland backlist to over 145 titles, which you can have a look at on www.travelbooks.co.uk. So Eland has now probably become the world's leading independent publisher of classic travel. There are at least three dozen travel books which I would like to add to the list right NOW, but we like to work within our own capacity and budget. So there is no immediate danger of scraping the barrel.
We now have probably just as many travel books written by women as men, but the next challenge will be to expand out of our Anglo-American identity and start including much more of the world. We got a great kick out of translating Evliya Celebi's travels, and showing the world a 17th-century version of Orhan Pamuk, an Ottoman Bruce Chatwin.
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by Barnaby Rogerson