Canadian publisher McClelland & Stewart is launching a new nonfiction imprint this fall. Signal will showcase books by Canadian and international authors on important issues in politics, religion, culture, history, business and the environment.

The first list will include In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination by Margaret Atwood; Arguably: Selected Essays by Christopher Hitchens; Damned Nations: Greed, Guns and Aid by War Child North America founder Samantha Nutt; Diplomacy in the Digital Age, edited by Janice Gross Stein, director of the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto and The Anatomy of Israel’s Survival by Hirsh Goodman.

Best known for publishing literary fiction from Canadian stars such as Margaret Atwood, Alice Munro, Michael Ondaatje and Leonard Cohen, M&S has also been publishing this type of nonfiction in a disparate way for some time, but president and publisher Doug Pepper says he wanted to put an umbrella over the program to give it more focus and prominence. Signal books will be “issue-shifting books, usually by very iconic voices, sometimes quite contrarian,” he said. “They’re the kind of books that one discusses at dinner parties and that one discusses online, and on TV and on radio and what have you with very authoritative voices on a range of subjects that affect not just Canadians but everyone in the world.”

M&S’s nonfiction used to be very Canada-centric with Canadian authors writing about Canadian subjects, but since about 2005 it has been broadening to include more international authors and subjects, Pepper says.

Although Signal’s creation won’t significantly increase the number of nonfiction titles M&S publishes, this year’s list will be bigger due to the creation of another imprint for hockey books last month, which will be run by Jordan Fenn, publisher of Key Porter Books, which suspended operations in January.

Pepper says the tough economic conditions have not swayed M&S away from these new ventures. “We see it as facing those conditions head on,” he says. “What we’re trying to do is pad ourselves up to deal with the highs and the lows of what’s coming in the future, and there’s going to be some tumult, there’s no question,” he added.

He said many of Signal’s book will be particularly well-suited to e-books and online promotion and marketing. “Nonfiction eibook sales lag behind fiction, especially genre fiction, but the nonfiction books that really work as e-books, and these are early days, tend to be ones that are very issue driven and of the moment.” Pepper added that M&S is looking into the possibility of doing “insta-book, books that come and go rather quicky that only done as e-books,” for topical subjects.

He would also like Signal to be a laboratory for experimenting with such new forms of books and new ways of building audiences and communities of readers online and through events and partnerships.