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Vertebrate's MD reflects on the year of publishing past

Monday, 11 December 2017

Sit back and have a think about what makes you happy. What has made you happy? When were you happiest?

I’ve had a year of thinking about these things; publishing books about these things; I’ve even been back and raked over those good times to see if the embers were warm.

Inspiring adventure, at Vertebrate Publishing, makes me happy. Even if it is just for a readership of one, for me the books we publish are about giving people the opportunity to lay down a few good memories, have a few adventures, get a bit of type-II fun going. Sometimes the readership is more than one, and as always a big thank you to our readers, I guess you’re reading this blog because you’ve bought a book from us at some point or are maybe thinking of buying one. Rest assured we produce books to inspire, not because a spreadsheet tells us it’s a good idea.

To help us this year we have been through a few changes. We started life as a graphic design business, then a graphic design business that published the odd book. As of this year we have stopped doing any sort of graphic design and now we are purely a publishing house. There are six of us: Sophie sits opposite me and she runs the office, admin and anything else that needs ‘running’. Lorna sits across the other side of the office from me, she is our marketing person. Lorna does the job of about four people, which might be why she was shortlisted for Young Publishing Professional of The Year. Upstairs, John runs the production side of things – it’s really him that turns my whims into reality – with Jane, our brilliant designer and Camilla our editor – there’s a lot of her in a lot of those words you read! And that’s us! All we have to do all day is try to produce great books for you and I to read, either to inspire adventure or indeed to guide adventure.

This year, as you’ve probably gathered, has been busy; we’ve published thirty new and reprinted books. Highlights have been finishing the Tilman Collection, which involved republishing his fifteen sailing/mountaineering travel books with new material. We revisited my first love, caving, and produced a brand new edition of The Darkness Beckons; we worked with the rather unassuming Steve Birkinshaw on his book There is no Map in Hell about his record-breaking Wainwright run; the multi-award-winning Art of Freedom from Bernadette McDonald; and the completion of Matt Dickinson’s Everest Files trilogy with the publication of Killer Storm. We also worked with the insanely talented Ruth Eastham on a new book, The Warrior in the Mist, and then of course perhaps the most finely crafted piece of writing of the year, Ed Douglas’s The Magician’s Glass. Oh and the guidebooks. Who could forget the photos of me in North Wales Trail Running and the excellent Adam Long photos in Day Walks in the Cotswolds?

Just when we thought we were on top of things, out of nowhere Doug Scott phones up one Sunday evening with talk of his Ogre book. Published a month later, the first print run sold out in a week.

Next year, I’d like to do two things, the first one being to promote our fiction imprint, Shrine Bell. Lorna is doing some tremendous work there with a small group of authors producing some high-quality books. I’d like to think we can do even better, and get more books into the hands of younger people. Secondly, thanks to Mark Horrell’s advice, we know we are falling short in one area. We may have a whole raft of female authors and we may publish a few inspiring stories about women climbers and adventurers, but we know we are a long way off being trusted to publish books that female readers really identify with. Hopefully, by working with a whole heap of new writers in the coming couple of years, we can become a trusted publisher across a wider audience – that’s the plan anyway.

I’ll spare you a big list of next year’s books at this point, and instead I’ll thank you for the wonderful opportunities being a publisher affords me: book launches in Chamonix, prize ceremonies in Kendal, out jogging with authors on the fells and drinking pints with Chris Bonington at book signings. I’ll also thank you for giving me the opportunity to run my own company and the privileges it allows: nipping out climbing when the weather is nice and bringing Wilbur, the office dog, into work every day. Many of our guidebooks have photos of Wilbur brightening up their pages. He was never happier than being out on the hills, rolling in fox poo, eating rabbit droppings and generally wandering off. He got to fifteen years old, but didn’t make it through the spring. He will be missed. I think of him when I pull on my climbing boots, when I lace up my fell trainers, when I grab my waterproof jacket, when I see him on the pages of one of our Day Walks books. Make the best of the great outdoors folks. Happy memories.

Merry Christmas, see you next year.

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