Canada’s writers, publishers, and public funders have spent the last half-century or so on the project of building a national literature in the face of overwhelming global competition for Canadian readers. Back in the late 1960s, when Margaret Atwood was an emerging Canadian novelist, and Nobel Prize laureate Alice Munro was a shy bookseller scribbling stories into notebooks between customers, a formula was put in place to incentivize the creation of Canadian-owned and -operated publishing houses, and to encourage the large multinational businesses that sold primarily U.S. and U.K. titles to grow their interest in Canadian-authored work.

Established and emerging arts councils at the federal, provincial, and even municipal levels turned their attention to literary endeavor. Canadian writers were funded to write Canadian stories for Canadians, while Canadian-owned publishing houses accessed public money in order to publish those efforts. What’s more, Canada became the only country in the Americas to launch a Public Lending Right program, compensating authors for the use of their work in public libraries.

This was all a modest, seed-money effort by government to sow a national garden of books. It was also an intrepid financial risk. Canada’s book-buying market is tiny by comparison to the U.S. and U.K., and these new Canadian-authored titles would have to compete for shelf space in stores dominated by world literature.

Helped along by a national media willing to highlight domestic works and emerging “Canadian studies” programs, the gamble worked. Book by book, house by house, Canada’s independent publishers have grown into a healthy sector that regularly places titles on major award lists and has been responsible for launching many of today’s Canadian writing stars. As respected Canadian critic Steven W. Beattie has written: “These houses, often dismissively referred to as ‘farm teams’ for the multinationals…are responsible for discovering and promoting some of the most important Canadian authors working today.”

Meanwhile, the largest multinationals maintain Canadian corporate headquarters, employ Canadian editors and executives, and publish their own fabulous Canadian lists. The mix of domestic independent, public, and multinational investment has indeed grown an increasingly diverse literature where once there was mostly empty ground. The policy and funding project of building a national literature has been a qualified success (for now, let us not speak of Canada’s terrible copyright law and its role in stunting market growth for books).

Canada’s population of authors has exploded. The Writers’ Union of Canada (TWUC) was formed in 1973 at an Ottawa meeting of only 43 members (Atwood and Munro in attendance) and now as it approaches its 50th anniversary, TWUC represents over 2,600 professional authors spanning the country. While Canadian-authored books are still in the minority on bookstore shelves and in libraries around the country, they are there in increasing numbers and diversity, and they do compete for sales and loans.

Canadian book consumers are a smart, discerning, world-reading market, and they have proven the value of Canadian literary product by choosing it in increasing numbers. So why wouldn’t we turn that success and maturity outward? Even as the domestic market remains the initial focus for most of those writers and their publishers, Canadian authors increasingly look beyond their borders for a larger readership, for career-making income, for the sale of film or television rights.

Driving a lot of Canada’s recent success are many bestselling books by First Nation, Métis, and Inuit authors, and these titles are leading our literature in global appeal. Canada’s recent spotlight as Guest of Honor at the Frankfurt Book Fair suggests our authors now stand on the cusp of massive growth in world markets. Frankfurt showcased Canadian talent internationally like never before, with over 160 creators in the spotlight, not just at the Buchmesse itself, but throughout Germany.

How can we capitalize on this moment? What’s currently missing is a strategic, supportive infrastructure for continuing to showcase Canadian authors and their books in the same way Frankfurt did. It remains rare for smaller domestic publishers to attend rights fairs overseas, and there is little to no focused overseas marketing in the Canadian-owned sector. I want to be clear. Lack of global marketing does not represent a lack of ambition or achievement by Canada’s authors and publishers; it’s simply a numbers game. After publishing and marketing across Canada’s massive geography, there is too often little energy or cash left over to get past the border as well. Those who do push outside Canada, do it extremely well within their means—but those means are the real problem.

If Canada remains committed to the project of literature building, it’s time for a strategic Phase Two. Canada’s writers are now writing intentionally for a global population; therefore, the country’s cultural supports must strive to match the wider vision and dreams of its creators. With modest new investment in a Global Book Marketing Fund that any Canadian author could access, Canada’s arts funders would inspire exponential growth in Canadian books in foreign markets. Send us to the book fairs; let us launch our books in embassies and consulates around the world.

There is precedent for this thinking in other cultural disciplines. The Canada Media Fund is a federal program that supports audiovisual media development in Canada, including funds for international coproduction and marketing. That kind of global thinking should also be applied to Canada’s books sector. Considering our climate and landscape, it should be a national scandal in Canada that Sweden, Iceland, and Norway have cornered the market on “Nordic Noir” books. Frankly, we should be as touchy about that as we are about arctic sovereignty. I know I am.

The world wants books by Canadian authors. Not because we’re Canadian; because we’re good. Global readers are ready for Phase Two of the Canadian literature project. Is our own government ready to support it?