'Small is beautiful' – the Vertebrate Publishing autumn update
September 13, 20225 min read
We won those awards, Small Press of the Year and Specialist Consumer Publisher of the Year – the first time a publisher, and certainly one not based in London or Oxford, has done the double. It felt like we’d finally got to the top of the mountain after a lot of hard climbing.
But they always say that getting down from the summit is a lot harder than the climbing to it. For us, getting back to base camp this year has been tough. A shortage of paper and soaring print costs has had a massive impact on small presses like ours. We’ve also seen Amazon swamped with some good but mostly dreadful print-on-demand items, drowning out the good stuff. And, like many businesses in many industries, we are seeing a fall in demand as a result of the cost-of-living crisis. But that’s okay, because at the same time I haven’t forgotten the scary hot days in July; we are facing a climate emergency, and simply trying to be bigger, better and generally more isn’t a responsible attitude to take. We are small press of the year, and I think we need to stay a small press. I like being a small press. As E.F. Schumacher taught us, Small is Beautiful, so faced with these challenges and then further setbacks along the way – postal strikes, surcharges on everything, the failed Waterstones ordering system, getting our head around TikTok – we struggle on. But struggling can be fun – it sort of wakes you up.
Books. Remember the books? I’ve always tried to give people what they want in a book, whether it is ideas for long-distance walks, some escapism, a glimpse into the world of a top-end adventure athlete, how to do more pull-ups, or just directions across the moor. At the heart of it, and this is something I have really been thinking about with our recent books, is how to help us all enjoy our adventures more. Time might be tight, money is certainly tight, the impact we’re having on our play spaces is certainly in need of scrutiny. So how can a book help with that? How can a book work harder for you? Obviously, I also think books should have authors who bring cake into the office.
This year to date, I definitely think you’ve all over-bought on gravel cycling books; we started life as a mountain biking guide publisher, so it’s good to see you’ve all matured with us. I do think the book that maybe should have done a bit better is Running for Our Lives; it is well written, yet at times a difficult read, and for someone like myself who tends to just be basically happy, it did make me stop and think and realise that encouraging folk into our sports, for some, could be life-saving.
What do we have in store for autumn? (You’re regretting not just starting to read here now, aren’t you?) Published this week is Sabrina Verjee’s autobiography Where There’s a Hill: ultrarunner and vet Sabrina is a rare athlete – having held all-comer records for running, her story is full of honesty about what it takes to climb hill after hill … at pace, ahead of everyone else.
A book to savour, and if I’m honest my personal highlight of the year, must be Grit Blocs. It is the ultimate collection of gritstone problems which every boulderer should aspire to do. Written with humour, intellect and a deep understanding for climbing, this book is what Hard Rock did for trad routes. And, after all, you’ve got bags of power now since buying Beastmaking, so we are really just helping you spend that strength wisely. Also published this week is the first in a series of regional traffic-free cycling guides which build on the success of Nick Cotton’s Traffic-Free Cycle Trails, the first one to South East England. Finally, in a few weeks we publish Britain’s Best Bike Ride, a stunning celebration of the Land’s End to John o’ Groats ride. More than just a gazetteer of the route, this wonderful book is aimed at inspiring all your riding; hopefully to take on the big one, but also as a memento if you have ridden this route (I haven’t!). Expertly written by Hannah Reynolds and John Walsh, no strangers to the route themselves. Finally,
Further into autumn, things are a little quieter as the increase in paper and print costs has forced us to drop a few titles and push some others back, but one book we simply could not ignore is Damian Hall’s We Can’t Run Away From This in which Ultra Damo examines the impact of running in our climate and ecological emergency, with lessons for all of us. Packed with insights from experts, it is an enlightening and funny read which will prompt us all to really think about our kit, food and travel, and to identify simple changes we can make to our day-to-day lives. It is an important book, produced with the least possible environmental impact, we’ve accounted for the carbon, done some offsetting (more about that in the book) and with some extra tree planting thrown in. I know I say this a lot, but this really is the book everyone should read; not preachy, not scary, but stuff we really do need to be aware of and how we can fix it.
Mont Blanc Lines is our Christmas present book, a spectacular coffee table volume with Alex Buisse’s stunning photography documenting the entire region, its climbs and its big ski descents. Hard to do it justice here, as it is indeed hard to take in the majesty of these peaks the first time you see them.
Finally (no.1), we’ve a book to address that awful myth about getting old. Getting old is a good thing, and full of excitement – forget the negativity of anti-ageing creams, lotions and potions, Retirement Rebel is a positive-ageing book. It tells how one woman took her future by the scruff of the neck and went out there and lived it. Huge respect to an author who types the last of her manuscript up in her van, climbs to the top of the highest hill she can see to get reception then emails it to her editor. #vanlife could catch on.
Finally (no.2), The Cold Fix tells the story of how Sara Barnes discovered the joy of cold water immersion in her local Cumbrian tarns, river pools and lakes, and subsequently spent time getting to know other swimmers who share her passion. On her enthralling journey, Sara explores what it is about cold water that proves irresistible to an increasing number of people. I should fess up here though – I won’t be one of those people.
Happy adventures – and massive thanks to you all for your support this year.