By Freddie Catalfo
Business Digest, September 1984
Words and pictures are two of the most important elements in Peter Randall’s life. Combining these with a great affection for northern New England and New Hampshire’s Seacoast region in particular, he is finding success as an author, photographer and especially, book publisher.
Randall’s love of the written word began with his involvement with publications during high school. After graduating from the University of New Hampshire in 1964, he became editor of the Hampton Union newspaper in Hampton. A year and a half later, seeking a new challenge and greater responsibility, Randall joined the staff of New Hampshire Profiles magazine where he stayed for 10 years serving as editor the last seven. While at the magazine, he began working on books, primarily reprints and local histories. In 1976, Randall started working for himself full time as a professional photographer and book production service.
“The first book I produced was Ray Brighton’s biography of Frank Jones (a famous Portsmouth brewer during the late 19th century),” he recounts. “Since that time I’ve probably put together 50 to 60 books, including seven of my own.” Most of these are local histories and guidebooks which are distributed through Downeast Books of Camden, Maine. Mail order is one of the primary systems of distribution and advertising. He also produces a wide variety of other types of books, including genealogies, books of photographs, biographies, poetry, tourist guide books, calendars and Americana. “I’ve been involved with more than half the local books in some stores,” he says with pride.
Randall assists the author in all aspects of book production. This includes helping to define and focus the book in the early stages, carrying it through design and printing and often assisting with distribution. “I sometimes deal with inexperienced writers,” he says. “I make sure that it’s researched properly and I make suggestions. Theoretically, I don’t help write the book though I do copy editing, which means catching spelling mistakes and inconsistencies. Every book is different. I approach it by asking, ‘What is the author trying to say?’ I have been an author and have dealt with the publisher before so I can provide a good perspective for a new author.
Though most Peter E. Randall Publisher projects are of some local historical significance. The company is approached by a diverse selection of clients. This includes non-profit historical societies such as the Portsmouth Marine Society and town governments, often in connection with anniversary celebrations, which ask Randall to select a researcher/author, choose appropriate photographs and illustrations and carry the entire project through. He also does the majority of cover designs
Another major portion of his business is local autobiographies.
“One of the things I find particularly enjoyable is working with older people who have lived interesting lives and want to leave a record of what they’ve done,” he says. A typical order for these memoirs may be about 350 copies which are produced for about $8 each. These are mostly cloth-bound, several hundred pages in length and may include photographs, drawings and maps. Production costs vary but, typically, local histories are produced for $10 to $12 for a hardcover copy with jacket. Randall gives a complete project price to the writer (who pays for production) and may also make suggestions to keep costs down. For instance, he may suggest using word processing instead going with a smaller format size. Production time is generally about three months from the time the manuscript is turned in.
For what would seem to be a fairly limited market, sales have been going well for books published by Peter Randall. “There is a strong local market for these types of books,” he says. “Portsmouth has quite a few literary minded individuals. One thousand copies seem to sell pretty well. Tourist books (such as Randall’s own guide book on the Isles of Shoals are easier to sell because they are priced less. ”Histories such as Richard E. Winslow’s The Piscastaqua Gundalow, a book about a unique type of local boat building, sells for $17.95 as opposed to under $10.00 for tourist books.
“The vast majority of authors I’ve worked with have at least broken even.” Says Randall. “Some people spend money on it as a hobby and have something to show for it. They have to be able to say, “I’ve got something to say that someone should pay to read.” People come in and want to have 5,000 copies. We talk potential and market. It’s hard to sell books.”
Randall’s biggest seller has been one of his own, New Hampshire’s Four Seasons, featuring 180 of his full-color photographs. First published in 1979, the book has sold over 12,000 copies. Five thousand more have just been printed.
Peter Randall’s love of the region is very strong and so are his values and opinions in regard to the area. “My children are the 12th generation of my family to live in Hampton. It’s hard to beat this area – proximity to major cities, recreation, education. Portsmouth is lively in arts, literature and music. The major problem is uncontrolled growth. Many people coming in development. I’m concerned about the environment and I’ve been involved with conservation.”
In addition to publishing, writing and photography, for books, Peter Randall recently photographed and produced a 1984 New Hampshire calendar as well as popular postcards of the area. However, not all of his projects are quite so close to home. March and April found him in projects for the United Nations. He will be producing a booklet, poster and slide program showing the kinds of work women in Africa do with fish. People involved with the project knew that Randall could create the publications, which will be distributed in Nairobi in 1985 at a conference marking the end of the International Decade for Women. His photographs have also appeared in Sports Illustrated, Geo and U.S. News & World Report.
“There is no one in the area, probably not many even in New England, who does what I do. There are graphic designers and printers but no one who has the background to deal with the manuscript and bring it out as a book a few months later. I like to be able to take something in rough shape and help the author. I’m constantly amazed at the number of opportunities to do books in the Seacoast. The small town helps. People get to know you.”
Peter Randall’s pride and commitment to the beauty and history of the area can be seen in the quality of his work. He remains a true chronicler of New England and is helping others to do the same.