Who Are We?
HarperCollins occupies a unique place in Australian and New Zealand publishing. In both nations we are the oldest publisher – with a heritage dating back to the bush ballads and school books of the late nineteenth century – and the most forward thinking in terms of our transition to the global digital world of today.
Through the decades, our publishing has been distinguished by a commitment to quality and creativity plus an innate understanding of what Australians and New Zealanders want to read and how. Authors and their work have always been at the heart of our company – without authors there would be no HarperCollins. Publishing is a highly collaborative business: everyone in the company contributes in some way to maximising our author’s work.
Our company has an equally long heritage globally and indeed today we are able to work more closely than ever before with colleagues around the world to ensure that our local titles are exploited internationally. The modern-day HarperCollins Publishers was founded in 1989 by the amalgamation of three proud publishing houses – Harper & Row (founded in New York in 1817), William Collins (founded in Glasgow in 1819) and Angus & Robertson (founded in Sydney in the 1880s).
The Australian story began in 1882 when a sickly young Scotsman, David Mackenzie Angus, arrived in Sydney in the hope that the climate would improve his health. By 1884, he had saved £50 working as a bookseller and was able to open his own secondhand bookshop, where he was joined by a fellow Scotsman George Robertson. Angus & Robertson the bookshop branched into publishing in 1888 with the release of a slim collection of poetry A Crown of Wattle by H. Peden Steele. In 1890, with business booming, it moved to bigger premises at 89 Castlereagh Street, and these offices became a vital part of Australia’s literary life. The first bestseller was A.B. ‘Banjo’ Paterson’s The Man From Snowy River, which sold 5000 copies in its first four months in 1895 and is still in print (and recited often, sometimes drunkenly, by Australians today).
David Angus and George Robertson’s spirit and flair for publishing Australian books for the Australian market saw them discover and promote the most famous names in Australian literature and proved that our writers did not need to go overseas, or get the imprimatur of publishers in London or New York, to make their name. Henry Lawson, Ethel Turner, C.J. Dennis, May Gibbs, Norman Lindsay, Miles Franklin and Dorothy Wall all made their names with the help of Angus & Robertson and, in the twentieth century, they were joined on the list by Xavier Herbert, Eleanor Dark, Eve Langley, Elyne Mitchell, Ruth Park, Kylie Tennant, Jon Cleary, Frank Moorhouse and Peter Goldsworthy. Many of their timeless books are linchpins of our A&R Classics series, most recently rejacketed in 2013. Several of the company’s larger-than-life publishing staff also became icons in their own right: legendary editor Beatrice Davis and publishers Douglas Stewart and Richard Walsh all helped shape Australian literary life and publishing.
In May 2009, HarperCollins took over the responsibility for the ABC Books business, which brought us into close partnership with the national broadcaster. The ABC imprint, publishing non-fiction and children’s books, has a distinct identity in line with the broadcaster’s mission to inform, educate and entertain.
Today HarperCollins produces print and e-books, generally simultaneously, and was one of the first Australian publishers to turn much of the deep backlist into e-books to broaden the life of a book. Our first app, Donna Hay’s what’s for dinner?, was launched in late 2013. Short-run digital printing and print on demand technology are used to keep books available in print, while the Harper 360 program exports print editions directly into the US and the UK. Our rights manager sells translation rights to our authors’ books in countries as diverse as Germany, Brazil, Poland and Korea; our books are regularly recognised in literary, design and production awards.
HarperCollins is proud to publish a broad range of contemporary Australian authors, such as Belinda Alexandra, Julia Baird, Robert G. Barrett, Steve Biddulph, Indigo Bloome, Geraldine Brooks, Steven Carroll, Kylie Chan, Rod Clement, Ross Coulthart, Andrew Daddo, David Day, Peter FitzSimons, Jackie French, Nikki Gemmell, Richard Glover, Bill Granger, Paul Ham, Donna Hay, John Howard, Linda Jaivin, Grantlee Kieza, Christopher Koch, Alison Lester, Valli Little, Paul Lockyer, Hugh Lunn, Shannon Lush and Jennifer Fleming, Colleen McCullough, Fiona McIntosh, Ian McPhedran, Bill ‘Swampy’ Marsh, Glenda Millard, the Monday Morning Cooking Club, Rob Mundle, Tara Moss, Emma Quay, Jessica Shirvington, Sarah Turnbull, Janette Turner Hospital, Rachael Treasure, Frances Watts, Bruce Whatley, Gerard Whateley and Pamela Williams.
In New Zealand, innovative foodies Peter Gordon, Sachie Nomura and Emma Galloway, crime writer Ben Sanders, novelists Deborah Challinor and Graham Lay, legendary children’s author Margaret Mahy, and nonfiction bestsellers Celia Lashlie, Nigel Latta and Dr Kerry Spackman are among our diverse range of authors. In both countries, local publishing remains the anchor of the business in an evolving and exciting publishing world.
Tell us a little about yourself and your history in the publishing industry.
It was no surprise to anyone in my family that I ended up working in books as I have always been a voracious reader. I was one of those kids who literally doesn’t remember learning how to read and I would read the back of the cereal box at breakfast time, read when practising my piano scales and read when I was walking home from the tram stop (my mother always said I would get run over one day). And my own children couldn’t believe it when I told them that I signed up one of my little sisters at the local library so that I could use her library card! I did a degree in English and Linguistics and then moved to London where I was trained as an editor at Cassells. I have worked in all areas of publishing from education, illustrated, adult fiction and non-fiction books, but when I literally fell into children’s books I knew I had found my passion. I have also worked in children’s television at the Australian Children’s Television Foundation and taught Editing and Publishing at RMIT.
What can you tell us about your publishing house and the types of books you publish?
HarperCollins is one of the ‘big five’ and an internationally renowned publishing house. I publish everything from picture books to YA fiction. My list is both commercial and literary and I try to keep a good balance between the two. Having been with HarperCollins for 16 years I have long-established relationships with many talented authors and illustrators that I value enormously.
What qualities do you look for when deciding to publish a picture book? Is there a checklist you use when considering manuscripts?
I guess if I had a checklist it would include, How fresh is the idea? How distinctive is the voice? How well told is the story? Does it move me, make me laugh, stay with me in some way? Is it clear what the story is actually about? Does it read aloud well? Is there maximum opportunity for the illustrator to contribute their visual narrative? Can I see the illustrations in my mind? That is, does the story come alive for me?
Does it help when selecting an author for publication if they already have a presence in the children’s book industry?
It helps, but isn’t essential.
Are there any specific subjects that seem to be addressed more in Children’s Literature?
The things that are relevant within a child’s world such as school, friendship, family, pets, holidays, new experiences. And the topics and issues need, of course, to be relevant to the target age group of the readers, so middle grade, which is aimed at children aged 7 years plus, often looks at the child’s world or beyond (rather than being introspective) with themes of adventure and fantasy, friendship, family, school, animals, pets. The child’s world is naturally smaller at this age, hence the popularity with adventure and fantasy to create excitement.
With YA it can be more traditional coming of age – independence, defining sexuality, romance, the importance of friendship and peer groups, social pressure, body image, bullying, family situations – absent parent perhaps, the pressure of blended families, questioning authority, introspection, exploration and experimentation – of sex, drugs, living in the moment, daredevil behaviour. All of this can also be countered with a maturing and a developing sense of self.
Are there some issues you would like to see more focus on?
Not especially and when it comes to issues, the most important thing to remember is that the issue mustn’t drive the plot.
Does having an agent push you to the top of the slush pile?
Yes, it does, although it isn’t a make or break situation.
What’s a common mistake you find when reading a manuscript?
Too often the opening is slow and needs reworking. I read so many mss where the pace really picks up and you can see that the writer is in the swing of the story, but then not gone back and revised the opening.
How long from acceptance until the book hits the shelves?
It depends on how polished the ms is on acceptance, but it takes on average 9 or so months to publish a book. Longer of course for a picture book as the illustrations have to be created.
Should a potential author be discouraged by the dreaded rejection letter?
No, never. And there are too many famous examples of books that are rejected and then go on to become best-sellers for anyone to ever be discouraged. Always remember you only need one publisher to love your book.
Tell us something that has caught your eye, in a good way, in a cover letter?
I’m not sure about good per se, but I think it is important that cover letters are clear and concise. They are a selling document.
And finally, what are publishers looking for in a submission?
A fresh voice and an engaging story that is well-told.