Canadian publishing remains robust, in large part due to the commitment and integrity of the country’s independent publishers, which offer titles from diverse voices on many subjects. Some of these books have local or regional appeal, others sell well in the U.S. and abroad.
Vancouver-based Arsenal Pulp had an unexpected hit last year with an unconventional cookbook: Decolonize Your Diet by Luz Calvo and Catriona Rueda Esquibel. Associate publisher Robert Ballantyne says the book, which is about indigenous Mexican-American food, has sold 12,000 copies to date. “It kept us buoyant, stronger in the U.S. than in Canada,” he adds. The Canadian market has been solid, he says, but there “haven’t been gains in independent bookselling as there have been in the U.S., and Indigo have been shortening up their orders a lot for books that are not obvious bestsellers.”
Arsenal Pulp is focusing in part on a trio of graphic novels for the fall: Becoming Unbecoming by Una, a feminist manifesto about sexual violence; Such a Lovely Little War by Marcelino Truong, about the Vietnam War; and The Case of Alan Turing by Eric Liberge and Arnaud Delalande. “Graphic novels sell better in the U.S. than in Canada,” Ballantyne says. “Sales vary from book to book, so we start with print runs around 3,000 copies.”
Arsenal Pulp is also putting out its first children’s book: The Boy & the Bindi, in which a five-year-old boy becomes fascinated with his mother’s bindi.“It’s by Vivek Shraya, who we have done several books with, and, fortunately, he wanted to stay with us for this one, as well,” Ballantyne says. “We’re very excited to see how it goes.”
After last year’s Giller Prize for André Alexis’s Fifteen Dogs, Coach House Books is starting this season with Alexis’s The Hidden Keys, the third in a promised “quincunx” of novels that all experiment with traditional forms, such as the pastoral and the adventure story. “It is a signature title from Alexis and should have a broad appeal,” says Alana Wilcox, editorial director of Coach House.
Coach House’s other lead fiction titles for the last half of 2016 include two novels in translation, The Island of Books by Dominique Fortier and Baloney by Maxime Raymond Bock. Both authors hail from Montreal. “I sometimes think that the general enthusiasm these days for translated books and reading other cultures doesn’t include French Canada, sadly,” Wilcox says. “But we’re committed to trying to grow a broader audience for the amazing writing coming out of Quebec. These two novels are brilliant.”
Vice president Beth Bruder says Dundurn is riding the wave of enthusiasm for the new prime minister, having published Justin Trudeau: The Natural Heir, an unauthorized biography by Huguette Young, translated by George Tombs. “It was the first book of its kind on the market and something we were proud to have published,” Bruder says. The press is building momentum with other political books, including the just-published Campaign Confessions: Tales from the War Rooms of Politics by the political campaign manager John Laschinger, which is also likely to draw significant press attention.
Invisible North: The Search for Answers on a Troubled Reserve by Alexandra Shimo is the title that has Dundurn the most abuzz. The book chronicles a Toronto journalist’s experience living on an indigenous reserve in remote northern Ontario, combining memoir with intense reportage.
Many publishers find themselves facing the question of “how Canadian” they want to be when chasing sales. “We simply want people to enjoy the books, so the only question that comes up for us with regard to publishing for the Canadian or, say, the U.S. market, is ‘what kind of spelling do we use for this?’ ” says David Caron, co-owner of ECW, an independent press based in Toronto.
For example, ECW dropped the Canadian u from the title of John Jantunen’s A Desolate Splendor, a dystopian novel scheduled for release in October. “We realized that the book was likely going to be read more in the U.S. market, where we sell 80% of our titles,” Caron says. ECW distributes in the U.S. through Ingram. “We don’t hide the fact that we are Canadian, but, when it helps, we do,” he says.
Of course, some books are clearly typically Canadian. ECW will add several titles to its line of hockey books this fall, including Ken Reid’s One Night Only, about players who played a single game in the NHL, and Stat Shot by Rob Vollman, a book on hockey analytics.
ECW is also willing to push agendas when the opportunity presents itself.
To that end, ECW’s lead nonfiction title for the fall is about fresh drinking water. Maude Barlow is an expert on global environmental issues, and her new book, Boiling Point: Government Neglect, Corporate Abuse, and Canada’s Water Crisis, addresses water management and waste. “We seem to have a smug attitude about water,” Caron says, pointing out that “the amount of drinkable water is a lot less than we think.” He adds: “We have a problem that we have to address and this book does just that. We hope that the right readers in the United States will take notice, as well.”
Another water-themed book will be released in October by Firefly Books, which publishes some 100 titles a year and specializes in large-format, heavily illustrated editions. Water: Exploring the Blue Planet “addresses an area of personal interest that is also relevant to the world,” says president Lionel Koffler. Likewise, Koffler is counting on interest in indigenous issues to push sales of Strangers in a New Land: What Archaeology Reveals About the First Americans by J.M. Adovasio and David Pedler. “We’re expecting to move 10,000 units in a year or two,” says Koffler.
House of Anansi
House of Anansi looked outside Canada’s borders for I Hid My Voice, a new novel by Parinoush Saniee, translated from Farsi by Sanam Kalantari. I Hid My Voice is the follow-up to Saniee’s first novel, The Book of Fate, which was one of World Literature Today’s 75 most notable translations of 2013.
Anansi also has a debut novel from award-winning poet Katherena Vermette; The Break is about an indigenous woman who witnesses a crime on her land and sees the impact it has on several people in the community. And in August, the press published The Path of Most Resistance, a collection of stories from Giller-shortlisted author Russell Wangersky.
On the nonfiction side, in September, Anansi published The Return of History by Jennifer Welsh, a book-length version of the author’s CBC Massey Lectures.
Univ. of Toronto
University of Toronto Press is committed to bringing a broader audience to indigenous issues, as well as finding new ways to bridge academic and trade publishing. “Our native studies list is really growing,” says Brian MacDonald, UTP’s sales and marketing manager. “We publish 10 books a year and have a backlist of some 100 titles.”
MacDonald says Yakuglas’ Legacy: The Art and Times of Charlie James is a key title of the upcoming season. “James was a pioneering native artist, and this is the first comprehensive look at his career,” he says. What’s different for the press is that this volume will have some 130 illustrations—making it closer to a trade-oriented illustrated book than has been customary for the press.
Though UTP serves what is generally acknowledged as the country’s top university, not all of the books it puts out are strictly “Canada-specific.” MacDonald cites The First World Oil War by Timothy Winegard as a book that is clearly aimed at the global general reader. “It was originally written for a trade house, but it was given to us and sailed through our manuscript review committee,” says MacDonald. “It is the first history of the role of oil during the First World War, the point when the world shifted over from coal to oil as a fuel source and oil became a commodity that started shaping the role of history.”
MacDonald says Lisa Benton-Short’s The National Mall: No Ordinary Public Space, which is about Washington D.C., is another example of how UTP crosses borders. “This is definitively not a Canadian book,” MacDonald jokes. “But there has been a lot of growing interest in reading about cities.”
UTP has also had success with an evolving line of books affiliated with the Rotman School of Management, which has a backlist of 25 titles.“We’re putting out seven or eight titles a year, targeting the same market as the titles coming out of Harvard Business School,” says MacDonald. “These are action-oriented and -focused books by leading scholars and leaders themselves. They are often focused on how to address the challenges different levels of management encounter daily.” The list’s 2016 titles include Achieving Longevity: How Great Firms Prosper Through Entrepreneurial Thinking by Jim Dewald, Wicked Strategies: How Companies Conquer Complexity and Confound Competitors by John C. Camillus, and The Thoughtful Leader: A Model of Integrative Leadership by Jim Fisher.
While a typical UTP title might have a print run of 300 or so, these books have print runs in the thousands, MacDonald says. “The books are meant for a global audience and are reaching readers across the world. They are our bestselling titles by far.”