While the Canadian news headlines have painted a rather dark picture of the country’s publishing scene, those working in the market insist things are not as gloomy as the general media has portrayed. In fact, interviews with leading industry figures found a number of bright spots. Of course, the landscape of Canadian publishing, like that of publishing around the world, was changed by the Penguin–Random House merger. It’s too soon to say what aftershocks may follow or what the effects may be on publishing in this market of 34 million (20% of which is a mostly separate francophone market), but changes are sure to come at the country’s largest trade house.
The most troubling development over the past 12 months has been the demise of several prominent independent publishers—D&M Publishers, McArthur & Co., and Robert Kennedy Publishing. Further worry was caused when Thomas Allen & Son sold its Canadian boutique publishing arm, Thomas Allen Publishers, and as part of shifts in strategy at their parent companies, both John Wiley & Sons and Oxford University Press announced that they were closing their Canadian trade publishing divisions.
According to BookNet Canada figures released in June, Canadian first-quarter print sales were down last year by about 11%. Many publishers attribute the drop in their domestic sales to the dominant chain in Canada, Indigo Books & Music, having made a big leap last year to diversify into designer gift and lifestyle products, leaving significantly less room for books. Indigo CEO Heather Reisman described the move as a survival strategy, and many publishers acknowledge that an Indigo ordering fewer books is still better than having it go the way of Borders. Nevertheless, the cuts have gone deep and have hurt publishers, and there are fewer independent booksellers to step into the void.
But looking beyond the headlines and talking with publishers, one finds many views of the Canadian landscape are surprisingly sunlit. Noah Genner, CEO of BookNet, acknowledges that the firm’s quarterly numbers don’t tell the whole story. As both BookNet’s June report and the most recent quarterly report from Indigo reminded readers, 2012 sales figures included the large sales spikes from the Fifty Shades and Hunger Games trilogies. “When we look at the whole market . . . those big titles really can skew things,” Genner says. “So individual publishers, such as a Canadian-owned independent publisher, could be having a great year, and the market could still be down.”
Indeed, most of the publishers who spoke to PW for this report were remarkably upbeat about sales that were as good as last year’s or in many cases better. Previous anxieties about e-books also seemed to be generally allayed as average e-book sales seem to be stable at about 17% or revenue. Although they are still growing, they are no longer tripling as they did at first.
While the big story in retail is undoubtedly Indigo’s reduced book inventory and the ways publishers are coping with it, there has also been some good news in the form of Target migrating north and opening up stores and bookselling opportunities across the country. Target doesn’t take the place of independent booksellers, says ECW Press copublisher David Caron. “We can put our Taylor Swift book into Target, but that’s the not the fiction or poetry title that the independent would have sold well.” Nevertheless, Caron says ECW is adapting and building relationships with stores such as Costco, Wal-Mart, and Target, both in Canada and the U.S. “We’re learning more about what works there,” Caron says, along with what doesn’t. Costco Canada, in particular, does a good job of picking stores for a regional title, he says. “We’ve seen big sales through a small number of stores when they do that.”
In spite of challenges, Caron says publishing in Canada is healthier than it is reported to be. “There’s a perception in mainstream media that the book publishing industry is ‘beleaguered’ because that’s what people have been writing for the past three years, so that’s what people think. I would say the only rough year was two years ago, and it wasn’t because of e-books, it was because of Borders.” For ECW, he says, sales are up over last year, and last year was up over the year before that.
But even among the headlines there have been signs of growth—new players both big and small entering the market, publishers acquiring other houses or at least their lists, companies expanding in new directions, and even silver linings to the dark clouds of some of the closures.
Of course, much of (new and established) publishers’ confidence is tied to their passionate belief in the books they are publishing, but they are also finding successful strategies—both innovative and old-fashioned—to bring those books to the attention of readers, even as the familiar ground of bookselling shifts beneath their feet in a digital and online world. Read on for a closer look at where Canadian confidence and optimism is coming from.
Penguin Random House
In spite of competing interests, the Canadian publishing community is a small and generally collegial one. That collegiality seemed apparent when PW met with the people at the top of the newly integrated Penguin Random House. President and CEO Brad Martin, executive v-p and executive publisher of the McClelland & Stewart/Doubleday Canada Publishing Group Kristin Cochrane, and executive v-p and executive publisher of the Knopf Random House Canada Publishing Group Louise Dennys gathered in a conference room at the Random House offices at 1 Toronto Street, along with Nicole Winstanley, president and publisher of Penguin Group Canada, who had commuted downtown from Penguin’s office at Yonge Street and Eglinton Avenue East. A theme of playful competition threaded its way through the conversation.
“Nicole has the biggest book of the fall,” Martin announces early on.
Orr: My Story, Bobby Orr’s memoir, Winstanley agrees, is going to be huge. Published jointly in the U.S. with Putnam, the book “is everything that everybody has ever wanted to know about the hockey legend,” she says. “From his early days in Parry Sound, Ont., slapping a puck up against a stone wall, to losing everything—his ability to play because of a knee injury to the Eagleson scandal, which he has long declined to speak about—to his life as an agent and his views on the game and the way it is played today.”
But later, when the conversation turns to the Knopf Canada list, Martin acknowledges that Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield’s book, An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth, might also be a contender to be the biggest book of the fall.
“Who’s to say?” Dennys says with a laugh. “We might go up into a little bit of an arm wrestle.” She describes Hadfield as a rock star who captivated Canadians and the world while he was in space and will tour with his book coast to coast. “At one point, every [elementary] school in Canada stopped at the same hour to sing along with him and to have a conversation in space,” she adds, noting that the initial print run is 135,000 copies.
That’s less than the Bobby Orr, which is 140,000, teases Martin.
“I don’t want to know that,” says Dennys, shaking her head.
“We’ve been clear we’re going to stay competitive. This is an example of it,” Cochrane says with a laugh. (Although she didn’t bring it up until later, Doubleday has its own contender for the big book of the year, MaddAddam, the third book in the apocalyptic trilogy by Margaret Atwood. Martin characterized Atwood’s book and Penguin’s The Orenda, Joseph Boyden’s account of the brutal conflict between the French and the Iroquois and Huron tribes in Canada’s early history, as the “two biggest literary events of the fall.”)
Martin has the last conciliatory word on the competition: “It’s not about what we start with, it’s what we end with. We are just blessed to have both these books.”
And therein lies the crux of concerns from authors and agents. All the competitive talk feels pretty friendly, and ultimately, Penguin and Random House are all on the same, very big team now. “We’re competitive within and without as long as there’s someone else involved. As soon as there are only our own divisions involved, then it distills down to ‘We’re not going to bid against each other,’ ” Martin says. “But in terms of editorial diversity and identities, they are going to remain. Hamish Hamilton is different from Bond Street is different from Knopf. Random House is different from Doubleday.”
Cochrane says that she doesn’t believe the merger will change much in the way books come to Penguin Random House: “Agents don’t come to each project uninformed. They have an informed opinion of the editors, the lists, the positioning that they want for the book.”
Dennys agrees, saying, “On a working basis, one hasn’t seen the change. The agents are still coming to us, or we are commissioning and going to agents exactly the same way as we ever did.”
Agents who spoke to PW said it is too soon to see the effects of the merger in the market, and they are waiting to see how things develop. They agreed that they will still approach Penguin and Random House as they always have, but they also noted that the merger does mean that at a certain point in the process one more piece of competition has disappeared from the market. One agent described it as contributing to “an increasingly constricted ecology” for book publishing in the country.
When asked if the merging of Penguin and Random’s Web sites would involve direct sales and e-commerce, Martin says, “Those discussions haven’t taken place.”
Simon & Schuster Canada
Even though it didn’t acknowledge the proposed Penguin–Random House merger as a factor in its decision, this spring the Canadian government granted Simon & Schuster Canada permission to launch a domestic publishing program and thus introduced a new multinational publisher into the Canadian mix just before the merger was approved. The move excepted S&S from a foreign ownership rule that had limited its operations in Canada to distributing international titles since it bought Distican and entered the Canadian market in 2002. (Random, Penguin, and HarperCollins were all established in Canada early enough to be grandfathered out of the restriction.)
It was something that S&S Canada president and now publisher Kevin Hanson had wanted to do for a long time. In 2010, when the government opened up a review of its foreign investment policy for publishing and asked for input from the industry, Hanson says he made it clear that “not only did we want to invest in Canada and Canadian authors and in our own team here at Simon & Schuster Canada, but it was good for the marketplace itself to give authors choice as to who they could be published by.”
The inaugural fall list is small, just three books, but Hanson says that’s a good start on a list that will grow organically, and he’s convinced the three pack a powerful punch. “We have this little book by the prime minister [Stephen Harper] on hockey that’s coming out in November,” says Hanson with a grin. Whatever Canadians think of the Toronto Maple Leafs team or of Stephen Harper as a politician, publishing A Great Game: The Forgotten Leafs & the Rise of Professional Hockey, a hockey book in a hockey-crazed country by the sitting prime minister is, as Hanson says, “an auspicious start.”
Hanson also has great expectations for journalist Amanda Lindhout’s account (with Sarah Corbett) of her 15 months as a hostage in Somalia. A House in the Sky has already attracted lots of media attention and is bound to be a bestseller and the kind of book people will read and talk about for many years, not only for the story of how Lindhout survived her captivity and torture but also her remarkable refusal to let the experience define the rest of her life, and her commitment to become a better person and help the people of Somalia, Hanson says.
The third book, which Hanson describes as a Don Quixote–style novel he fell in love with as soon as he read it, is a debut from Toronto writer Ian Thornton, The Great and Calamitous Tale of Johan Thoms: How One Man Scorched the Twentieth Century But Didn’t Mean To. “What we want to do is publish fine new voices or work with authors who need a new home to be published with and have a new plan and a new vision,” explains Hanson.
Canadian agents describe the decision to let Simon & Schuster publish domestically as a refreshing turn of events, and although the publishing program is starting small, they are pleased that it is a new, open list, not already filled by commitments to authors with multibook contracts.
As it begins its Canadian publishing program, S&S could find inspiration at the only other unmerged multinational in the country, HarperCollins Canada. President and CEO David Kent proudly says HarperCollins Canada’s domestic publishing program is the most profitable part of the company’s sales year after year. (S&S may be benefiting from some of HarperCollins’s experience because both Hanson and editor Phyllis Bruce spent portions of their careers there, in Bruce’s case, 20 years, most recently as a vice president with her own imprint before she left the company and later joined S&S.)
The fact that HarperCollins Canada’s Canadian publishing program is more profitable than any other part of the fully integrated publishing and distribution company might surprise many in the industry. Most publishers talk about how tough it is to produce books for the Canadian market. The English-language Canadian market is “the single most crowded book market on the face of the earth,” says Kent. “There are more new books and new titles available here than in any other book market in the world. All the English books come, all the American books come, and there’s 12,000 to 15,000 Canadian books” published each year.
As a publisher and distributor, HarperCollins Canada is bringing many of those books in from the U.S., the U.K., and Australia, and will soon be bringing them in from India as well. HarperCollins’s ownership of Zondervan makes the house the largest Christian publisher in North America, and Kent says that HarperCollins is the largest reference publisher in Canada. “What sets us apart is that we have the most diverse product list of anybody, and we are a totally integrated full-scale publishing company that controls its own distribution,” says Kent.
Although the distribution side of the business took some hits in the past year when clients McArthur & Co. and D&M Publishers closed and some booksellers continue to circumvent Canadian law by buying directly from U.S. distributors, Kent says distribution is still a good business in Canada “if you do it right. . . . We price our own books as we ship them, so we can adjust prices. We sticker everything. We can also do our own shrink-wrapping, create our own special pricing, so if Costco wants a package with three books combined… we do it.”
Thomas Nelson and Usborne Publishing are new clients. This fall two of HarperCollins’s distribution titles may get big boosts from upcoming movie releases—the third book in Veronica Roth’s Divergent series, Allegiant, and the latest in the film trilogy of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit.
So what makes the Canadian publishing program the most profitable part of HarperCollins Canada’s sales? “It is risk-reward. It is a much greater risk to be originating books than it is to just distribute,” Kent says, but some of the company’s risks in recent years have been very rewarding both in terms of sales and satisfaction. Lawrence Hill’s Book of Negroes has sold more than 700,000 copies. Shilipi Somaya Gowda’s Secret Daughter has sold almost 500,000 copies in Canada. This fall, marketing director Cory Beatty says they are particularly excited about two books from editor Patrick Crean’s new eponymous imprint: David Gilmour’s novel Extraordinary, which takes on the thorny issue of assisted suicide, and Shaena Lambert’s collection of short stories, Oh, My Darling. (Prior to joining HarperCollins in 2012, Crean ran Thomas Allen Publishers as a boutique publisher and edited several Giller Prize-winning novels.) On the nonfiction side, there is a memoir from boxer George Chuvalo, whose career included famous bouts with Muhammad Ali and whose family tragedies required even more remarkable strength.
HarperCollins acquired Wiley’s Canadian list when Wiley shut down its trade publishing arm, and expects to do well reprinting backlist books such as Jerry Langton’s true crime books, which examine gangs and organized crime, and Ken Dryden’s The Game, “one of the greatest hockey books ever written,” says Beatty.
The Perilous Middle Ground
After the fall of D&M, its cofounder Scott McIntyre talked with PW about the factors that contributed to the company’s problems. Some of them were particular to D&M—being too leveraged and losing money on its BookRiff Media venture—but McIntyre made some general observations about the industry. “My own view is that there is room for the smaller, niche players at the bottom, and there’s room for the majors, but the middle ground is a very uncomfortable place,” McIntyre said. “But that’s the case in all the cultural industries and for book publishers everywhere in the English-speaking world, because you are up against people with deep pockets.”
So how do Canada’s remaining midsize independents make it work?
Toronto’s Dundurn Press says it is not only surviving, it is thriving and growing. In August, Dundurn acquired Thomas Allen Publishers, which had been run as a boutique Canadian publisher by Patrick Crean as a part of Thomas Allen & Son. Vice-president Beth Bruder says, “Things are good for Dundurn,” and adds that the acquisition “indicates our positive feeling about the market.”
Dundurn currently publishes about 100 books each year, and Bruder notes that hiring Diane Young as the company’s new editorial director is part of Dundurn’s focus on increasing editorial quality and being more competitive commercially. The addition of 126 frontlist and backlist titles from Thomas Allen will add luster to Dundurn’s list with many acclaimed literary titles, including two Giller Prize winners, Austin Clarke’s The Polished Hoe (2002) and Esi Edugyan’s Half-Blood Blues (2011). Dundurn president Kirk Howard says one of the lead titles for fall will be one acquired from Thomas Allen, Ted Barris’s The Great Escape, a World War II story, “which in fact is a Canadian story,” says Howard. “And Ted Barris has written 17 other books on military history, so that will be a good fit with our military list,” says Howard, who began his career as a college instructor frustrated by the lack of books on Canadian history and who remains devoted to publishing books on both Canadian and international history, current affairs, politics, and biography as well as adult and YA fiction.
The Thomas Allen acquisition is only the latest in a string for Dundurn. It bought Natural Heritage Books and Beach Holme Publishing in 2007, the English-language publishing arm of XYZ Publishing in 2008, and Napoleon & Co. in 2011. Dundurn also merged with Patrick Boyer’s company, Blue Butterfly Books, in 2011.
Thomas Allen & Son president and CEO Jim Allen says he decided to sell the Canadian publishing part of the business because it was increasingly difficult to operate a boutique publishing company that produced only a small number of titles of high editorial quality each season. “It’s the economics of having a very small literary list like we had and being able to get enough support for it each season to really give some of these somewhat unknown books a strong emphasis.”
But Allen notes that the Markham, Ont., company’s international agency business is growing. “It’s always been strong, but since 2011, we’ve taken on an additional 14 lines from the United States. Four or five of those lines came from H.B. Fenn and their bankruptcy. We represent 29 publishers here.” Allen says he has also been investing in a fledgling software company called Book Connect, which has grown out of Thomas Allen’s own systems, including a bibliographic data system. Some of Thomas Allen’s distribution clients, including Workman Publishing, the Taunton Press, Square One Publishers, and Canadian indie press Coach House Books are now using the system.
The ending of D&M Publishers was also much happier than it looked like it would be when the company filed for bankruptcy protection in late 2012. Buying the Douglas & McIntyre imprint meant that Madeira Park, B.C.’s Harbour Publishing, which had been almost exclusively a regional publisher, expanded its list to embrace a national scope. Harbour co-owner Howard White says the company succeeded in reviving the Douglas & McIntyre imprint quickly, publishing seven titles in the spring and 14 this fall. “It’s not quite the size of a normal D&M year, but it’s two-thirds of it.”
Greystone Books found new life in Vancouver when Rodger Touchie, president of Victoria-based Heritage House Publishing, invested and became a partner with former Greystone publisher Rob Sanders, who says the new arrangement of being a separate company, not owned by but affiliated with Heritage, is working out well. “We are able to take advantage of some joint services . . . [such as] production management, overall Canadian sales management, and then in turn we’re contributing U.S. sales involvement through our relationship with Perseus PGW, which Heritage didn’t have before,” as well as Greystone’s international connections and rights sales experience, says Sanders.
Rebuilding has been hard work, continues Sanders, but it’s paying off now. “We’ve had a big job of getting back out there and getting books back into stores and building confidence, but it’s been working very well.” Although the list is not as big as it will be next fall, Sanders says he’s pleased that their fall 2013 books cover the key areas that they want to work in.
Firefly Books president Lionel Koffler says business at the Richmond Hill, Ont., house in the past year was up almost 11%. What’s the secret to Firefly’s survival and success? “It’s our backlist,” Koffler says. “In any given week when we look at our top 100 books sold in Canada or America or both, 95 out of 100 are backlist books,” he says. “It takes a lot of time and money to develop our books, either the illustrated ones or the science-based or food-based ones. They all have an unusually high degree of editorial effort in them, so we have to go to reprints to make any money from them, so we keep our books in print for a long time, and we have an unusually high degree of commitment to backlist and also success with backlist because of that.” In order to help market those backlist titles, which in turn pay for new frontlist titles, Firefly refreshes covers and advertises in targeted consumer markets, and lives by the rule “Never, ever surrender.”
As mentioned in the introduction, ECW Press, in Toronto, also reports that business is good. Although Canadian sales are down somewhat, U.S. sales are up, which means that the year overall is up so far. “We’ve always been very wary of the Canadian market,” says copublisher Jack David. And that strategy has helped them weather the changes at Indigo better. “Less than 10% of our sales are Indigo/Chapter sales now,” he says.
David agrees with McIntyre’s assessment that it is tough to be a midsize independent publisher these days, but, he says, “Big, small, medium, I think the key word is niche, and if you are selling into the popular science market, the pop culture market, the wrestling market, that’s a niche publisher. It doesn’t matter if you are big or small.” Hockey books are so popular in Canada, they perhaps can’t be considered niche, but one of ECW’s big books for fall is Don’t Call Me Goon: Hockey’s Greatest Enforcers, Gunslingers, and Bad Boys by Greg Oliver and Richard Kamchen.
Several midsize and small publishers have noted that consolidation among the large houses may be sending more authors their way. David notes that some authors who left ECW for bigger houses, such as Dr. Joe Schwarcz, have returned. “We’ve seen more midlist authors come our way. I’ve seen more agent submissions than I’ve seen before, and from our point of view, it’s great,” says David. “We’re seeing better and better stuff, and we’re seeing it at advance rates that we consider reasonable, that is, an advance that is commensurate with whatever the first printing is going to be.”
House of Anansi Press president and publisher Sarah MacLachlan agrees that it is tough terrain for independent midsize publishers, but “it was ever thus,” she says philosophically. “We don’t have the market heft of the multinationals, and now Random House is the big gorilla. You are always battling for attention, but that’s not different than it ever was.” Even though Toronto’s Anansi has a reputation for publishing critically acclaimed and award-winning books, MacLachlan says that doesn’t guarantee sales. “Every season you’ve got to prove it all again,” she says. “You’ve always got to be loud, and you’ve always got to be working hard to create media opportunities for your writers and books.”
A couple of Anansi’s titles seem destined for lots of media exposure this fall. Lawrence Hill, author of the bestseller The Book of Negroes, is this year’s speaker for the CBC Massey Lecture series, for which an author delivers a lecture in five parts, each to an audience in a different city across the country. Each part is also broadcast nationally on CBC Radio and in North America on Sirius Satellite Radio. Hill’s lecture will be based on his ninth and latest book, Blood: The Stuff of Life. While the scientific study of blood has advanced medical knowledge and treatments, Hill will also focus on the ways in which the cultural and social representations of blood have divided humans. Blood: The Stuff of Life is published by Anansi this month. Activist Maude Barlow’s book Blue Future, about the deepening global water crisis and her prescription for what must be done, is also likely to attract the media spotlight.
Anansi also launched two new imprints this past spring. Astoria is devoted to short stories, both Canadian and international, and Arachnide Editions is devoted to French Canadian literature in translation. “We’ve always done both of those things, but I felt that creating an imprint for each would focus our marketing energy and people’s attention to it as distinct categories that we publish,” explains MacLachlan.
Some small presses say that more authors are coming to them too, but Cormorant Books publisher Marc Côté says that has been happening for some time. “Since the merging started a while ago, there are authors who feel they are not getting enough attention, editorially, marketingwise” at the larger houses, and so there are big-name authors who are looking for alternatives, he says. “Over the years we’ve picked up Neil Bissoondath and Susan Swan....Everybody tells me Cormorant is first choice for the editing. They just wish they could get bigger advances,” he says wryly. One of the Toronto house’s lead titles, Island: How Islands Transform the World, is by J. Edward Chamberlin, whose book If This Is Your Land, Where Are Your Stories? was published by Knopf Canada. Côté is thrilled to have this one. “It is like having a conversation with the most erudite uncle you can imagine. It’s beautifully written and very informative.”
Coach House Books editor Alana Wilcox says she too has seen “way more agent submissions than I ever have before....Some authors that I would have thought would have a home at a bigger house are being shopped around to places like Coach House.”
Small presses are also reporting good news that runs counter to the perception of a struggling industry. Wilcox says 2012 was Coach House’s best year ever. Tamara Faith Berger’s novel Maidenhead, which Toronto-based Coach House marketed as an edgier, more intellectual, and literary alternative to Fifty Shades, “had a lot to do with it,” says Wilcox, “but it wasn’t just that. There was just a nice confluence of good things.”
NeWest Press general manager Paul Matwychuk says sales were also up in the company’s fiscal year that ended in June. “We came off a year that I think was one of our best years creatively,” he says, mentioning that seven of the Edmonton house’s 10 books for the year were nominated for or won awards. The highlight of the year critically and in terms of sales was Cassie Stocks’s book, Dance, Gladys, Dance, which won the national Stephen Leacock Memorial Medal for Humour. “That one feels like it is just getting started with word of mouth. It is a really winning, charming book” that is still getting attention in the media, Matwychuk says. NeWest’s fall list includes a debut collection of short fiction from Thea Bowering, Love at Last Sight, which is already getting some critical praise.
There also seems to be a trend to experiment with form, particularly shorter-form fiction and nonfiction. Anansi Digital is a home for fiction and nonfiction from 5,000 to 10,000 words. And among the small presses, Coach House is launching a nonfiction series called Exploded Views, “shortish books on cultural subjects,” that Wilcox says allow for long form and more lyrical journalism. One of the first titles this fall, In Love with Art, is Jeet Heer’s tribute to Françoise Mouly, who has spent more than 20 years as art editor of the New Yorker and ran the influential RAW Books with her husband, Art Spiegelman. And although Coach House doesn’t usually do much graphic novel publishing, it is reissuing a book that its predecessor Coach House Press published in the 1970s, Martin Vaughn-James’s The Cage, which was a graphic novel before the term was invented. “It reads like an acid trip, although it was not,” says Wilcox. “We wanted to get it back into print, we get so many requests for it.”
Arsenal Pulp Press’s big book for fall is also a graphic novel. Publisher Brian Lam bought Blue Is the Warmest Color, a French lesbian drama, by Julie Maroh from a Belgian publisher last year. The book was then turned into a feature film that won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival in May. Lam expects the book, which Arsenal holds world English rights for, to get another boost when the film is released in the U.S. at the end of October. Arsenal is releasing its own edition of the book in the U.K. and Australia as well.
Lam says Vancouver-based Arsenal has been having good success with the international titles it imports. “Earlier this year, we published the North American edition of a British gay novel called London Triptych [by Jonathan Kemp], and that’s been our number one bestseller in the U.S. for the last three months.” He looks especially for titles that are midrange, “not something that a large publisher would be interested in but something that would fit our program,” Lam says.
Linda Leith Publishing, in Westmount, Quebec, is a relatively new house, launched in June 2011, but publisher Leith is well-known in the Canadian literary world as the founder of Quebec’s Blue Metropolis literary festival. After leaving the festival in 2010 and taking some time to travel, she decided to launch her own house specializing in literary fiction and what she calls “singles essays,” short nonfiction books published both digitally and in print. “You need a diversity of editorial taste, and then some of the unusual, very original voices get heard,” Leith says of her literary publishing. She thought the essays would be a “really good format because I think people like to read a short argument, a short sort of polemical essay both on a device and in print.” Success with singles such as Wade Rowland’s Saving the CBC, which has been reprinted three times, is a good sign that she was right. This fall, Stephen Henighan, usually known for his literary writing, is publishing a nonfiction single, A Green Reef: The Impact of Climate Change, with Leith.
B.C.’s Talon Books, on the other hand has been publishing since the 1970s, and is just completing a five-year renewal plan with a new editorial team, led by publisher Kevin Williams. An old infrastructure was limiting Talon’s potential for growth, says Williams, but with a new Web site and computer system in place, Talon is forging a new future for itself, complete with a social media presence. The house will remain focused on drama, poetry, ethnography (books about First Nations peoples) and books in translation, particularly fiction and drama from Quebec.
Talon has now published two new editions (volumes 1 and 2) of Modern Canadian Plays with about 40% new content. Williams describes them as “the cornerstones of our drama list,” which are mainstream texts in university drama courses in Canada. “Our biggest book right now is They Called Me Number One, which is basically secrets of survival in an Indian Residential School, and it’s been a bestseller for us,” says Williams. Its author, Chief Bev Sellars, will be touring in Canada and the U.S. this fall and next spring. Lots of people are also looking forward to The (Post) Mistress, from prominent aboriginal playwright Tomson Highway, he adds
Victoria, B.C.’s Rocky Mountain Books has been in business for more than 30 years. It started strictly as a guidebook publisher of very utilitarian map books about the Rocky Mountains but has expanded. “I took it over eight years ago and reimagined what an established publishing company can do,” says publisher Don Gorman. RMB now has a much broader scope, though it still focuses on the outdoors. “Our tagline is ‘Think outside.’ We’re trying to tie everything we do to the landscape and natural environment, whether that’s spirituality, climate change, travel, photography—everything is about a place and about how we impact the landscape,” says Gorman.
RMB began experimenting with short nonfiction in 2008. The format became its Manifesto series of small hardcover books limited to 20,000 words, the most successful of which has been The Incomparable Honeybee and the Economics of Pollination by Dr. Reese Halter. “That one has gone to a second printing, and Margaret Atwood tweeted about it. It was on MSNBC and CBC. It came out just at the right time, when people were really starting to talk about honeybees in 2009. “Some people were surprised by how passionate and judgmental the Manifestos were, but that’s what they are supposed to be,” says Gorman.
One of the new titles for fall is Saving Lake Winnipeg by Robert William Sandford. “It is a massive lake, and it is about to die as a result of pollution and climate change and huge inaction on the part of government and society at large to fix the problem,” Gorman says. The book is “truly is a manifesto. It is absolutely biased and populist, it is not academic, it’s meant to take a side.”
Contradicting those dire headlines, Gorman says, “It’s a great time to be in publishing.” Why? “There aren’t any rules anymore. We are competing with e-books, so our format has to change. Not every book can be five and a half, eight and a half, and $19.95. Now we can start changing that stuff, having more fun, and controlling what we create.”
The Launch of ‘Hazlitt’
Last fall, Random House of Canada took a big leap, launching its own online magazine, Hazlitt. When he announced the launch, CEO Brad Martin wrote, “While traditionally many book publishers have been primarily using their Web sites for sales and marketing purposes, we want to also use ours to publish original content.” Random hired prominent Toronto journalist Christopher Frey as Hazlitt’s editor-in-chief. Hazlitt was intended to cover a broad range of cultural topics and current affairs, and one year later has celebrated critical success, being nominated for four National Magazine Awards and winning three—magazine Web site of the year, best magazine Web site design, and best online video. Random reports that monthly traffic has reached as high as 130,000 unique visitors, and that almost half the traffic on the site is from outside Canada. “We did a piece on [Oscar] Pistorius.... We have a piece coming up on the Bikram Yoga scandal. We’re trying to be of the moment,” says Martin. Hazlitt has also had good success with its original e-books, particularly Ivor Tossell’s The Gift of Ford, about Toronto’s notoriously controversial mayor. Martin tells PW that both Penguin and Random have been finding ways to bring their authors closer to readers for years. Louise Dennys also notes that Hazlitt has provided writers with an outlet for their nonfiction and creative ideas when they’re between books. Penguin authors will now benefit from their ties to Hazlitt. “This is just an opportunity for us to pool our resources, to be even more aggressive about our relationship with readers,” says Martin.
HC Celebrating the Author-Reader Connection
HarperCollins Canada’s marketing creatively combines the latest in social media and old-fashioned personal touches. HarperCollins Canada has more than 110,000 Facebook friends, but marketing director Cory Beatty says, “One reason why our marketing and social media has been so successful compared to almost every other publisher in the world is because it’s not about connecting with 110,000 people at once. It’s about trying to get to one person and then expanding that.” That approach was vividly illustrated in August when the company threw a party in its Toronto offices for avid reader Mary Tutsh’s 100th birthday. Beatty and Tutsh became friends after Tutsh wrote a letter to Jonas Jonasson, author of The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out a Window and Disappeared, and asked if someone at HarperCollins Canada could direct it to him. Her letter, which talked about her own wish to escape her 100th birthday, so touched staff at HarperCollins that they asked for permission to reprint it in an advertisement for the book, which subsequently became a bestseller in Canada. Beatty kept in touch with Tutsh, often asking for her opinion of new books, and as Tutsh’s 100th birthday approached, the company decided to throw her a party. Her gifts included a special edition of Jonasson’s book with her own letter and a letter from the author thanking her for her interest in his book.