Two years ago, the Edinburgh publishing house Canongate was struggling to bring books to the American market, and its publisher, Jamie Byng, considered pulling out of the U.S. "It was too much of a stress," he said. "We just didn't have the resources to effectively publish books remotely." But Grove/Atlantic publisher Morgan Entrekin, who included Canongate's books in his catalogue but wasn't involved much beyond that, wasn't going to let Canongate abandon the giant U.S. market so easily. Entrekin suggested that Canongate hire a publisher in the U.S., and the two houses could then form a joint venture. Two years after taking Entrekin's advice, Canongate US has exceeded its financial plans and has established a niche in the American marketplace.
The associate publisher of Canongate US, Tad Floridis, couldn't be more different from Canongate publisher Byng, but together the two have brought nearly 40 works illustrating Canongate's sophisticated, hip sensibility to American readers. The partnership with Grove/Atlantic has resulted in solid growth each year. In 2004, Canongate US published 14 books and had sales of $745,000. In 2005, that jumped to about 20 books and $1.6 million, and for 2006 Canongate plans to publish about 30 books and has a revenue target of $1.85 million. Business in the first quarter is off to a quick start, with sales up 147% in the period.
Canongate US, which consists entirely of Floridis and his assistant, is housed in Grove/Atlantic's Manhattan offices and uses Grove's resources, from publicity to distribution (in this case, PGW). Grove/ Atlantic and Canongate US split the profits 50/50 (Grove does not have any stake in Canongate UK).
Among Canongate US's hits is a Discover Fiction finalist, How the Light Gets In by MJ Hyland, and its much-touted Myths series, in which writers like Margaret Atwood and Karen Armstrong offer their takes on classic mythology. The series' sixth book, by Alexander McCall Smith, is due in October.
For now, Canongate US is publishing mainly books plucked from the European list, including next spring's The Raw Shark Texts, sold in intense auctions at the London Book Fair to 10 countries. "We want to do what Canongate does in the U.K.," said Floridis. "Find North American writers who have our sensibility and write young, edgy fiction." Canongate US is also interested in publishing narrative nonfiction.
Whatever the genesis of their books, Byng is confident in his ability to publish well on both sides of the Atlantic. "We can publish books as well as anyone," he said. "You've got to believe that, otherwise you shouldn't be publishing."