The boastful statement at the head of this article is affixed above a shelf of books in a large Chapters/Indigo bookstore in Toronto, but it could certainly be the credo of most of the publishers in this lively and ambitious market, which manages to make a considerable impact only a few hundred miles from one of the world's two top English-language publishing capitals.
Signs of its continuing vitality abound. The venerable house McClelland & Stewart, long one of the bastions of Canadian publishing, with a track record that embraces the likes of Margaret Atwood, Carol Shields and Robertson Davies, has just hired a senior Canadian editor, Doug Pepper, back from Crown in New York to take over the leadership from the much-respected Douglas Gibson, who will be carrying on with his own imprint. The admired Cynthia Good was succeeded at Penguin Canada at the start of the year by Indian-born novelist David Davidar, who made his very considerable reputation running Penguin India under Peter Mayer. A widely respected editor, Patrick Crean, was brought in to return a successful distributor, Thomas Allen, to its roots as a publisher, and has done so with remarkable élan. And the flow of quality writers, many of them multinationals, has continued unabated.
But there always seem to be come clouds on the horizon, and they usually involve Chapters/Indigo, the giant book retailer that is to the Canadian market like a combination of Barnes & Noble and Borders, with perhaps Books-A-Million thrown in. It has just hired a new president and COO to take some of the administrative burdens off CEO Heather Reisman; he is David Margolis, whose previous experience was leading two of the country's large discount clothing and housewares chains, and publishers are speculating anxiously on the kind of approach he will bring to the superstore giant, which has sometimes been accused, like W.H. Smith, also undergoing sweeping changes in Britain, of putting too many irrelevant sidelines in its stores alongside the books.
The other question mark currently in the air during our late April visit was that Chapters/Indigo had just begun installing the SAP system (which caused considerable disruptions in some of this country's book operations when it was introduced some years ago), which meant that all the chain's ordering of new titles was placed on hold for a period of about a month while the system was fine-tuned, leaving publishers with warehouses unwontedly bulging with books. The burden of such a hold at the height of the spring buying season can only be imagined, though it was generally hoped that by the time this article appears, in mid-May, the system will be up and running, perhaps with new fluency.
A besetting problem in Canada remains the extraordinarily crowded state of the market, besieged as it is not only with books from Britain and the U.S. in large numbers, but also with a quantity of native product that is extraordinarily large for a country with a total population somewhat smaller than that of California. To serve this, it has the monolithic Chapters/Indigo chain and about 300 independents—which have been losing ground in recent years, just as they have in the U.S.
Still, most of the large publishers we talked to (the biggest these days are all Canadian branches of multinationals) described a year that had been either better than the previous (rather difficult) year or, in the case of Random House Canada and its family, "particularly strong results, especially for Canadian authors," according to president and publisher John Neale—who adds philosophically, "It's bad for the industry when everyone complains," though he wasn't about to do so himself. Canadian publishers tend to be only cautiously optimistic compared to their more high-flying American counterparts, perhaps not wanting to sound too bullish; on the other hand, they're anxious, as Neale suggests, not to sound too negative, perhaps out of fear of a self-fulfilling prophecy.
What does seem new this year is that, instead of blaming all their troubles on the retailers, some companies seem to have determined that perhaps some of the fault lay in their ways of doing things, and have begun to revamp accordingly.
New Faces: Native Son Returns
The most striking news in Toronto this spring has been the impending return of native son Doug Pepper, working in New York for the past six years as a senior editor at Crown, who is coming back to his native city to direct the fortunes of
McClelland & Stewart, now approaching its centenary (in 2006) as a bastion of Canadian publishing. There were two reactions to the appointment in the Canadian press—both perhaps to be expected in a country that has a profoundly ambivalent attitude toward its giant southern neighbor. One was of bemusement that a Canadian should want to return to Canada in the first place, the other was a dark suspicion—echoed by one or two Canadian publishers—that his appointment meant a tightening of the hold of Random House, which has a minority ownership position in M&S, over the essentially native house.
Over lunch in New York, Pepper is at pains to shoot down such a notion. "I'm not interested in running a place that's simply a satellite of Random House," he says, noting that he will report to the M&S board, which is still largely composed of officers of the University of Toronto, which shares in M&S ownership, "and that won't change." The board still is headed by real estate mogul Avie Bennett, who had to approve Pepper's appointment.
As to returning to his native city, he says, "I'm delighted to be going back," and so is his wife, who, like Pepper, was active in Canadian publishing before the move to New York. She was an editor at Knopf, while Pepper himself rose through the ranks at Random Canada, which he had joined as an assistant in 1987, to editorial director; "we're a publishing family," he notes. It was an easy decision to make, Pepper says, once he was sure he would have the authority to do what is necessary to "take M&S into the next century." He's aware that the house, hit by particularly heavy returns and without books from any of its major authors in the past year, has been struggling, and "it's bound to get better."
As for his colleagues, Douglas Gibson will have his own imprint, and Pepper wants to enable editorial director Ellen Seligman to "do what she does best: publishing great fiction." He'll be acquiring himself, too, of course, and, a rare opportunity for a New York-based editor these days, "I love the idea of buying something without having to ask anyone." His colleagues at Crown have been "wonderfully supportive," though he is now feeling at loose ends, waiting anxiously to make the move. Pepper has about 40 authors at Crown—"more than I thought"—and president Steve Ross has been "great" in helping to get them all placed with other editors.
New Faces: Author as Publisher
David Davidar acknowledges he was surprised when Penguin Canada's group CEO, Ed Carson, named him to succeed Good as
Penguin Canada publisher at the beginning of this year "I hadn't really thought of Canada," he says, though he was ready to move on from India, where he had been hand-picked by former Penguin chief Peter Mayer from the Radcliffe publishing course he was attending, as a co-founder of Penguin India. While there, he had first published the work of several authors who went on to become world stars (some of them in Canada), including Yann Martel and Rohinton Mistry, as well as Vikram Seth, R.K. Narayan and Arundhati Roy. "But if you really wanted to move out of a really narrow publishing focus, to my mind there are really only two places in the world today: London and Toronto," he muses.
"If you look at some of the major U.K. writers today—Kazuo Ishiguro, Timothy Mo, Zadie Smith, Hari Kunzru—they're from all over. Canada is the only other market in the world that seems to have this kind of diversity of provenance and, from that point of view, Canada bodes to be one of the most exciting places on the planet in terms of literary publishing. Canadian literature is a many-faceted jewel, and it's something I'm entranced by," Davidar explains.
Davidar has shown the degree of his entrancement by embarking on an adventurous acquisition program, moving into areas where Penguin had not been particularly active of late, and in the process helping the company to rack up more rights sales in his first few months on the job than in the whole of last year. The first acquisition, a literary thriller called Field of Mars by Stephen Miller, is his pick for success on the scale of Yann Martel's Life of Pi. "I think it's going to sweep every award there is!" Penguin Canada also bought the much-contested debut novel The Icarus Girl by 18-year-old Nigerian-in-Britain Helen Oyeyemi; Joseph Boyden's widely admired novel Three-Day Road; and an as-yet untitled book by a pair of Globe and Mail reporters about the downfall of Canadian press mogul and author Conrad Black.
Davidar is not only cutting the list—the 2004 title count of 117 will be reduced to no more than 100 next year—but is focusing more strongly on the areas in which he wants to company to excel: literary fiction ("which we haven't really been known for in the past three years"); crime and mystery; and general nonfiction with an emphasis on history and contemporary issues. Davidar says, "I only want to publish books that will make a mark, not just in Canada but around the world. We've done a thorough investigation of all our publishing areas to see what we can publish well, and we're going to focus on those categories." His refocusing involved only one editorial departure, and a reshuffling of responsibilities among the remaining ones.
He pays tribute to Penguin chairman John Makinson for helping to make the group "more successfully international," and adds that "a lot of the books we've recently bought were bought virtually jointly—I was doing behind-the-scenes things so that we could have these books offered to us in the first place. They weren't being offered to Penguin in the normal run." He also vows he will keep closely in touch with the group's operations in New York, London and Delhi particularly. "We intend to use the considerable resources of the Penguin group to get our writers here published and read internationally."
He acknowledges that despite its recent big buys, "Penguin hasn't really been known for literary fiction in the last three years, as in the big books by the likes of Frances Itani, M.G. Vassanji, Rohinton Mistry and so on. That's going to change, if we have anything to do with it. We're really going to go after those books, and fortunately the agents are starting to offer them to us. We used to have a brilliant record for international fiction, and it dwindled a little, especially after Cynthia left. When you look at the bestseller list, I would dearly have loved to publish Alexander McCall Smith or Mark Haddon, for example." And he plans to be extremely proactive, suggesting he will woo away authors from other publishers if necessary. "I firmly believe in the dictum of doing unto others as they would do unto you," he says with a chuckle. "That's what they've been doing to us, so we have to go out and get some of our authors back—and a few more besides!"
Unusually among senior publish execs, Davidar is an author himself. His novel The House of Blue Mangoes, an expansive Indian family saga, was published two years ago by Harper in the U.S., and he is about to start work on a second novel, which he says will be "contemporary and shorter," and for which he will take some time off. He has an unusual vision for the future of English-language publishing beyond its current centers: "Over the next decade, Asia and the Pacific Rim countries will grow very significantly as a market. There are seven or eight million Indians literate in English now, but that could rise to 40 or 50 million in the next 10 years, and you'd have a huge market." Meanwhile, "it's very exciting here, to have such a large literate readership."
New Faces: A Veteran's Return
Patrick Crean is by no means a new face in Canadian publishing, but as publisher at
Thomas Allen, an old-established company that in recent decades has been known only as a distributor and resurfaced only recently as an active publisher again, he is well placed to discover new Canadian authors. And it was, in fact, an old one he had previously published, Austin Clarke with The Polished Hoe, who helped put Allen back on the literary map in 2002. His novel made a sweep of the Giller, Commonwealth and Trillium awards and became a national bestseller, selling rights around the world. Crean himself was named Editor of the Year at last year's BookExpo Canada.
Crean entered publishing in 1971, hired by the legendary Jack McClelland; went to Jack Stoddart's General Publishing for some years; then packaged for a time before joining children's publisher Somerville House in 1988. With a big investment from Workman, the house rapidly expanded, and Crean began to develop an adult list there (in the course of which he discovered Barbara Gowdy). Allen distributed the list in Canada, and it was then that Crean met the son of the firm's founder, Jim Allen. When Allen recently decided to return to the house's publishing roots, he approached Crean to become its publisher.
Some authors, including Clarke, came with him, and Crean estimates he has signed about 50 since Allen resumed publishing three years ago. The aim is to do about 15 books a year, balanced between good literary fiction and what he calls "big idea" books, mostly of Canadian interest, including history, in nonfiction. Fiction, which Crean describes as "in full bloom" in Canada at present—"It's the most mature art form in the country"—is the easiest, and benefits from having a "large, loyal readership."
Current titles include Austin Clarke's collected stories; national bestsellers in Juno: Canadians at D-Day by Ted Barris and Scurvy: How a Surgeon, a Mariner and a Gentleman Solved the Greatest Medical Mystery of the Age of Sail by Stephen Bown; a book called The Pagan Christ by former priest and now columnist Tom Harpur; a collection of Tom Metcalf's best stories; and new novels by young and promising writers like Stephen Guppy, Cordelia Strube and Natalee Caple.
Meanwhile, of course, Allen has the advantage of having its own warehouse, from which it continues to offer Canadian distribution for such U.S. houses as Houghton Mifflin, Holiday House, Merriam-Webster, Health Communications and Algonquin.
New Views at Harper
One of the big stories at
HarperCollins this year is its recent move into high-rise offices at the uptown confluence of Bloor and Yonge Streets in Toronto, with staggering views in all directions from a multitude of windows—a far cry from the old cramped, rather cheerless digs it used to not exactly enjoy nearby. An ebullient David Kent took us around, pointing out with delight the plenitude of the expanse, noting that the whole floor-through office is infinitely malleable, with movable walls and partitions (his own office can instantly expand into the next-door conference room) and noting also that he had achieved a spectacular real estate bargain in his lease in the new building.
It's been a strong year for the company in Canada, even if it couldn't quite match the previous one, which saw the colossal movie tie-in success of the Tolkien movies (the books did proportionately much better for Harper in Canada than in any other territory). And if the huge American success of The Purpose-Driven Life has not quite been replicated in Canada (a much more secularly inclined society), it has certainly helped.
Phyllis Bruce, regarded as one of the doyennes among Canadian editors and with her own award-winning imprint at the house, talks about what she calls "the strongest fall fiction list in years," while Kent goes off for a long conference call with his U.K. colleagues. Bruce describes a list of "international writers coming and Canadian writers going out," and takes pleasure in "the popular liking for literary fiction" in Canada. An example is Richard B. Wright, whose Clara Callan won both the Giller Prize and the Governor General's Award last year, and who has a new book due in September that should be of wide interest to publishing people as well as regular readers. It's called Adultery and involves an affair between a Canadian publisher and a pretty colleague traveling together to the Frankfurt Book Fair.
Other books about which Bruce and her colleagues are particularly excited are a novel called Celebration by Frances Itani, whose Deafening was an international success; a new book by Greg Hollingshead, Bedlam, which tells a story of madness and politics in 18th-century London; a new Helen Humphreys novel, Wild Dogs. There's also a book about an old preacher called Gilead by America's Marilynne Robinson, whose classic Housekeeping Harper is also introducing to a new generation of Canadian readers; and the upcoming novel of college life by Tom Wolfe, I Am Charlotte Simmons—both of these the fruit of a strong connection with Farrar, Straus & Giroux in New York. And, since a Bruce list would never be without a new discovery, her latest is Jacqueline Baker, a new writer from Alberta whose A Hard Witching she describes as having the same strong regional feeling as the work of E. Annie Proulx. There is a lot of excitement on both sides of the border about the first story collection by young Latvian immigrant David Bezmozgis, Natasha and Other Stories, being done in Canada by Flamingo.
Harper's children's list has gained such strength that it now occupies a separate catalogue; some of this year's highlights are a new YA book by an author who is also a big crossover hit, British Columbia's Susan Juby (Alice, I Think), called Miss Smithers; another YA novel, this one science fiction, by Kenneth Opel, big in Canada, called Dead Water Zone; and, down the road, a trilogy by a self-published Ottawa author, J. Fitzgerald McCurdy, called The Fire Eaters. And, of course, the house, which has the Lemony Snicket franchise in Canada, is looking forward to the movie.
Strong Year at Random
Random Canada president John Neale, whose operation has benefited greatly from Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code, like its New York counterpart, also attributes the strong results of the past year or two particularly to Canadian writers. "Despite the challenges of this market—which involve having to publish for a much smaller market than the American one, but with equal production costs—the tremendous interest Canadians have in their own writers helps us all," he says.
A supply-chain initiative, similar to that undertaken in the U.K., has been attempting to streamline the sell-through process, and now that Chapters/Indigo has agreed to take part, Neale expects increased efficiency and a reduction of returns. "It's going to improve things," he says. As for the current hold on shipping to the chain while it wrestles with its new system, "there will be some pain in the next month or so, but I think the improved efficiency that results will make for a better picture."
His sales director, Brad Martin, is also inclined to look on the bright side about the ultimate improvements wrought by SAP. "Chapters is optimistic, and we hope they're right," he says. Meanwhile, he's heard good things about the chain's new COO, David Margolis, with whom he is soon to meet. The dislocations of a couple of years ago, with the virtual disintegration of the Chapters chain and its acquisition by Indigo, were very much in the past, and the market had "settled down." There was not, he thinks, much growth in prospect, but he foresees no major problems ahead. He describes the past year at the house as "a very pleasant one," despite the impact of SARS (Toronto was quarantined for a time early last year) and the Iraq war. Unusually, the fall's bestsellers, including, of course, Da Vinci and Mark Haddon's book, continued to sell strongly into the new year. In fact, sales of Da Vinci had doubled since Christmas.
Still, like publishers everywhere, Martin sees the sales coming mostly off a top that's thin—meaning that a handful of books at the top do spectacularly well, but there's a tapering-off down below. "Everyone's doing too many books," he adds, acknowledging with a grin, again like publishers everywhere who make such an observation, that his own house is, of course, excluded from that judgment.
Knopf's Louise Dennys and Doubleday's Maya Mavjee talk about a publishing program that prides itself on its strong Canadian list—Knopf's New Faces of Fiction introduces four or five new Canadian writers a year, and Doubleday authors have been persistent winners of some of the big author prizes in which Canada is so rich.
Among upcoming books they feel are particularly notable are Carol Shields's Collected Stories; a new novel by award-winning novelist Miriam Toews, A Complicated Kindness (sold to Counterpoint in the U.S.); a first novel by Beth Powning called The Hatbox Letters; and an epic novel about a celebrated Spanish Baroque poet called Hunger's Brides by Paul Anderson. From elsewhere, there are new novels by Louis de Bernieres (Captain Corelli's Mandolin); a new story collection by William Trevor; the start of a new series by Alexander McCall Smith; and a startling book about the slaughter in Rwanda called Shake Hands with the Devil by General Romeo Dallaire.
McArthur: At the Hub
Kim McArthur, at her own company, is as usual at the hub of things. It was from her, our first appointment after arriving in Toronto, that we first learned of the hang-up with the Chapters/Indigo SAP installation, from her also that we learned it had originally been set for earlier but had then been postponed, causing even more anxiety. From her, too, we learned that Bouchercon, the celebrated mystery convention, will be taking place for the first time in Toronto this October, around the same time as the Harborfront Festival (see below). This is of particular interest to McArthur because she is the Canadian publisher of one of the preeminent mystery writers of the day, Scotland's Ian Rankin (only a couple of weeks after our encounter, she was in New York to see him win for Best Novel with his Resurrection Men at the Mystery Writers of America's Edgar Awards).
Her small but lively company flourishes on the basis of some fine Canadian authors plus some sterling British imports from Orion/Weidenfeld, whose books she does in Canada, and recently an influx of authors from Hodder Headline as well. The Canadians include Kate Pullinger, whose first novel in three years, A Little Stranger, she will do this year; Nancy Huston; and former CBC stalwart Patrick Watson, whose series Canadians: Biographies of a Nation has been big for the company, and who has a new memoir, This Hour Has Seven Decades, upcoming.
McArthur's biggest bestseller, who always goes straight to the top of Canadian lists, is Ireland's Maeve Binchy, whose next, set on a Greek island, is Night of Rain and Stars. McArthur has set a first print run, astounding for Canada, of 200,000 copies; she is expecting also to do great things with Julian Fellowes's Snobs, a first novel by the Oscar-winning screenwriter of Gosford Park. She got this from Weidenfeld, and will do it before SMP publishes it in the U.S., probably next January. What Not to Wear by Trinny Woodall and Susanna Constantine, another British import, got a huge boost from Oprah and has been one of her big hits. Popular authors she has recently brought in from Hodder include Carole Matthews, Maggie O'Farrell and Jasper Fforde, whose tongue-in-cheek literary fantasies have become, she says, a cult hit in Canada. His new one is called Something Rotten.
House of Anansi: The Survivor
Few small independent Canadian publishers have gone further with less than
House of Anansi, launched largely as a self-publishing venture by some U. of Toronto graduates in 1967. Early authors included Margaret Atwood, mostly with poetry though also a very early novel, and Michael Ondaatje, and both of them remain strong supporters today (Anansi is doing a forthcoming collection of Atwood nonfiction pieces called Moving Targets). The name derives from a spider god of Africa and the Caribbean, and its first big success, and mainstay during early years, was its Manual for Draft-Age Immigrants to Canada, which sold strongly among young Americans fleeing the Vietnam draft.
For a number of years, as it prospered, the house was under the umbrella of Jack Stoddart's General Publishing, and was the first out from under the debacle of that group's collapse a couple of years ago. White knight Scott Griffin helped buy them out, and the operation is now run by Sarah McLachlan as president and Martha Sharpe as publisher, and is distributed in the States by IPG.
Their list, which they hope to get to about 20 titles a year, is an eclectic one, between a quarter and a third poetry, including Charles Simic, Al Moritz and Steven Heighton, and new British poetry. They're doing Jim Harrison's novel True North, but are on the whole more likely to do fiction that's more experimental, or in translation. Anansi is the publisher of the university's prestigious Massey Lectures, which gives it some notable names, and also publishes the work of noted critic Northrop Frye. A book that has been doing particularly well, and seems likely to become a school staple, is a book on teaching math called The Myth of Ability by John Mighton.
Like many such small independent publishers with strong national ties, Anansi receives some government support; it sells largely to independents (unlike most Canadian publishers, Chapters/Indigo represents less than 50% of its sales). Its Canadian distribution is through Publishers Group Canada, a spinoff of PGW that is now owned by Raincoast, which McLachlan and Sharpe describe as the best Canadian distributor.
The Firefly Outreach
Firefly Books, Canada's most successful independent trade publisher, began with just $700 in 1977; today, it does about $30 million in annual sales. Its specialty is children's books and elaborate nonfiction science, gardening and cooking titles, as well as calendars, and it is known for natural history and astronomy books, and for a classic children's book called Love You Forever by Robert Munsch. Firefly president and publisher Lionel Koffler estimates that the book is nearing its 80th printing; it has sold 18 million copies since 1986. Firefly has been distributing titles in the U.S. since 1979 and today that is the most important part of its business. "Both for bookstores and libraries, and for the titles like the Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum's book Earth from Space and general books on astronomy and the physical world," says Koffler. "We can't do the kind of print runs we need to do without selling into the U.S."
Koffler himself travels to the States about twice a month to see customers and work with publicists and trade publications. "I shop in the stores in New York, Detroit, Chicago and Orlando. I talk to my customers and try to see what my American competitors are publishing to see what works and what doesn't." So what works for Firefly? Books like The Great Book of Optical Illusions, published at the end of 2002. "In 17 or 18 months, we've sold 60,000 copies," says Koffler.
Firefly's commitment to astronomy dates back to 1983, when the publisher decided to become the trade publisher in North America in that field. This fall, Firefly has half a dozen specialty books in the category, from ones on the sun to big introductory books on weather and an encyclopedia of astronomy featuring contributions by leading astronomers. "We have a constant commitment to revising our astronomy books as new technology and observation develops—better science, recording (better digital cameras) and observation (the Hubble telescope)." Nightwatch, Terence Dickinson's bestselling reference for stargazers, is in its third edition (with about 500,000 copies sold) and for fall Firefly will publish the fourth edition of Dickinson's The Universe and Beyond (of which it has sold 150,000 copies in three editions) with a first printing of about 20,000.
While in recent years Firefly has raised its consumer profile in the U.S., it maintains its identity at home. "We are a North American publisher, so certain of our books we will always do for the regional market." One such title is The Group of Seven, an $85, 500-page book by David Silcox published last fall, which garnered terrific reviews and has sold about 19,000 copies. "David and I were talking about republishing his 1976 book on Tom Thomson. When David became director of Sotheby's Canada, he went across the country and got pictures from every private, public, small and big gallery, and we discovered a lot of paintings by these artists that had never been photographed or depicted before, and we re-photographed many of the ones that had." Koffler—as do many critics—deems it the definitive book on the Group of Seven. A book on church architecture in the works is another good case in point, adds Koffler. "We want to do it because churches are the longest-lasting architecture in Canada. It's evidence of the development of Canada, the exploration of Canada, the waves of immigration, and the country really needs a good documentary, a big publication on churches."
Last year was an awful year in Canada, he notes, ticking off SARS, mad cow, the American war in the Middle East, the forest fires in British Columbia, and the tremendous decline in air travel that "made it very difficult for our customers." But already, says Koffler, Firefly has had a terrific spring, and he thinks that the retail business is really recovering.
In January, Firefly moved about 100 staff members and several million books to a new 165,000-square-foot operations headquarters outside of Toronto, doubling space for warehouse functions, "as well as the space that we can devote to editorial and design," Koffler says. He is exploring publishing more books. "I'm very bullish on it. I think [publishing] is an increasingly good business to be in, especially for us." And the business keeps reaching farther. This fall will see Best Rose Guide: A Comprehensive Selection by two U.K. authorities, Martyn Rix and Roger Phillips, who have published a number of books with Macmillan in the U.K.; Firefly has world rights. "We have sold rights back to the U.K., France and Spain. So we're going beyond North America. We're also pushing interest in our homegrown astronomy titles in Europe. It's a big world out there, and we're publishing into it."
What's Doing at Raincoast
This spring, Vancouver-based
Raincoast Books, which publishes under the imprints Raincoast Books and Polestar, and is exclusive distributor to more than 40 national and international publishers, set up a new publicity office in Toronto, hiring David Leonard as senior publicist. Prior to that, Debbie Gaudet, the publicist at Raincoast subsidiary Publishers Group Canada, had been splitting her work between the two. "It has to do with [the growth of the Raincoast publishing list]—it has grown a lot in a short time," explains president and publisher Allan Macdougall. "There are fewer opportunities for authors to be interviewed and featured, and it makes more sense to get somebody on the ground there."
Publishing the Harry Potter books, and a new series of printings this spring, has also allowed Raincoast to become financially secure, and to make "quite a significant financial investment in systems," says Macdougall. Raincoast has a 30,000-square-foot warehouse in Toronto and a base warehouse in Vancouver, but the principal investment has been in information technology. "If we are known as one of the best distributors in the country," says Macdougall, "it's because we come from Vancouver, a place where we've always had to be better than anyone else. There are so many ways to spend money now, and you have to invest in advanced technology. Our competition, the large multinationals, have that capability. Potter gives us the ability to invest heavily in that—and even the Web and a B2B site, which is just up." Macdougall is confident the investment will pay for itself in terms of distribution clients.
Longtime exclusive distribution clients include Chronicle (since 1982), Lonely Planet, Bloomsbury and Harcourt. The most recent client of considerable size is Hay House. "We didn't have much New Age before, but the Wayne Dyer book Power of Invention is now almost at 40,000 copies," says Macdougall. "That's just what we've got out the door, and he hasn't even done his tour yet, " After a year distributing Montreal comics publisher Drawn & Quarterly's graphic novels, Raincoast added Seattle's Fantagraphics Books as a distribution client last fall. "We like this category; it is really interesting, and it's wonderful to see something new that the booksellers in Canada really leapt onto. It's happened very quickly—we didn't think that it was going to go that fast." Raincoast also did an unusual thing, says Macdougall, when it republished the lesbian feminist classic Beyond the Pale (originally published by Press Gang). The author did a tour, and a lot of book clubs have picked it up. Macdougall also cites Louis Riel by Chester Brown, the first graphic work to crack Canada's nonfiction bestseller list. "It's so good, and it's so good on so many levels. It introduces Riel to another generation of history. It's interesting—the librarians jumped on it, they see tremendous value in it."
In a further expansionist development, Raincoast has also just become BBC Worldwide Americas' exclusive distributor of adult titles in Canada.
The Douglas & McIntyre Synergy
The synergy among our imprints is incredible," says
Douglas & McIntyre president Scott McIntyre. One of Canada's largest independent publishing houses and named Publisher of the Year at last year's Canadian Booksellers Association Libris Awards, D&M had revenues of nearly $10 million and published about 75 books last year. After two years with University of Toronto Press Distribution, last month Douglas & McIntyre began a five-year distribution deal with HarperCollins Canada (though it remains with Publishers Group West in the U.S.).
This fall, D&M is publishing a second helping of Douglas Coupland's quirky observations combining image and text (his Souvenirs of Canada sold more than 30,000 copies). "What I think is extraordinary about Doug is that he really 'gets' this country—his cultural antennae are so perceptive," says McIntyre. "He's Mr. Generation X, and he takes an affectionate but very wry and perceptive look at Canada. Though this is in no way a duplicate of the first book, we both thought there were lots of stories to tell, in addition to being a wonderful, witty, ironic, skilful take on Canada." Part of the material in Souvenirs 2 will become a show in London, McIntyre says, and possibly in New York.
Douglas & McIntyre also publishes translations of French-Canadian works into English, like the recent The Heart Is an Involuntary Muscle by Monique Proulx, which made the Canada Reads shortlist this winter. Patsy Aldana, publisher of the house's Groundwood Books children's line, is notably bilingual, and, says McIntyre, "Patsy and I have strong ties to Boreal, and Boreal did it in French simultaneously."
Clearly, several of D&M's titles are strongly Canadian (though not always as explicitly so as, say, its How to Be a Canadian by Will and Ian Ferguson, with more than 175,000 copies sold.) But increasingly, particularly in children's, natural history and the environment, the appeal is global, in both the Douglas & McIntyre and Greystone imprints. McIntyre points to David Suzuki as a huge bestseller in Australia, "and we are doing some of his books in the States, and his TV show is in 100 countries," says McIntyre. Jim Delgado's Adventures of a Sea Hunter is also on the horizon, a collection of great dives inspired by his National Geographic International TV series with Clive Cussler, The Sea Hunters, which is seen in 180 countries. "That's completely international," McIntyre notes. And there's a major new Canadian atlas done with Readers Digest. "I learned a long time ago not to try to predict the market, but I do see a resurgence in nonfiction, that's what the agents are saying."
There's also Mallory, the new offering from bestselling ethnobotanist Wade Davis (The Serpent and the Rainbow), and a new book by James Laxer. At Greystone, there's Air Canada boss Robert Milton's memoir, Straight from the Top, "which I think is going to be a very big book," he adds. And D&M is also still buoyed by the continuing international success of Deborah Ellis's YA novel The Breadwinner under its children's Groundwood line (200,000 copies and counting—see below).
The Children's Books Contribution
In fact, The Breadwinner does about 15,000 copies a month in the States—"these books are really phenomenal," says Patsy Aldana. Deborah Ellis's trilogy was also just given an honorary mention by the Jane Adams Peace Prize, and there is an option on it with Touchstone Pictures/ABC, for Glenn Close. The U.S. market makes up almost 65% of Groundwood's sales, says Aldana, who adds that most of Groundwood's fall fiction has been bought by Barnes & Noble.
This spring, Groundwood produced a volume of New Testament stories, Stories from the Life of Jesus, illustrated by Linda Wolfsgruber and written by Celia Barker Lottridge, and will publish Old Testament stories, from Adam and Eve to Ezekiel, this time illustrated by Gary Clement, in the fall. "We see this as cultural publishing. We really think that it's very important for children to have access to these stories if they're going to appreciate the Western canon," says Aldana. "You can't really read literature, listen to music or look at art without knowing these stories. And the art is very sophisticated, not at all Sunday school kind of art."
Latino titles from Groundwood's Libros Tigrillo continue to sell well in the U.S., accounting for 90% of the imprint's Spanish-language sales. There are great expectations for a spring book called Rooster/Gallo, the first bilingual title Groundwood has published, which had good preorders prior to its publication in April.
For fall, Aldana cites After Sylvia by Alan Cumyn, whose first book was shortlisted for a Governor General's award, as being highly anticipated. Also important is the upcoming book for International Books for Young People, says Aldana, wherein worldwide illustrators have contributed a double-page illustration, accompanied by a chosen rhyme, poem or riddle, 33 in all. These include Quentin Blake, Tony Brown, Trina Schart Hyman and Rosemary Wells, as well as lesser-known illustrators from the Third World, and 15% of the royalties for every book that Groundwood sells will go to IBBY. Also coming this fall is an autobiographical story about the Chinese Cultural Revolution called Red Land, Yellow River by Ange Zhang. "He is an artist, so it's an illustrated memoir, with a nonfiction section about what the Chinese revolution was, sort of an illustrated documentary," she says.
Aldana still firmly believes that big-box chain stores like Chapters/Indigo are "not an effective way to sell children's books, except series books based on TV or bestsellers." Per capita, says Aldana, Vancouver's Kids Books can sell as many copies of a book as Indigo can in the whole chain, unless it's already a famous book. "But it's not their fault, it's a structural problem."
Annick Press, "the U.S. market is critically important for us," says director and co-founder Rick Wilks. Annick is a Canadian publisher of children's books, but its marketplace is very much North America; "we couldn't be the publisher we'd like to be without the U.S. marketplace." Wilks says that while Annick titles have a Canadian sensibility, they "really find a home in the United States. We get a lot of attention there, our trade and institutional sales there account for 65% of our overall sales." Annick books, he says, are consistently reviewed in all the major journals, and lately have been garnering a lot of starred reviews in the trade magazines. With library budgets diminishing and the whole crisis in school library funding, Wilks says, Annick is being more cautious with its print runs: "We'd rather do a smaller print run, then go back to press." Publishing about 30 books annually, Wilks says, the reality is that in response to the present market conditions, "there is no room for midlist books anymore. There's not enough room for them on the shelves or in library budgets. Every book has to have a real identity."
While Annick expanded into YA novels only a few years ago, its big book this season is Chanda's Secrets, a YA novel set in Africa that tackles the AIDS pandemic. Wilks commissioned Allan Stratton, author of the critically acclaimed and commercially successful YA novel Leslie's Journal to write the compelling story of a 16-year-old girl whose mother is dying of AIDS. To write it, Stratton traveled to South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe.
According to Wilks, "this is exactly the kind of publishing that excites us: it's good literature that really opens up kids' lives and introduces them to ideas and realities they may not have reflected on very much." To help move the book into the educational community, Annick has provided a teachers' guide on its Web site, and is working with community advocacy and other groups to get it into schools. Annick has world rights in all languages, and the book has sold, via auction, in a number of territories. "We've never had a success like this—we think it may go as high as 20 or 21 overseas sales," says Wilks.
Wilks is also buoyant about Loris Lesynski, an author of poetry for kids who is often compared to Shel Silverstein and Dr. Seuss in print, and her next book, Zigzag: Zoems for Zindergarten. "We have sold tens of thousands of her books, and we're selling her now in Spanish, too." Wilks notes that another reward of being a children's publisher is a more active backlist. "Backlist would be more than 50% of our sales in reprints, or books that are a few seasons old. Paper Bag Princess is about to be 15 years old and we still sell that strongly, up to about eight million now."
Kids Can Press is well known in Canada, its latest titles are being noticed south of the border as well. In 2002, Jasper's Day by American author Marjorie Blain Parker won the 2002 ASPCA Henry Bergh Children's Book Award. More recently, Bagels from Benny, written by Aubrey Davis and illustrated by Dusan Petricic, won the Sydney Taylor book Award for Younger Readers (an annual award to outstanding books with Jewish content) and received critical praise from PW, Jewish Book World, Booklist, Teacher magazine and dailies across the country. Other titles getting the star treatment include Stanley's Party, named one of Child magazine's 50 Best Books of 2003, and Suki's Kimono, written by first-time author Chieri Uegaki and illustrated by award-winning Stéphane Jorisch, which received a positive review in the New York Times and raves in major publications on both sides of the border.
Kids Can publisher and CEO Valerie Hussey welcomes the latest accolades from the U.S. "In Canada, we're known for all genres of literature and our books frequent the Canadian award lists. It's taken longer to receive that kind of attention in the U.S., and it's exciting to see our picture books, authors and illustrators begin to receive the recognition that we know they deserve." Kids Can has also been publishing titles specifically for the American market. The success of ABC of Canada and Canada Votes led to the recent publication of ABC of America and America Votes, and Biz Storms's All-American Quilts followed the success of Quilting. Its U.S. publishing program, in place since 1997, has been so successful that U.S. authors are also looking to publish with the company. Cambridge, Mass., author David J. Smith's If the World Were a Village has sold well over 100,000 copies and earned several awards; it was in the hands of other publishers before Kids Can stuck with it. Hussey says, "We know that we provide authors with an alternative to very large publishers. Our list is small, so every book is important and receives a great deal of attention and care." Also this fall, Kids Can will publish award-winning playwright Clem Martini's first children's book, The Mob, which was optioned by Canadian animation giant Nelvana. This is the first in Martini's Feather and Bone trilogy, a chronicle of Kyp, a young crow banished from his flock.
At Home and Abroad
Over at the Department of Canadian Heritage, Heritage minister Hélène Scherrer has held that position only since December and, earlier this spring, Gordon Platt was appointed acting director general of book publishing policy and programs. He succeeds Allan Clarke, who left in March to join the Privy Council office. Platt is a longtime book publishing industry insider; prior to this appointment, he was the head of the Canada Council for the Arts' writing and publishing division, and worked in the private sector with the Association of Canadian Publishers, as well as at the Department of Foreign Affairs. Scott McIntyre, president of Douglas & McIntyre and active in the industry lobby, doesn't foresee significant change, noting, "The people on the publishing side in Ottawa have been there a very long time."
Changes, if any, to the program of block grants, foreign-ownership regulations or support of industry upgrades in the supply chain, like BookNet Canada, will likely not become clear until after the next election. "There are clearly new players," says McIntyre. "There's a new minister who seems very strong, but until the election, that's on hold." Other publishers PW surveyed agree that pursuit of politically sensitive issues seems unlikely in an election year (at press time, a federal election is expected to be called for late June). Until then, it's status quo.
Meanwhile, every effort is being made to give a higher profile to BookExpo Canada, which runs June 13—14 at the Toronto convention center and, to that end, says show director Jennifer Sickinger, a number of groups have been approached and have agreed to become official supporters of the show. So far, these include the Book Promoters Association of Canada, the Book Publishers' Professional Association, the Crime Writers of Canada (which will hold its annual general meeting at the show), the Canadian Book Manufacturers Association, the Editors Association of Canada and the Book and Periodical Council—with, they hope, more to come.
Among innovations this year are an Author Presentation Stage, an area for author events right on the trade show floor, so that visiting booksellers do not have to leave the floor to attend. Also at the show, the Libris Awards will be given out, with a special reception preceding the event to begin at 5:30 p.m. on June 13. Another innovation this year is a Graphic Novel Pavilion, encouraging interest in graphic novels and comics with a series of panels and interviews with key players; participation in Graphic Novel Pavilion events is free.
So much for Canada welcoming the publishing world. There is also a group, the Association for the Export of Canadian Books, based in the capital, Ottawa, where Suzanne Bosse is the executive director. She describes a vigorous program of outreach that runs Canadian collective stands at the major book fairs—London, Bologna, BEA, Guadalajara and Frankfurt. This year in London, she says, the Canadian participation was at an all-time high, with 50 Canadian publishers exhibiting or selling rights, and 25 of them working from the Canadian collective stand. An extra perk was that a Canadian author, Paul Cavanagh, won the fair's Lit Idol award.
There will be hefty participation, too, at BEA, which benefits from being closer than usual to many Canadian publishers and booksellers with its Chicago location, though its timing, only 10 days before BEC, is problematic; in any case, a number of Canadian publishers will have authors involved in special promotions and signings, including Tundra Books, Key Porter Books, Douglas & McIntyre and Greystone.