Publishers of books that change lives

25 Years On – Rex Finch

In 2001 The Sun-Herald magazine ran a front cover story: Why modern men need Rex Finch. Open the pages and the article begins… ”Among Bookshop shelves groaning with guides to good parenting and healthy relationships, one publisher stands alone.” Not bad for a business started in his front room. 16 years on from that front page and 25 years since the start of Finch Publishing, Rex Finch reflects on what has been a wild ride in Australian Publishing.

In 1992, after nearly 20 years working in publishing, the only way I would have set up my own business was if I lost my position as Publisher at Doubleday. And, lo and behold, that’s what happened. I set up in late 1992 in the front room at home – with a lovely little family but no spare money.

So for two years I produced books for other publishers and a range of self-publishing authors. My then wife Vicki managed the bookkeeping in the evenings after work.

The concept behind the business was that it would be a backlist nonfiction publishing house with a narrow band of categories: parenting, child care, health, relationships and social issues. These were the genres I felt most comfortable with in those days. They were also reasonably reliable in terms of sales and I believed we had a distinctive Australian voice, especially in contrast with the UK and the US.

During that time, I had signed up Steve Biddulph who had an excitingly different manuscript, ‘A Handbook of Men’s Liberation’ – which we published in 1994 as Manhood. At that time the market was focused on books for women – and so this book was seen as a ‘brave’ proposition. However, Manhood received good reviews and reports from the trade indicated that women were buying it 9:1 over men. They knew only too well the struggles that many men in their lives were having. As testament to that, we sold 40,000 copies in the first 18 months, and then changed the cover and sold another 40,000 copies in the following 9 months. It was during that second phase that retailers saw a significant change – men buying multiple copies for friends.

Finch Publishing operated out of the front room at home for the first 7 years, and only published another two books in the two years following Manhood. Everything was freelanced. However, once we began work on Steve Biddulph’s Raising Boys we were dealing with tight schedules, first-class freelancers (editing, design, printing and publicity) and the need to fund a big printrun. In September 1997 we released Raising Boys to a public that had been promoted to for up to a year at Steve’s national talks. It literally took off, and we received widespread publicity. At one point we were reprinting monthly in 20,000 copy batches at a time.

Both Manhood (1994) and Raising Boys (1997) went on to become constant sellers across the decades. By late 1999 we realised we needed staff – and so we moved out of the front room and found ourselves an office and a strong publishing program.

Fast forward to 2008: we had a developed a strong list of 75 titles and a small 4-person team in-house. There was much humour and chat and a never-ending bucket load of work. All good fun though. Over the years it seemed our best mix was always a marketing and publicity person, an editorial manager, a bookkeeper and myself (commissioning, foreign rights and carrying boxes down to the post office before closing!).

Our list still reflected the core genres – but by then they had grown and become specialised: childcare, parenting, women’s health, men’s health, teenage health, relationships & society and social ecology (this last one was a synthesis of all my interests).

The business in 2017 (25 years down the track) is a slimmer operation, with reduced retail sales, fewer foreign rights, and a strong focus on digital media. We’ve had to accommodate regularly to changes in the book market, and move adroitly in tight times. However, the biggest achievement is that we still get excited by new books for our list and we have an office full of laughter to balance the hard work. Our team of part-time staff works well together and we continue to build a list we are proud of.