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Back To Press: Burford Books Works (Others') Backlists
Judy Quinn -- 7/26/99

Cats and Mount Everest -- both popular topics in bookstores -- featured in books written by Doris Lessing and Jan Morris should qualify as publishing no-brainers, right? Perhaps, but it's taken the brains of Peter Burford, publisher of the two-year-old Springfield, N.J. -- based small press Burford Books, to realize it.

Burford has just concluded reprint deals to acquire Particularly Cats, Lessing's collection of essays about the felines in her life published by S&S in 1967 and reprinted by Knopf in 1991, and Coronation Everest, Morris's account of accompanying the 1953 Hillary expedition, originally published by Dutton in 1958. Both books will be published by Burford Books (distributed by National Book Network) as $14.95 trade paperbacks, Coronation Everest in April 2000, Particularly Cats the following month.

"I remember thinking 'Cats would sell,' and 'I wonder if the Lessing on the spine is THE Lessing,' " recalled Burford about his discovery of Particularly Cats at his local library. It was, and Burford proceeded to work out a deal with Lessing's agent, Brie Burkeman, only to find out at the eleventh hour that although the book had gone out of print, the paperwork on the rights reversion from Knopf wasn't in order. A process that began in October 1998 concluded only last month.

Knowing about Morris's eventual gender switch was a tip-off for Burford's acquisition of Coronation Everest. When he came across the book at a New York City used bookstore, he noted that the author was "James Morris," and wondered if it was early work by Jan. It was, and Burford tracked Morris down in Wales, and eventually concludedg a deal via e-mail.

In both cases, Burford's editions will have new material. Particularly Cats will include Lessing's "The Old Age of El Magnifico," an essay about the decline of a beloved cat that was not in the original book and has never before published in the U.S. Morris will write a new foreword and may also be available to do radio promos at the time of the book's re-release.

Burford has hopes for initial sales of some 5000 copies each, then decent backlist, for these titles -- a level he (if not a larger trade house) can make a profit on. It's a type of publishing success he's achieved before, most notably with his recent reprints of Burke Davis's Civil War biographies They Called Him Stonewall (Holt, 1954) and Gray Fox: Robert E. Lee and the Civil War (Holt 1956). And Burford is not immune to the current WWII fever, either: this September he's publishing Company Commander, former Army historian Charles MacDonald's account of the Battle of the Bulge that was first published by Infantry Journal Press in 1947 and reprinted by Bantam in 1978.