Alameda Bookshelf: Hunter House Publishers

Alameda Bookshelf: Hunter House Publishers

Kristen Hanlon

Hunter House Publishers was founded in 1978 and has made Alameda their headquarters since 1991. Located in a book-filled suite of offices above the Churchward Pub on Park Street, Hunter House employs seven people, most of them local, and publishes 12-16 self-help titles per year. Publisher Kiran Rana has been at the helm of the press for nearly 30 years. He spoke with The Alamedan recently about the joys and challenges of running a small, independent press. You can visit Hunter House Publications online at http://www.hunterhouse.com/

Please tell me a bit about what led you to the publishing industry and about the genesis of Hunter House Publications.
Hunter House is now 35 years old. The founding group was a small Sufi community, and we regarded publishing as a good way to make a living and support ourselves. Our original location was in Claremont, in Southern California. I was living in Holland, where our Sufi community was based, and I wanted to move to the United States. Hunter House was losing money in the early 1980s, and the guy who was the head of our community asked if I wanted to take over the press because the people who were running it were planning to leave. I said, “Sure, I’ll go over for a year and if I like it, I’ll stay.” I found that I liked being my own boss so much that I stayed.

What prompted the move to Alameda from Southern California?
There isn’t much of a contiguous publishing community in Southern California - it is pretty far-flung down there. There is much more of a publishing community here in the Bay Area, and our longtime distributor, Publishers Group West, is in Berkeley, so moving up here made sense.

How did you perceive the mission of Hunter House when you started, and has that changed much over the years? Who do you see as the main audience for your books?
We’re primarily a self-help publisher, and we define our mission as publishing books that empower people and create change. Our tagline is “Books for health, family, and community.” We publish books on health, personal growth, sexuality, relationships, abuse and violence prevention, and creativity. Most of our books are for a general audience, though in the past we published some books for professionals. One of the things that sustained that part of our list for a long time was a good relationship with the Behavioral Science Book Club, which was in New York. They were the main customer for our professional books, and they went out of business, as have most book clubs.

For a while, we focused on women’s health books, because there wasn’t much of that 25-30 years ago. Hunter House published the first heart health book for women, and we published one of the first alternative menopause books, called Menopause Without Medicine, and for many years it was our bestselling book. One of our first successes was the first book published in the United States about premenstrual syndrome (PMS). At first we got a lot of flack from some feminists for pursuing the idea that this syndrome even existed, but before long there were 150 PMS groups around the country.

How has the publishing business changed over the past few decades?
In the 30 years that I’ve been in the U.S., there have been many changes to the publishing industry. The first big change was the advent of personal computers and desktop publishing. It brought more control into a publisher’s office, but it increased the amount of time spent on production issues. It also shortened the timeline from manuscript to publication.

The next wave was the CD-ROM, which was supposed to be the next big thing in publication. For me, that was an education in seeing how techno-geeks could drive excitement over a new technology to a point that was out of sync with the actual importance of the technology. We were told that CD-ROMs would eventually replace books, and that books were doomed - but all we got out of it was Encarta, the Microsoft encyclopedia. I watched the CD-ROM “revolution” from the sidelines but didn’t trust it, so Hunter House never got involved with that, and I’m glad we didn’t.

The chain bookstores demolishing the independents was another great change for the industry and for communities in general. Bookstores are important to the life of the mind, as are libraries. Borders has gone out of business after demolishing countless community bookstores. Barnes and Noble has not done too well the past few years. I believe in the end some independent bookstores will come back. They will need a different model - e-book delivery, printing books on-site – but some form of bookstore will definitely come back.

Amazon has grown to the point that they sell everything under the sun. They have a clout that is out of all proportion to what I see as appropriate in a trade. He (Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon.com) has done some wonderful things, even for the book trade, but Amazon now dictates terms that are not always friendly to publishers. Amazon has been a huge game changer for the industry. The advent of e-books is big change as well. Currently, e-books are about 20 percent of our sales.

As an information publisher, libraries are very important to us. They have always been a big part of our sales. In recent years, due to budget cuts, libraries have been buying fewer books, but they remain an important customer for Hunter House.

What current or upcoming books from Hunter House are you particularly excited about?
I’m excited about all of them! Our current bestseller, More Anti-Inflammation Diet Tips and Recipes, by Jessica K. Black, ND, was released just a few months ago. It is a sequel to her earlier book, The Anti-Inflammation Diet & Recipe Book, which we published in 2006. We also just released The Cookie Book, a unique take on female sexuality by South African author Maritza Breitenbach, and X That Ex: Making a Clean Break When It’s Over, by Kristin Carmichael, LISW.

We’re also releasing Writing from Within: The Next Generation with a supplement and workbook to go with it. This is in honor of the 25th anniversary of our publishing Bernard Selling’s Writing from Within: A Unique Guide to Writing Your Life Stories, which has sold over 65,000 copies and is now in its third edition.

A book we published recently that garnered a lot of attention is The Caregiving Wife’s Handbook: Caring for Your Seriously Ill Husband, Caring for Yourself, by Dina Denholm, PhD, LMHC, which is a book for women who are the long-term caregivers of their partners and husbands.

Where do you see the press going in the next 10 years?
One part me hopes that I find the right person to take over gradually. There are a lot of other things I’d like to do that are on hold. There’s a part of me that feels we need to be a little more nimble in terms of changes in technology and adapting to a new kind of reader. There are also people who can’t access the Web, so we need to look at how we can serve them. As a small publisher, we are also always looking for niches where big publishers are not there to crowd us out. The Internet and e-books have leveled the playing field a bit, but things are in flux. My personal interests make me want to broaden the focus of the press while continuing to feed and maintain our core areas.

The chapter linked below is excerpted with permission from Cue Cards for Life © 2013 by Christina Steinorth, MA, MFT. All rights reserved. Published by Hunter House, http://www.hunterhouse.com.

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