Canada is a country of diversity and dialogue, even though we sometimes don’t realize it. In 2012, Caroline Fortin, a Quebec publisher and then-president of Livres Canada Books, received a call from Juergen Boos, president and CEO of Frankfurter Buchmesse (FBM)—also known as the Frankfurt Book Fair. Boos asked to meet with her when she was next in Germany. Not thinking much of it, she agreed, and several months later Fortin found herself in possession of an official document inviting Canada to be the guest of honor (GOH) at the world’s biggest and most important book fair.
Confident of the opportunity this invitation presented for Canada’s publishing sector, Fortin, now the president of Canada FBM2020, reached out to members of the industry from coast to coast and, with their support and collaboration, eventually succeeded in championing the project to the government of Canada. Impressively, the GOH initiative has become the first cultural-export project of this size and scope to bring French- and English-language publishers together.
Fast-forward several years: the preparations for Canada’s GOH presence are well underway. Considered one of the most competitive publishing markets in the world, Canada is home to nearly 500 publishers. The biggest challenges we face are logistics, due to the huge size of our country; the erosion of the traditional bookselling industry; and the infiltration of English and French language books from abroad. Given the shrinking Canadian domestic market, exports remain an important and in many cases essential component of our publishers’ business models. But understandably, not all publishers have the resources to make a serious go of it, at least not until now.
The GOH initiative provides an unparalleled platform for promoting Canada’s literary culture at an international level, which will open the door to new audiences and markets, prompt additional export sales, and create new long-term relationships in Germany and beyond. What’s more, it gives us a chance to highlight some of today’s luminaries and introduce them to the world.
In the past two years, Canada FBM2020 has focused on identifying and delivering professional development and networking opportunities, as well as strengthening resources for building business opportunities for Canadian publishers and agents. By the end of this year, close to 45 German editors and translators will have visited Canada via different fellowship programs, and more than 30 Canadians will have been to Germany on trade missions (with similar plans for 2019). We have hired German-market consultants to help publishers place their books in Germany, organized seminars on how to build a rights business, created and promoted an online rights catalogue of Canadian titles, and launched a generous translation fund for German publishers (courtesy of the Department of Canadian Heritage and the Canada Council for the Arts). Happily, we are starting to see positive results and expect this to continue in the lead-up to 2020.
There is no denying the energetic buzz about Canada right now—and not only because of our upcoming GOH presence. Canada has in recent years become a compelling example of what a liberal, progressive, and diverse country can look like. But, to quote from “Reading Canada: A Literary Tour in Seven Parts,” a profile of Canada’s diverse literature we commissioned, “We are far from perfect.... We are a nation in progress—one that is continuously striving to be better and more humane.”
As conversation in and about Canada evolves, so too do the books our publishers champion. New emphasis on diversity and inclusion, the environment, reconciliation with indigenous peoples, and LGBTQ narratives further enrich the experiences reflected in our literature. Indigenous Canadian authors are becoming prolific in many genres and are deservedly contending for our top literary awards.
You’ll see all of this reflected in our branding, and in the way we execute our presence in 2020 in response to this great honor that will put Canadian authors on the map. In the lead-up to 2020 we look forward to assisting the international publishing community to discover who we really are, and profiling the great talent that makes up this country.
Gillian Fizet is the executive director of the Canada FBM2020 program.