After finally winning permission in May from the Canadian government to publish Canadian books, rather than just marketing titles from the U.S. and U.K., Simon & Schuster Canada is gearing up to release its first domestic list under the direction of Kevin Hanson. An industry veteran who has headed the company for the last eight years as president, Hanson was appointed publisher as well earlier this month. Along with Alison Clarke, who was promoted to associate publisher, and Phyllis Bruce, who has been named editor of Phyllis Bruce Editions, Hanson will work to acquire books for S&S’s new Canadian publishing program.
Its first list for this fall is small—just three books—but Hanson pointed out that the government only lifted the restriction against S&S Canada publishing Canadian books a couple of months ago. (S&S had been forbidden to publish Canadian books under foreign-investment rules intended to protect Canadian cultural industries from being overwhelmed by foreign-owned companies; Random House, Penguin, and HarperCollins were all established in Canada early enough to be grandfathered out of the restriction.) “I’m really proud of the three [titles]we’re going to market with,” said Hanson, adding that the list will grow organically over time. He hopes that Canadian authors such as Robert Rotenberg and Kevin Sylvester, whom he has directed to Simon & Schuster in the U.S. in recent years, will migrate back across the border for subsequent contracts.
In fact, S&S Canada worked with the house’s U.S. division to acquire North American rights to two of the titles in the list before the restriction against a Canadian publishing program was lifted. One, slated for November, was written by the current Canadian prime minister, Stephen Harper. The name of the book has yet to be announced, but Hanson said it is about the history of hockey, the rise of professional hockey, and the beginnings of the Toronto Maple Leafs. “That will be one of the first books that we have on our Simon & Schuster Canada list, which is an auspicious beginning I think,” said Hanson.
The second book, titled A House in the Sky, is a memoir by Amanda Lindhout, a young Canadian journalist who was kidnapped in Somalia in 2008 and held in captivity there for 15 months. It will be published throughout North America in September. “I’m really convinced that A House in the Sky is a book that people in reading groups in Canada and around the world are going to be reading for a long, long time,” said Hanson, adding that there has already been a lot of media interest in the U.S. and in Canada.
The third book in the list is an ambitious debut novel from Toronto writer Ian Thornton. The Great and Calamitous Tale of Johan Thoms is a historical novel about the chauffeur of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, set on the day when the archduke was assassinated in Sarajevo. “That starts us off on this adventure with Johan, who, after this assassination, feels that he’s caused the beginning of World War I,” noted Hanson. The publisher said he fell in love with the book as soon as he received it from Westwood Creative Artists agency.
Even though S&S Canada had been prevented from publishing Canadian books, the company has been expanding its sales and marketing capacity in Canada. Hanson said that when he joined S&S Canada in 2005, it was doing about 12 author tours a year; now there are about 80. “To find an audience, authors need that kind of support these days. In our program, there’s going to be a lot of author care, a lot of author publicity and support on that front,” he said. “I think we’ve proven that we can build bestsellers in Canada,” he added, mentioning author Kate Morton as an example. Her books have sold between 400,000 and 500,000 copies in Canada.
S&S entered the Canadian market when it bought Distican in 2002. Hanson said the company respected the limitations that the Canadian Department of Heritage placed on the sale, but in 2010 the government opened up a review of its foreign-investment policy for publishing. “We made it very clear at that time that not only did we want to invest in Canada and Canadian authors and in our own team here at Simon & Schuster Canada,” said Hanson, “but that it was good for the marketplace itself to give authors choice as to who they could be published by.” The merger of Penguin and Random House may also have helped S&S Canada get into publishing. “I think that the timing was right,” said Hanson. “The number of choices for authors in Canada has been mitigated over the last number of years by the demise of some of the medium-sized publishing companies here, and consolidation has exacerbated that, so I think our emergence is a very good thing and a healthy thing for the Canadian sector.”
Even though Hanson’s background is in sales and marketing, he is excited about acquiring and helping to build the Canadian publishing program.
“Publishing is about finding stories and believing in writers, and that happens on the editorial side, but it also happens in the publicity area, in the marketing area, in the sales area, in the production area, in the design area,” he said. “I’ve been a champion of authors from around the world in Canada. Now I’m happy to be able to, in part, become that champion for Canadian writers, which is something I’ve always wanted to do here at Simon & Schuster.”