One year ago, Mike Bryan arrived in Toronto to take up his new position as president of Penguin Group Canada. It was far from an ideal circumstance to begin a new job. He was stepping into the company in the wake of star president David Davidar’s dismissal amid allegations of sexual harassment. But in spite of that turbulent starting point, Bryan says Penguin Canada had its best year ever in 2010 and hopes that success will continue this year.
What made 2010 such a good year for Penguin when book sales in Canada were down generally? “We had everything going for us,” acknowledges Bryan. “We had the three Larsson books, the Millennium trilogy, selling like mad. We had Neil Pasricha’s The Book of Awesome, selling like mad, and we had Eat, Pray, Love on the bestseller lists.”
It’s a tough year to follow, he admits. But he says 2011 had a “storming start,” partly because the titles of the previous year carried on, but the list also included The King’s Speech by Mark Logue, which got a big boost when the film won the Oscar for Best Picture. Penguin also has a hit in commercial fiction with Canadian author D J MacIntosh’s Witch of Babylon. “The author is being hailed everywhere as the Canadian Dan Brown, which is fantastic. And we are seeing great physical sales and e-book sales on her book,” says Bryan. A debut Canadian novel, The Bride of New France by Suzanne Desrochers, was another highlight of the spring.
Bryan’s expectations for a good fall season are similarly based on the books. “We’re very excited on the literary side of things—we’ve got [2010 Giller winner] Johanna Skibsrud coming [This Will Be Difficult to Explain and Other Stories]. We’ve got Amitav Ghosh’s [River of Smoke] coming out. Amitav will be coming up to Canada and promoting it.” Penguin can also look forward to the last of Larsson’s trilogy coming out in paperback and a film of the first book being released before Christmas. The company is also benefiting from another movie tie-in. Kathryn Stockett’s The Help sold more than 550,000 copies over the summer and 30,000 a week after the film came out. “We think that’s going to be the book of the fall, really,” he says.
Bryan also had to steer the Penguin Canada ship for most of his first year without the assistance of publisher Nicole Winstanley, who was on a year’s maternity leave. Now that the two have been working together for the past month, Winstanley says, “It is already clear that he brings a fresh and international perspective to Canadian publishing. And his international sales background is invaluable as we watch the market change and shift with each passing day.”
Having worked with Bryan throughout the year, Yvonne Hunter, vice-president, publicity and marketing, says, “Mike has become part of the Canadian company—and indeed the Canadian industry— with remarkable ease, and he brings us 30 years of experience with Penguin in various parts of the world. He is genuinely one of the company’s greatest brand ambassadors, and his enthusiasm for the brand is infectious.”