Peter Randall goes by the book

by Charles Brereton

New Hampshire Business Review, December 1984

Reprinted with permission of the New Hampshire Business Review

Peter Randall

Peter Randall has been involved in the production of more books -- over 60 -- than some people read in a year. Since 1970 he has worked on the production and publication of books dealing with history, Americana, biography, poetry, and genealogy, among other subjects.

Randall is a native of the Granite State and he says book production did not become a part of his life until fairly recently. He was editor of New Hampshire Profiles magazine in the 1970s, when he became involved in reprinting the history of Hampton.

"My interest in doing reprints at the time was primarily to make rare books available to the average individual," he said. "The history of Hampton was selling at that time for almost $200 a set."

This book producer divides his work into several areas. He's a subsidy publisher, meaning "an individual could come to me if they want their book done. It may be a book of poems; it may be a book of photographs. He also works with organizations to help them create books and Randall is involved with what he calls "book packaging." "If someone comes to me with an idea for a book which I think is saleable to a traditional book publisher, then I work with them to create an idea to create their manuscript at the same time I'm representing them as an agent."

A 1963 graduate of the University of New Hampshire with a major in history, Randall has worked as a reporter, photographer and editor for a number of New Hampshire publications. His photographic work has appeared in national publications.

Now working out of an office that overlooks the Piscataqua River in Portsmouth after years of using his home on Mace Road in Hampton, Randall discussed some of the roadblocks one has to endure in becoming established as a book producer.

"I think to start a business you need a certain amount of money. I've always been undercapitalized," he said. Another drawback: "I don't think I charged people enough when I was first starting out. I was willing to work too inexpensively, and I think that's a problem a lot of people have who work in personal services."

The service Randall provides in producing a book includes copying-editing, design and all technical production details from typesetting to printing and binding. If need be he will also assist in the promotion and marketing of the publication.

Because he can trace his roots as far back as 12 generations of the Chase family of Hampton and five generations of Randalls in the town of Seabrook -- where he was born -- it's no surprise Randall has been involved in a host of books involving New Hampshire and it's history.

Besides the History of Hampton Randall has produced reprints of histories of communities in New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Maine as well as books on the White Mountains, the Isles of Shoals, gardening and the architectural heritage of the region.

Reprints he has published include the History of the First New Hampshire Regiment in the Revolution, and Annuals of Portsmouth, Belknap's New Hampshire and Exeter in 1830 and Exeter in 1776.

One of the attractions of reprinting books is that the writing and typesetting have both already been done. An additional advantage is that reprint usually does not have to create a market in the same manner a new publication does.

Randall illustrated the demand for one such reprint "I worked with an historical organization -- I guess I won't say where the town was in Massachusetts -- for a reprint of a local history. And we've done two printings of the book, and they've made a profit of pretty close to $20,000 just on the reprint.

"Randall calls upon several local typesetting businesses within the state. For his printing work he uses firms in New Hampshire, Maine and Michigan.

The most successful book he has been involved with in his own, New Hampshire's Four Seasons published in 1979, which is in its third printing. The book features 180 photographs of the countryside, towns and people of the state.

The reprinting of a town history that has long been out of print might present a problem. Rare book dealers might look askance at a product that could undercut the value of books that often bring hundreds of dollars.

But Randall said such problems don't arise. "I have a lot of friends who are rare book dealers and we jest about this sometimes. They never sell their books to the public; they just sell their books to another dealer who sells them to another dealer."

"Usually people who want rare books want the book because it's a rare book -- for tradition or it is in fact a rare book. If I do a reprint it's almost like its another book. It's not the same book."

A reprint often has some new features such as an introduction the original lacked. Some photographs could be included for the first time and often an index is introduced as well.

Many of Randall's books are about the Seacoast. He is assisting the Portsmouth Marine Society in the production of four works sponsored by this group, which seeks to preserve and advance the knowledge of an activity that has been at the heart of the development of New Hampshire's first settlement.

Other books for which Randall has been the author and photographer include All Creation and Isles of Shoals, published in 1980; a photo guide entitled Portsmouth and the Piscataqua, published in 1982; 115 Country Inns in New Hampshire and Vermont, also published in 1982; and Mount Washington: A Short History and Guide. Described as the only guidebook for the casual visitor to the highest mountains in the northeast, Mount Washington is distributed by the University Press of New England and was published in 1974.