Top Jamaican publisher seeks exposure for ‘new generation’ of Guyanese writers

By Michael Jordan

Jamaican businessman Ian Randle of Ian Randle Publishers Ltd

Some of Guyana’s new talented writers may soon find exposure in the Caribbean, and even further afield. The individual they’ll have to thank for that is veteran Jamaican publisher Ian Randle, the force behind one of the oldest and most respected publishing companies in the Caribbean.
Ian Randle Publishers Ltd has been publishing mainly scholarly and academic books for some 33 years, and is said to be the first English language publisher of scholarly books in the Caribbean. But Randle, who describes himself as “a risk taker”, is now making a foray into fiction and non-fiction.
And what better place to start than Guyana?
“Ian Randle Publishing is not known for publishing fiction, but given the literary upsurge that is taking place across the Caribbean, it seems to me this upsurge needs to find an outlet, and I see it as an opportunity that is worth investigating. In the short time I’ve been here, I have made myself available to potential authors who have works, fiction and non-fiction, for which they are seeking a publisher,” Randle told Guyana Times during a brief visit here.
“These (persons) include the winners of the Guyana Prize For Literature, which covers fiction and non-fiction. Given the reputation the Prize has developed and the people who have been the judges, it stands to reason that the prize winners over the last few years is a good place to start that search,” he explained.
“I’ve had very encouraging meetings (with some writers), and I have already asked my office to send out author questionnaires to people I have met here. It (the questionnaire) really is the document that triggers our consideration of any work. We ask every author to complete this questionnaire. It’s structured in a way that is meant to answer all the questions…for you to basically sell us your idea; because if you can’t sell us your idea, how are we going to sell our readers the idea?” he explained.
“The questionnaire is vital. One element is that it asks questions that go straight to the heart of our decision-making, which is (the book’s) intrinsic value as well as its marketability, and we do take on a boom based on that questionnaire. The information we get forms the basis of our marketing plan,” he divulged.
“I’m a risk-taker, but my risks are always calculated; and I wouldn’t consider this venture if I didn’t think it would be successful,” he declared.
Profit is not the sole motivation, Randle insists.
“The motivation is not to make a lot of money. Having done this for so long, with so few doing it, I feel a sort of obligation in giving exposure to writers from across the Caribbean. I have never seen myself as a Jamaican, but as a Caribbean publisher who is based in Jamaica. In fact, our mantra says ‘from the Caribbean, to the world,’ not ‘from Jamaica to the world’. If we don’t do it, who is going to? I’ve been in publishing for 55 years, and I would like to think I’m the most experienced and active publisher in the region. I think that carries with it a kind of obligation not only to fill the gaps, but also to give exposure to a new generation of writers, both young and old,” he explained.
But these new works are not likely to appear on bookshelves this year, since there are many other publications that Randle Publishing Ltd. is already committed to publishing in 2024.

Started as a job
Randle was born in Green Island, Hanover Parish, Jamaica in 1949. He studied for a Special Honours degree in history at the Mona campus of the University of the West Indies, Jamaica, and later for an MSc in international politics at the University of Southampton, UK, on a Commonwealth scholarship.
“I had no career ambitions of being a publisher. I started it as a job, and simply stayed with it. Maybe it’s part of my personality, why I’m still in publishing, in that I don’t change easily. I was recruited straight out my undergraduate degree programme at UWI to take up a twin job; to be a representative in the Caribbean for a British educational publishing firm, Ginn and Company, (which no longer exists) that was active in the Caribbean in the sixties and seventies.
That company had also just become involved in setting up a Caribbean publishing operation called Caribbean Universities Press, which was based in Barbados, and its first books were of Caribbean history,” Randall disclosed.
“I started out in a dual role of being a representative for a British textbook company, to do their marketing, and at the same time to be a Caribbean editor for a publishing operation.
From there I left for Heinemann (Publishing Company) which was a secondary text book operation that was also producing literary work, notably the Caribbean Writers Series. I was in text book publishing for 25 years, then I left and started my own company in 1990,” he explained.

Tough beginning
“It was extremely difficult to get started. The year 1991 was a difficult economic time in Jamaica. There was a financial crisis, and to borrow money, interest rates were extremely high. I had no money, but what I had was a reputation which I had developed over 25 years in publishing. It was my greatest asset, so much so that when I announced to colleagues in the US and UK that I was starting this operation, one publisher in the US offered me a deal to publish a book, so that on the day I opened as Ian Randle Publishing Ltd., I published my first book. Reputation and goodwill are as vital as cash,” he declared.
Randle’s reputation as a distinguished publisher has earned him awards, including the Prince Claus Award in 2012 and the Bocas Henry Swanzy Award for distinguished service to Caribbean letters in 2019.