Specialities of the house

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Grub Street's approach to its two specialities has given it a distinctive place in the market</p><p>
The accepted wisdom in the book industry is that to be a successful small publisher you have to find a niche. Few would understand the term niche to embrace cookery, a genre that includes some of the biggest selling authors in the UK. Yet Grub Street, which has been publishing for 10 years and was a packager for the previous 10, has found success with a kind of cookery publishing neglected by its larger rivals. In 2000, it beat a number of those rivals to the title of International Cookery Publisher of the Year.</p><p>
Grub Street's cookery titles are mostly not glossy and laden with stylised pictures, and not written by television personalities. They are literate, authoritative works of the kind that Elizabeth David and Jane Grigson used to produce.</p><p>
Indeed, hardback reissues of David and Grigson titles feature on the list: from the former, there is Spices, Salt and Aromatics in the English Kitchen (&#163;12.99, 19023 04667), as well as Elizabeth David Classics (&#163;16.99, 1902304276), a compendium featuring Mediterranean Food, French Country Cooking and Summer Cooking; from the latter, Charcuterie and French Pork Cookery.</p><p>
Grub Street is run by the husband and wife team of John Davies and Anne Dolamore. Davies looks after their second speciality: military history, particularly aviation. Dolamore runs the cookery list.</p><p>
Both specialities take up more than the couple's office hours. Davies spends a good deal of his time at shows and other events. Dolamore is active in food circles: she is a past chair of the Guild of Food Writers, sits on the European Committee of the International Association of Culinary Professionals, and is chair of the Sustainable Food Chains Working Party. She is a keen cook, and also the author of The Essential Olive Oil Companion (&#163;12.99, 1902304187).</p><p>
Grub Street has won acclaim especially for its titles on national and regional cuisines. Among them are Catalan Cuisine (&#163;14.99, 1898697760) by Colman Andrews, Sicilian Food (&#163;14.99, 1902304179) by Mary Taylor Simeti, Lebanese Cuisine (&#163;12.99, 1898697639) by AnissaHelou and Food of Japan (&#163;17.99, 1902404160) by Shirley Booth. A lead title this autumn is a culinary history, Colin Spencer's British Food (October, &#163;25, 1904010164).</p><p>
The company has also spotted the potential in reissuing backlist gems, such as the David and Grigson titles and Margaret Costa's Four Seasons Cookery Book (&#163;12.99, 1902304209). "It's becoming more difficult to get hold of titles like these," Dolamore admits. "The big publishers are starting to want them too."</p><p>
A third speciality is healthy eating books: food for those taking care of their hearts, for diabetics, for those with wheat allergies, and for migraine sufferers.</p><p>
Meanwhile, Davies' list includes biographies of flying aces of the First and Second World Wars: among them is David Ross' life (out in paperback next month, &#163;12.99, 1904010032) of Richard Hillary, who was one of the three subjects of Sebastian Faulks' The Fatal Englishman. Many distinguished airmen are themselves on the list. Recent titles released in paperback include Wing Commander R W F Sampson's Spitfire Offensive (&#163;9.99, 19023 04845), described by Aviation News as "Yet another Grub Street success", and Wing Commander Patrick Gibbs' Torpedo Leader on Malta (&#163;9.99, 1902304837), which the Daily Telegraph called "an adrenaline-charged account".</p><p>
To the question of whether it is hard to be a small publisher at present, Dolamore replies that it has always been challenging. Some developments in the market over the past 10 years have been helpful; others have presented new obstacles.</p><p>
"The arrival of Internet bookselling and Amazon.co.uk has been hugely beneficial for us. We never have any trouble getting coverage and reviews; the problem is making sure the books are out there. Now people who see the coverage are no more than a click away from buying our books. You can be as large as HarperCollins or as small as Grub Street, and no one need know the difference."</p><p>
The challenge comes in maintaining channels to the bookselling chains. "Our turnover is up with Waterstone's, thanks to core stock selections," Dolamore says. "But because there are only a few branches that will see our reps, I don't think we're selling what we could of new books." Dolamore describes Ottakar's as "supportive, even though they buy through wholesalers". Wholesalers themselves have been "very supportive".</p><p>
Another headache for a business of this size is its exposure to third parties. Grub Street was hit hard last year by the collapse of Bailey Distribution, and is still campaigning for the return of an &#163;84,000 debt, to which the National Westminster Bank claims title. </p><p>
Grub Street has since moved to Littlehampton Book Services, which was "tremendously helpful to us". "Fortunately," Dolamore adds, "we've had a very good year, and a number of deals brought some cash back in."</p><p>
The company operates from the same small office in Clapham, south London, it occupied 10 years ago. Dolamore and Davies have two assistants: Louise King and, replacing the just-departed Dominic Busby, a new appointee to be announced.</p><p>
Whatever the next 10 years bring for the couple, it is unlikely to be an expanded empire. In the ways that count the most--job satisfaction, a close involvement with books and authors--the size of Grub Street suits them. Dolamore says, "We don't want to end up as personnel managers."</p><p>
Nicholas Clee</p>