We spoke to Rowland White, bestselling author and Publishing Director at Michael Joseph, an imprint of Penguin Random House. Rowland’s first job in publishing was as a promotions assistant in HarperCollins’ now defunct College Division. He resigned to run a roadshow for the WWF until returning to publishing at the now defunct Reed Consumer Books. He joined Penguin in 1997. And again in 2012. It remains un-defunct. He talked to us about the omnipresent Ladybird humour books, dogs in publishing and the shift away from aspirational reading lists.
Tell us about your role at PRH’s Michael Joseph imprint.
I’m one of three Publishing Directors at Michael Joseph and lucky enough to commission and publish on to both the fiction and non-fiction lists. I’ve also been around long enough to remember MJ when people kept dogs in their offices. And had offices.
You’ve had enormous success with the humorous Ladybirds. Why do you think the buying public has embraced them so much?
First and foremost, they’re very funny. But I think they’re also a port in a storm. In an uncertain, unsettling world, they’re reassuring, big-hearted and irreverent. Also key, I think, is that they’re enjoyed with other people – friends, family, colleagues – rather than in isolation.
Much has been made of the recent sales resurgence of physical editions of books in areas such as humour, colouring and children’s. Do you think this is a permanent trend and does it affect your commissioning strategy?
Yes, to both parts of the question! But the resurgent appeal of physical books goes way beyond just humour, colouring and children’s.
What are the biggest changes that you’ve seen in the publishing industry during your career?
The internet and everything that’s come with it, good and bad. Also, fewer dogs.
Tell us about a book you might be hoping to receive for Christmas.
Black Box Canberras: British Test and Trials Canberras 1951-1994 by Dave Forster.
Publishers traditionally pile into an area when they see that someone has made a success. Looking into your crystal ball, what new trends can you see emerging in the next couple of years?
Shorter, but still authoritative, books that appeal to people’s curiosity, and actually get read, rather than adding to a growing TBR pile next to the bed.