16 April 2013

Onion Origins - EW

In celebration of our 25th anniversary of children's publishing we are delighted to present the sixth edition of Onion Origins.

When the time is right...

I almost came to Allen & Unwin four years before I actually did ...

I was working as a commissioning editor at Penguin Books when Rosalind Price called me. I had a wonderful meeting with her - it was so exciting. She had a copy of the groundbreaking picture book FOX on her mantelpiece, and we met at the trestle table that she had made herself in the upstairs room of the Rathdowne Street office. Allen & Unwin felt like a rush of fresh air, where creative, freewheeling, risk-taking publishing (what other kind is there, in fact?) blossomed.

I had started my publishing career as a trainee editor at Penguin in 1988 and it felt like home. I had many dear friends and strong author relationships, but I felt I was losing touch with what I loved the most - the hands on making of books. Rosalind offered me a dream job, but I wasn't ready yet to make the leap.

A couple of years later, the time was right ... I had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to start up a new children's list for a small independent publisher, Duffy & Snellgrove. That same year, 1999, I also spent three months in the US on the Beatrice Davis Editorial Fellowship - a terrifying and intoxicating experience! But on my return, after publishing the first 5 books on my fledgling Silverfish list, it became clear that Silverfish wasn't going to work out as planned. Unlike big publishers who have buffers, tiny independents need their books to sell quickly and in large numbers if they are to survive (unless they have an alternate income stream to cover the establishment phase). When it was clear that Silverfish needed another home in order to keep going, I rang Rosalind. In her kind, wise and practical way, she said, 'Do you want to come to us?' That moment was simultaneously a lifeline and a second chance.

So I started at A&U on Valentine's Day in the year 2000. Rosalind and I shared her trestle table for the first few weeks - about two feet of table surface each. I felt saved and also in debt! I wanted so much to prove myself, but really I was starting again (I even changed my name ...). Of course, it takes time to find your feet as a publisher - you have to be daring, experiment, fail and try again. It took a while, but always I felt supported by Rosalind and A&U. The working atmosphere was a revelation to me - there were no politics! We just helped each other as needed and trusted each other to do our jobs well. And there was the singing - a brilliant way of bringing the team together.

I feel blessed by having had the best publishers in the business as my mentors and am eternally grateful to them. Having worked for big, small and medium sized companies, what I value the most is the sense of community we have in the children's publishing world - all the laughing, crying, plotting and planning we do - the creativity of the authors and illustrators, editors, designers and the myriad people who make the books happen and then support them out in the world - that's what really matters, and will be our legacy.

- Erica Wagner, Publisher

1 comment:

Sue Bursztynski said...

And we're all delighted that you joined, Erica! I have to say that Allen and Unwin has always been a pleasure to write for, and there's such a comfortable feeling among the staff.