Canadian publishing is dominated by some familiar names: Penguin Random House, Simon & Schuster, and HarperCollins. Each company is competing with the others to produce titles that can succeed in Canada and, because they are parts of larger conglomerates, also have an impact on the world stage.
Penguin Random House Canada
Large conglomerate Canadian publishers are focused on the domestic English-language market, which Penguin Random House Canada CEO Brad Martin says is rather small. “Canada has about 35 million people in it,” Martin says. “Take out Quebec and all the people in Toronto who were born overseas and don’t read books in English, and what have you got?” Well, according to the latest government statistics, it’s about 20 million people who read in English.
This means that PRH Canada needs to produce titles with broad appeal. Its list for 2016 shows a lot of diversity, including the last book edited by celebrated McClelland & Stewart editor Ellen Seligman before her death: By Gaslight by Steven Price. It’s a doorstop of a novel that is drawing comparisons to Caleb Carr and Susanna Clarke. It is also a good example of how PRH Canada works independently of its larger sibling company in New York, which is not publishing the U.S. edition. Though Seligman worked most closely with the author, who lives in Victoria, B.C., the rights were sold to Farrar, Straus and Giroux in the U.S. and to Oneworld in the U.K. “It’s not his first book, but we are treating it like a debut,” says Kristin Cochrane, PRH’s president and publisher. She says another of the publisher’s potential bestsellers, the mystery thriller The Hatching by Ezekiel Boone, is being published by Atria in the U.S. and Gollancz in the U.K.
Cochrane also cites several other titles that are expected to be bestsellers, including 99: Stories of the Game by Wayne Gretzky, which is timed to coincide with the NHL’s 99th anniversary, and Mike Myers’s Canada. Both stars have agreed to extensive promotional tours, says Cochrane. “These are the type of anchor publications that will bring readers into stores and will have a cascading effect across the trade,” she says. “The names alone draw attention from media and booksellers.” Bobby Orr’s autobiography, Orr: My Story, sold 300,000 copies in 2013, and the press is expecting similar sales for 99.
Chris Hadfield, the astronaut who famously sang David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” on the International Space Station, is another author with name recognition. His first book, An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth, sold 350,000 copies. Hadfield’s new picture book for children, The Darkest Dark, recounts the moment that inspired him to become an astronaut. The book is illustrated by Toronto’s the Fan Brothers, who had a hit earlier this year with The Night Gardener, published by Simon & Schuster.
And, next year, PRH will also celebrate the 150th anniversary of the establishment of the Canadian Confederation in its own way, says Martin. “Back in 1967 for the centennial celebration, M&S put out 19 books of Canadian history,” he says. “Until this year, all but one were out of print, but we’re republishing them—as e-books, which we think is a perfect way to mark the 150th.”
Simon & Schuster Canada
President and publisher Kevin Hanson is most proud of the success of Simon & Schuster Canada’s domestic list. “Nearly all our native nonfiction from last year and much of our fiction for this year hit the bestseller list,” he says. “Our foray into domestic publishing has been strong and will continue to be. We started just two years ago, and it already represents 10% of our business.”
Hanson is looking forward to several nonfiction books in the fall. First is The Promise of Canada by Charlotte Gray, which delivers the country’s history through nine individuals, including Margaret Atwood. “It’s tied to the sesquicentennial and is already being called a masterpiece,” says Hanson. Second is The Science of Why by the television star Jay Ingram, which should tap into the same market that turned What If? into a bestseller. Hockey, naturally, has its place on the list. “This year is the first year the Toronto Maple Leafs had the first pick in the draft in a very long time,” Hanson says. “The last time that happened, their pick was Wendel Clark, so we are publishing Wendel’s memoir Bleeding Blue in November—and he’ll be doing an extensive tour around Ontario.”
Finally, S&S will be publishing Secret Path, a graphic novel by Jeff Lemire based on poetry written by Gord Downie, the lead singer of Canadian super group the Tragically Hip. Downie, who revealed that he is suffering from terminal brain cancer earlier this year, also produced a downloadable musical album that will be bundled with the book, which tells the story of Chanie Wenjack, a 12-year-old boy who died after he fled a residential school for indigenous children some 50 years ago and tried to walk 400 miles back to his home.
“We worked closely with Gord’s management team and are really happy to be involved and help him realize his vision for the project,” Hanson says. “It is set up as a charitable project, with all proceeds from the book donated to the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation.”
HarperCollins Canada had some good fortune earlier this year when Lawrence Hill’s The Illegal won the CBC’s annual Canada Reads competition, making Hill the only author to win the prize twice. The book has since sold in excess of 150,000 copies, but it is the The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney that has moved the most copies for the company this year, with some 200,000 sold. “I think we’re coming off of a banner year here in Canada,” said Iris Tupholme, senior v-p and executive publisher of HC Canada. For the fall’s sesquicentennial, Tupholme says the company is proud to publish Jane Urquhart’s A Number of Things; Stories About Canada Told Through 50 Objects and new books by Barbara Gowdy and Alexander Trudeau.
On the marketing side, HarperCollins began promoting Women’s Voices, a website to help bring more attention to women writers on its lists. “We’re very happy with the result and are already planning to do more like this in the future,” she says.