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Lancaster publisher talks self-publishing, the history of towns, and technological change

Photo Neil Cross'Carnegie Publishing Ltd, Chatsworth Road, Lancaster
Photo Neil Cross'Carnegie Publishing Ltd, Chatsworth Road, Lancaster

“The smell of new books is amazing.”

Anna Goddard, managing director at Carnegie Publishing in Lancaster, knows more than most how a brand new book feels when it’s hot off the press.

Photo Neil Cross'Carnegie Publishing Ltd, Chatsworth Road, Lancaster''Anna Goddard

Photo Neil Cross'Carnegie Publishing Ltd, Chatsworth Road, Lancaster''Anna Goddard

She’s been a director at the Scotforth based publishing house for 30 years, overseeing the creation of thousands of books – books about history, plants, academia, walking, hotels, towns and cities.

Books about family history and the Industrial Revolution, books on the Lancashire Witches, and countless Lancashire walks. Much of it is self-published by the author, and Anna said “you rarely meet people who aren’t nice”.

“You are left with a view of human nature that is very much a positive one,” she said.

Carnegie was founded in Preston in 1984 by Alistair Hodge, who saw a gap in the market for local publishing.

Photo Neil Cross'Carnegie Publishing Ltd, Chatsworth Road, Lancaster

Photo Neil Cross'Carnegie Publishing Ltd, Chatsworth Road, Lancaster

The company moved to Lancaster in 1997, and is now largely run by Anna and a small team of copy writers, type setters, editors and designers, while Alistair has taken his experience and is now teaching publishing in Derby.

Anna, originally from Birkenhead, said that in the 80s and 90s, there wasn’t much local publishing, and people were “hungry for it”.

She said: “Although we started off publishing books on places very local to us we now publish books about towns, cities and counties all over the country.

“I’m just about to publish a history of Sussex. And we’re doing a history of Reading, and I’m looking for a really good author to do an updated history of Lancaster. We published A History of Liverpool in 2008, it’s a great book, really lively. Books on Liverpool do well. A History of the Midland Hotel has carried on selling, and we do all of Liverpool University Press’ journals and books, which is over 100 publications each year.”

Anna said the self-publishing side of the business is particularly interesting.

“People’s inventiveness is quite impressive,” she said.

“One of the main things that strikes me about the publishing industry is you rarely meet people who aren’t nice. People are doing it with love, they write with love, and I know they get immense pleasure in the whole process.

“And publishing a book is enjoyable, people really do enjoy the process. We still get excited with every book we do.

“Self-publishing can be for friends and family or to try to make a profit. If people are aiming to do the latter we are totally honest with them – only invest what you can afford to lose, because it’s a risky business. I say to people, if you want to write, just write. Writing is an end in itself, whether or not you decide to publish.”

A lot has changed since the company was set up, especially when it comes to technology.

“We initially used printers to lay out the books according to our instructions,” Anna said. “The problem is with that is it’s quite laborious, and printers are not really set up to do book design. Quite a lot still aren’t. So we made a decision to invest in some horrifically expensive equipment to lay out books.

“At that time, if you typed a line of text it would take a minute to repaint. You had to wait for it to absorb the changes.

“But it gave us a lot more control and we became very skilled at book design. And then we realised we had extra capacity in terms of the book production, and that there were people out there who needed those skills. 

“We actively approached various people, smaller publishers, academic presses, and quite a few of them took us on. 

“People also approached us who had written histories of their church or society etc, and they wanted to sell it. We’ve produced a lot of books for people like this over the years.”

But some things have not changed, despite technological advances and the advent of the internet and e-Books.

“The books we publish are highly illustrated. Part of the attraction is the way they look and feel,” Anna said.

“There’s a massive resurgence of the printed format. The two things are happening in tandem...It’s not really affected us and besides which we do e-books as well.”

For those interested in exploring self-publishing, Anna says the company offers decades of publishing experience.

She said: “We can do copy editing, proof reading, page layout, cover design, and we buy the print.  

“All people need to give us are the words and the pictures and we give them the finished book. Some people just want to write a family history, and only want 50 copies, others want thousands to sell. It’s grown gradually and it’s something we really enjoy doing.

“We do produce some books entirely remotely, and deal with people all over the country, but it’s always nice to meet authors.

“People tend to start writing more as the nights get longer, and often for New Year resolutions!”