It's been described as "a mouse trying to live next door to an elephant," and the Canadian book business certainly has its share of problems. One is that despite a fiercely loyal readership for Canadian books, the bulk of the titles sold in the country come from south of the border.
Add to that a huge geographic area with the greater part of the inhabitants living on either coast; a population smaller than that of California; and an inundation of books from London, Europe and other British Commonwealth countries as well as from the U.S., and it's clear that one of the business's biggest efforts is trying to fit a gallon into a pint pot—and to maintain an adequate distribution flow. "How do we deal with the flood of books from outside and make room for our own, too?" asks David Davidar, the comparatively new (since early last year) head of Penguin Canada. "It's such a small market, but with such a great range."
Davidar is one of two bright new lights to be ignited recently in Canadian publishing (the other is Doug Pepper at McClelland & Stewart—see sidebar) and is being keenly watched to see where he is planning to take one of the big three internationally owned publishers. His recent buy, made personally, of Canadian rights to Khaled Hosseini's follow-up novel to his bestselling The Kite Runner, reportedly for north of half a million dollars, raised eyebrows, with some suggesting that he couldn't possibly expect to make that advance back in Canadian sales. But Davidar sees it as an important gesture toward a new internationalism. He himself came from Penguin India, and he thinks the book world "has come to an interesting pass in how people are looking at each other. You now have a number of fine writers from many countries who are writing in English as their first language. We have to try to figure things out so that we can introduce readers to these new ideas and new books"
In this effort, he is encouraged to see Canada as a kind of pioneer. "Canadians tend to be more internationally minded in their acceptance of outside writers," and bookstore chain Indigo, which is strongly supportive of local writers ("The world needs more Canada" is a motto emblazoned on the Canadian sections of its stores), is also, he says, receptive to writers from overseas.
This is Davidar's first full year in charge at Penguin, and it is now, he says, beginning to reflect his own judgment of where it should be heading. "I inherited a lot of stuff, some of which I'd have bought, some I wouldn't," he says. "But we didn't cancel any contracts. We decided to move on with what we had, and it seems to be working." In fact, he says, Penguin has done "much better than usual" in the past year, "nailing all our targets." He has his editors concentrating in their own area of expertise, instead of, as previously, "buying all over the map." Davidar admits that fiction has to be bought very carefully these days; a recent purchase he is particularly keen on is Craig Davidson's Rust and Bone,a book of stories about violence that reminds him of Thom Jones's The Pugilist at Restand is being done this fall by Norton in the U.S.
Maximizing the clout of the company's rich backlist, which he sees as the strongest outside that of M&S, is another effort of Davidar's, and in fact he is working with that company to reissue some classic Canadian titles in a new line of Penguin Classics, comparable to M&S's New Canadian Library (see p. S4). "I think that with innovative packaging you can reinvent books from generation to generation." It's all part of an effort to make the Canadian program bigger and more profitable. "Because of the loyal Canadian readership, it's local publishing that gets you good placement in the stores."
As to Davidar's own writing (he is that rare publishing chieftain who is also an author), his new novel is nearly done in first draft and should be ready for publication by next spring.
New Face at Key Porter
With the recent retirement of Anna Porter as the head of her Key Porter house—which for years, because of its publisher's flair and mystique, had enjoyed greater prominence on the scene than its small size would warrant—all eyes have turned on Jordan Fenn, her replacement. Fenn is the son of Harold Fenn of H.B. Fenn, one of the country's premier book distributors, and had headed its small publishing operation, focusing largely on sports books and a few children's titles.
As Fenn explains his new position, Porter and the Fenns had been friends for many years "and we often joked about buying her company." Key Porter moved to the Fenns for distribution when General Publishing collapsed a couple of years ago, which helped cement the relationship. "She was looking for a succession, and we were looking to acquire a Canadian publishing operation, so it made sense to buy the company." Porter resigned a month ago, but she and Fenn had traveled around together for six months before that, beginning with a visit to the Frankfurt Book Fair last fall, while he learned how she operated.
Now he believes that with Fenn's distribution smarts—the $130-million company handles books from major bestsellers like James Patterson and Nicholas Sparks, as well as Canadians like Norman Jewison and Farley Mowat—and Key Porter's traditions and history, the Key Porter authors will be given extra weight in the marketplace. "Fenn has a fantastic sales force that knows its targets and accounts, so the salespeople can now give their input to the publishing board, with some realistic figures," says Fenn.
Although Key Porter had seemed dormant recently, Fenn says there were two new titles last fall, and five this fall. "We're working with agents; there will be some debuts; we went into auction for some titles." He has a strong interest in fiction, and the new Key Porter will also do some history, biography, a memoir or two, and issue-driven political books. He wants to grow the children's program, too—and the Fenn arm will continue to do hockey books (Fenn has the exclusive book franchise for the Hockey Hall of Fame, a big deal in Canada). But everything will be carefully chosen for marketability: "We don't want to do books that just hang there."
Porter was a familiar figure on the international scene, and the house, says Fenn, has a "great international department, good at selling rights, so we're after world rights whenever we can get them." Print runs, he acknowledges, are tricky in Canada—5,000 copies is sufficient to make a bestseller—and will have to be carefully watched.
With annual sales at around $7 million, and 20 employees, Key Porter is one of the larger Canadian independent houses, and Fenn has just moved it into new offices on the top floor of an office conversion just off Yonge Street in downtown Toronto. Porter, he says, will scout for possible projects from time to time, while resuming her writing career (she has written some well-received mysteries, including a murder mystery set at the Frankfurt fair).
The jury is obviously out on whether Fenn can restore the luster of the company. There are some who see his stewardship as an indulgence offered to the son of a wealthy family, and doubt whether he has any publishing flair. But Key Porter is part of the Canadian publishing heritage, and everyone would like to see him succeed.
Casting a Wider Net
Two houses suggest strongly the extent to which Canada is much more receptive than in the past to authors from elsewhere than the usual foreign suspects, London and New York. Kim McArthur, chief of her own McArthur & Company since Time Warner closed down Little, Brown Canada and threw her out in the cold (she's long forgiven Larry Kirshbaum and was, like everyone else, all agog at news of his impending departure), still has a bestselling list of books from Orion and now Hodder, too, in Britain (Maeve Binchy and Ian Rankin at the top). But she is increasingly venturing elsewhere for her largely fiction list. It now includes India's Vikram Seth (with his forthcoming Two Lives,HarperCollins in the U.S.), South Africa's Bryce Courtenay (with a saga set in Australia, Brother Fish) and Australia's Colleen McCullough (Angel,not yet bought for the States).
McArthur hasn't given up on the usual suspects. She is giving a big push to our own Soho publisher Juris Jurjevics and hisThe Trudeau Vector, a thriller set in the Arctic that for obvious though irrelevant reasons resonates in Canada; Longings and Belongings,a book of essays by Canadian-in-France Nancy Huston, and a new novel by Canadian Barry Kennedy (The Hindmost) called Rock Varnish; and a debut Canadian novel, Treading Waterby British Columbia's Anne DeGrace. An unusual (for her) history book is Christmas in Washingtonby a pair of Canadian historians, David Bercuson and Holger Herwig, in which they examine the 1941 meeting Winston Churchill had with President Roosevelt to plan Allied war strategy (Overlook has this for the States).
McArthur, by the way, who never met a piece of publishing gossip she didn't like and is the best-informed person in Canadian publishing (watch, she says darkly, for another major North American acquisition soon by a Europe-based giant), has just been named 2005's Business Woman of the Year in Canada by Consumer's Choice. Hmmm.
Over at HarperCollins, David Kent is lamenting, as usual, that a spectacular year just past must now, by corporate fiat, be succeeded by an even more spectacular one, and he wonders aloud how that can possibly be achieved. For this interview, he was absent his usual award-winning editorial sidekicks, Iris Tupholme and Phyllis Bruce, both traveling, perhaps a sign of HC Canada's growing internationalism. For such it is, with a list that includes Michael Cunningham's Specimen Days,just published by FSG; Melania Mazzucco's bestselling Italian novel Vita,discovered by Kent himself when he saw an extensive display in an Italian bookstore; Australian Tim Winton's The Turning,a book of stories for which HC persuaded the author's agent to split off Canada; Briton James Meek's The People's Act of Love, a remarkable love story set in Siberia during the Russian Revolution that was a discovery of Jamie Byng's Canongate; and Katherine Govier's Three Views of Crystal Water, a story of 19th-century Japanese women who dove for pearls.
Spreading the Word
At Publishers Group Canada—the north of the border outgrowth of Publishers Group West, itself now an international company—Graham Fidler boasts of an operation that he says now has the best distribution in Canada and represents dozens of smaller U.S. publishers as well as some of its own.
From an expanded walk-up in western Toronto, not far from a pub he boasts has the best pub lunch in town—and proves it to PW—Fidler talks about his group's progress. Vancouver publisher Raincoast, flush with its Canadian Harry Potter franchise, bought PGC, then moved its distribution to its super-efficient Vancouver warehouse, whence, Fidler says, books can be shipped to Toronto in only three days. "It's not the sexy part of the business, but it's important you do it well."
PGW's U.S. clients, Fidler says, are still 75% of the list, including of course the Avalon imprints and such noted indies as Soft Skull Press, Seven Stories and New World Library. PGC takes all their frontlist titles, skipping books that are obviously directed only to American regional interests.
Fidler has considerable insight into the Canadian retailing scene as dominated by Indigo's Heather Reisman, who in the week of PW's visit was the subject of a huge cover story in Toronto Lifedesignating her and her husband, multimillionaire financier Gerry Schwartz, as the city's premier power couple. (Despite much puffing and blowing, the magazinenever managed to come up with much against Reisman as a bookseller other than that she was perhaps overfond of such tchotchkes as candles and jewelry in her handsome stores.) There are currently about 15 Indigo superstores in the country and 70 smaller Chapters (Chapters' legendary Toronto flagship store just closed), and Canadian publishers are only just beginning to breathe easy again after the final nightmare months of the Chapters reign, before Schwartz bought it for Reisman to head. "That was a time when they were treating books as wallpaper for new stores, and we had a flood of returns with which they wanted to pay their bills." The most recent problem has been Indigo's struggle to switch over to an SAP system last summer, which resulted in a lot of canceled backlist titles, followed by strenuous efforts by their mostly smaller publishers to get the titles back into stock.
PGC is now looking beyond the obvious book markets to such chains as Costco, where some unlikely titles have proved to be bestsellers for the chain (and are still recorded in only double digits on Amazon. ca). Would you believe a book called A Short History of Progress, a House of Anansi series of lectures delivered at the University of Toronto, or Eckhart Tolle's The Power of One? On the other hand, you probably would believe a children's book called Walter, the Farting Dog.
Fidler is a great fan of Canada's remaining independent bookstores, which, like those in the States, have emerged stronger from their struggles to stay afloat in the great slimming of recent years. Among those he singles out for particular mention are Vancouver Kid's Books ("They sold me a couple of children's books when I went to sell there, and I don't even have kids!"), McNally Robinson (which recently opened a quixotic branch in New York's SoHo) and Toronto's Book City. "One of their secrets," he says, referring to all the indies, "is that they still do windows very well—and of course they know their neighborhoods and their clientele." Noam Chomsky's 9-11still sells, but on the whole the political left "is exhausted by Bush being returned. We still carry political books because they're relevant and important."
Fidler was heading for BEA as we spoke, where the plan is to stress the growing role of Publishers Group Worldwide—and also to look out for potential new American publishers to join the roster.
Random House Canada has much the same structure as in the U.S. except with fewer imprints—no Crown or Ballantine, for instance. But it's still the giant of the big three, and, says chairman and CEO John Neale, it's just coming off two record years in a row in terms of sales and profits. Part of that is due to the ubiquitous Da Vinci phenomenon, and the house also has the Star Wars franchise, but there are strong Canadian titles that linger as bestsellers, including most notably Miriam Toews's novel A Complicated Kindnessand the devastating memoir by Romeo Dallaire, former U.N. commander in Rwanda, Shake Hands with the Devil.
"We get the best possible books from the U.S. and the U.K., as well as plenty of strong Canadian authors," says Neale, adding, "There are more English-language titles available at any given time in Canada than anywhere in the world." Despite this plenitude, gross book sales are not increasing, "so we have to maximize our results in that context."
He doesn't worry, as some of the smaller publishers do, about Indigo giving up too much space to merchandise other than books. "These are big stores, and they have to have some nonbook things that will draw in traffic." Random is also selling more now to other outlets: Costco, yes, but also Loblaw's and, increasingly, Shopper's Drug Stores, a big pharmaceutical chain. Indigo's returns, once excessive, are now well under control, according to Neale, but he worries that in terms of bestsellers, "the top is very thin, and once you have a winner you don't let it go." Holdovers from last year, for instance, are currently 30% of the bestseller list, and there are more than the usual number of 100,000-plus sellers (an extraordinary sales level in the Canadian market). Mass market sales consolidated here in the late 1990s, said Neale, "and we haven't seen the same fall-off as in the States."
Brad Martin, COO and sales director, boasts that Random as a distributor offers much stronger sales and marketing support than other distributor groups, hinting that the house would be open to even more distribution clients.
The literary side is presented by Louise Dennys for Knopf and Maya Mavjee for Doubleday, with the former reporting "a very good year indeed," adding: "We all worry constantly, but there's not as much need to worry as usual at the moment." Mavjee is launching a new line, Bond Street Books (named not after the luxury London shopping street, but the Toronto one where Doubleday originally lived), which is devoted to a select list of international fiction and nonfiction, with a decided tilt toward fiction. First authors in what will eventually be a list of eight to 10 titles a year, with a special marketing push, include Myla Goldberg (Bee Season), with a novel set in Boston during the 1918 flu epidemic, Wickett's Remedy(Penguin here);a debut by a London author in the Zadie Smith mold, Diana Evans, with 26A(Morrow in the U.S.); and a book by veteran English journalist William Leith called The Hungry Years: Confessions of a Food Addict.
Knopf Canada has signed on for the international launch this fall of the ambitious Canongate/Grove Atlantic—originated Myths project, in which noted authors offer their versions of the great Greek myths—and with particular relish because superstar Margaret Atwood, with the Penelopiad,is one of the initial authors. (Her husband, Graeme Gibson, a noted bird artist, will have The Bedside Book of Birds, sold to Nan Talese in the U.S. and Bloomsbury in the U.K.). Knopf, which has also taken on Joan Barfoot with her Luck,extravagantly blurbed by none other than Alice Munro, is doing the new Salman Rushdie, Shalimar the Clown;P.D. James's latest, The Lighthouse; and a specially prepared Canadian edition of that old chestnut by Amy Wallace and David Wallechinsky, once a U.S. perennial bestseller, The Book of Lists.
Two books Mavjee is especially keen on but which have so far, to her astonishment, not found a U.S. publisher, are Sweetness in the Belly,revolving around a Muslim nurse in Thatcherite London, and Children of the Dayby an acclaimed Canadian, Sandra Birdsell.
A Smaller Perspective
At the recently reconstituted small house of Thomas Allen, celebrating its fifth anniversary at the end of the year as the publishing arm of a larger distribution operation, editorial director Patrick Crean worries that there are fewer strong medium- sized independent houses in Canada—like his own—than there used to be. "It's one of the toughest book markets in the world because of the huge mass of titles, so you have to try harder."
His solution is to do fewer books, focus more intensely on each, tighten print runs to cut down on returns and offer highly focused publicity and marketing. This has paid off spectacularly in the case of the house's two biggest recent sellers, Tom Harper's The Pagan Christ,an attempt to reinvigorate the church by looking hard at Christianity's beginnings (see p. S10), and an inspirational book about Canadian troops at D-Day. Greed Inc.by Toronto professor Wade Rowland examines the deleterious effect corporate ethics have had on the human race, and for the fall Allen will offer What I Meant to Say, essays on the private, often unspoken lives of men, and Mary Gordon's The Roots of Empathy,a kind of emotional intelligence coaching program she uses in schools.
Crean is saddened by how many books he has to turn down to keep the list to its optimum level of about 15 titles a year. He also figures that the imminent arrival of Bookscan-type sales reporting in Canada (see p. S12) will cut down on author advances.
In the Graphic Mainstream
Last month, the Canadian comics industry unveiled two new, separate and unrelated comics award schemes: the Shusters and the Doug Wright awards. As its choice of namesake, the Canadian-born co-creator of Superman, would suggest, the Shusters have several categories, focusing on more traditional mainstream comics fare, in the spirit of the Eisner Awards in the U.S. The Wrights, named for the creator of a popular long-running pantomime strip, are more reminiscent of the alternative American Harvey Awards. The latter debuted with just two categories — best book (Seth) and best new talent (Bryan Lee O'Malley)—at the Toronto Comic Arts Festival, an emerging, biannual festival held in downtown Toronto.
Thanks in part to the ubiquitous Bif! Bang! Pow! headlines, several general Canadian publishers are also jumping on the comics bandwagon. On the manga side, Harlequin will license content of its six bestselling romance titles to Dark Horse Comics for publication as manga, beginning in December, under the name Harlequin Ginger Blossom. Ohzora, a Japan publisher, has already successfully published manga versions of about 250 Harlequin titles in that country; the partnership will sell titles in the U.S., the U.K., Australia and Canada.
Meanwhile, after switching U.S. distribution to FSG from Chronicle this spring (it is still with Raincoast Books in Canada), Montreal's Drawn & Quarterly continues its tradition of literary comics for fall. A key title is Baghdad Journal, an oversized art book of sketches and watercolors by Steve Mumford, a New York artist who spent 10 months in Baghdad (both among civilians and embedded U.S. troops) at the beginning of the occupation. The book collects work first shown on the Artnet site and shown at the Postmasters gallery in Chelsea. There is also Pyongyang, a graphic memoir by French-Canadian animator Guy Delisle, who chronicles the bird's-eye view of a foreigner during his two-month stint in North Korea working for a French animation studio. It's Delisle's fourth graphic novel, but the first to be translated into English (he is usually published by France's L'Association). There is also an English-language translation of Japanese post-war cartoonist Yoshihiro Tasumi's The Push Man, designed, edited and with an introduction by Adrian Tomine, and just as the Art Gallery of Ontario mounts a retrospective of his work and career that will run well into the fall, D&Q will publish Seth's new graphic novel, WimbledonGreen, about a fictional eccentric comics collector.
But the most interesting development in Canadian comics publishing is the dip into the India ink by two established, general houses—Penguin Canada and McClelland & Stewart, both publishing their first graphic titles; specifically, serious nonfiction comics for adults. The issues-oriented memoirs bear more than a passing resemblance to Marjane Satrapi's Iranian memoir Persepolis (and to Marisa Acocella's autobiographical CancerVixen, recently won by Knopf), the former published in English by Pantheon to much acclaim. Both are graphic memoirs told by women and, like Satrapi, both are new to comics, neither having written a graphic novel before.
Ellen Seligman, publisher (fiction) and senior v-p at M&S, acquired world rights to I Was a Child of Holocaust Survivors by Bernice Eisenstein (via agent Dean Cooke) earlier this year, for publication in 2006. M&S has since sold foreign rights to the U.S. in a six-figure deal (Riverhead), and rights to the U.K. (Picador), Holland (Bezige Bij), Italy (Guanda) and Spain (Mondadori).
Similarly, Penguin Canada's senior editor Barbara Berson had no plans to develop a graphic novel imprint: she acquired Dragonslippers by Rosalind Penfold (Penguin Viking, this fall) a graphic memoir of domestic abuse, simply on the strength of its story. Dragonslippers is drawn in a primitive style (again, reminiscent of Satrapi). "There was a lot of buzz about it, and graphic novels in general, but not many people were venturesome about it," says Berson.
That was a year and a half ago. Penfold has since acquired an agent, Samantha Haywood of Transatlantic Literary Agency, and this week, Dragonslippers went on to become the first graphic novel Grove Atlantic has ever bought (by editor Elisabeth Schmitz); it will be Grove's lead Black Cat title in the next season or two. Haywood has also sold the memoir, for publication next spring, to Michael Fishwick at HarperCollins UK, and rights in Germany (Eichborn), Italy (Sperling & Kupfer), Spain (Lumen) and Brazil (Ediouro).
"In some way for us, it's a bit of an experiment," says Berson. "We were the first mainstream publisher to take on a graphic book that I know of."
It's notable with the M&S and Penguin Canada acquisitions that, not unlike the mandate at Drawn & Quarterly, it is the editor's belief in the strength and importance of the material that is driving publication, as opposed to a perceived market need.
"If Dragonslippers fails," Berson adds, "I will be interested to know why, but if it succeeds, I think it will say something about this book and about the graphic category, too. The mainstream embrace is ahead of us, not behind us."
To Market, to Market
As review space in newspapers and consumer publications continues to shrink and specialty book programming dwindles—Imprint, publishing's go-to book interview show, was canceled by public broadcaster TVO after 16 years on the air this spring—publishers had to be resourceful to pump key titles for fall. And often, they turned to the authors themselves. (The jury is still out on whether Margaret Atwood's remote signing gadget UNOTCHIT is an elaborate hoax or a brilliant self-promotional campaign.) On public radio broadcaster CBC, five authors duked it out, Survivor-style, during the month-long Canada Reads campaign. The program resurrected a long out-of-print, little-known Newfoundland novel, Rockbound, written in 1928 by Frank Parker Day, and propelled it onto the bestseller lists for University of Toronto Press.
The upstart House of Anansi targeted the grassroots book culture of the Internet early on, with banner advertising on Bookninja and Bookslut, and Michael Winter, author of its lead fiction title, the historical novel The Big Why, kept a daily blog during preparation for his launch and throughout his fall book tour. McClelland & Stewart's Doug Gibson, with the help of newly appointed director of marketing and publicity Bruce Walsh, coaxed the legendarily reticent author Alice Munro into starring in a 30-second television commercial for her short story collection Runaway. Munro talked to the camera about being a writer, and the spot aired on specialty digital channels like Book Television, then moved to mainstream network programming. But it was the always-game Pierre Berton who, at the height of Canada's ongoing debate on the decriminalization of marijuana, embraced the opportunity for self-promotion in a segment on the popular satirical news show Monday Report, demonstrating how to properly roll a joint, using the cover of his latest hardcover book.
In March, Anansi unleashed another innovative marketing campaign, Not The Usual Suspects, running print ads and plastering the downtown core of four Ontario cities (in the manner practiced by indie rock bands) with posters picturing the season's five key authors (including Atwood) in a police lineup, and inviting readers to go to the publisher's Web site and identify all five authors for a chance to win Anansi books. (Not uncoincidentally, Anansi also sells directly to consumers from its Web site.)
Upgrading the S&S Role
For many years Simon & Schuster Canada had simply been a distribution service for the company's titles in Canada. Then in 2002 it bought a big Canadian distributor, Distican, and made its president, Deb Woods, head of S&S Canada. In this role she worked at changing it into a sales and marketing company designed to give S&S titles much higher visibility in the country.
She supervised the moving of the S&S offices, set up new financial and information systems and launched customer service functions. Now, however, Woods has decided she wants a break from corporate life and is stepping down next month. There are no immediate plans to replace her, and a small senior management team reporting to sales and distribution president Larry Norton will continue to run S&S Canada.
One member of that team, Ros Junke, reports that S&S handles the vast majority of the books the house publishes in both the U.S. and the U.K., and that very few Canadian rights are sold separately on S&S titles. Some Canadian authors it publishes, like forensic thriller author Kathy Reichs, and Gayla Traill of the You Grow Girl gardening books for Fireside, are able to get a special marketing push here.
Why has S&S never had a publishing operation in Canada? "It's something that's been looked at from time to time, but so far the decision has always been not to publish," says Junke. "But it always remains an option, if we should change our minds."
Some books the house does, like Brick Lane by British author Monica Ali, receive special attention in Canada because of their British origins, or because, as in the case of Ali's book, Booker Prize attention. "I think the British awards probably mean more here than they do in the States," Junke says. Books currently doing particularly well for S&S in Canada include Dan Brown's Angels and Demons, both the text and illustrated editions; He's Just Not That Into You; and the books of Dr. Phil. In children's Spongebob Squarepants and Nickelodeon titles do well. Authors S&S Canada sees as building in Canada include Jodi Picoult and Jennifer Weiner.
Like other S&S international divisions, the Canadian one is experimenting with a series of original trade paperbacks for certain popular authors, like Jude Devereux and Fern Michaels.
At the big Toronto agency Westwood Creative, John Pearce, who joined last year after a long career in senior editorial positions at the Random group, describes an "enhancement" of the agency's international perspective, by which he means "a mapping out of the international territory more strategically." This would include an effort to improve Canadian representation for British and American authors.
There was talk at the London Book Fair of a possible acquisition that would give Westwood a London outpost; without going that far, Pearce definitely foresees a bigger future presence in both London and New York, and is borne out by agency chief Bruce Westwood. "We definitely plan to spend more time in London and New York in the future," Westwood said.
As to plans to open offices in either city, Westwood says that he had once considered opening an agency in New York but had been dissuaded by many publisher clients. "They like the fact that we could offer them a window on what's happening in Canada, and we're only an hour away." He was in fact planning a visit shortly in which he had meetings scheduled with nearly 50 publishers over a few days. "As the biggest agency in Canada, there's not a publisher we'd want to see who wouldn't want to see us," he declares.
The London situation is somewhat different. Bruce certainly believes in regular visits—someone from Westwood visits the city at least four or five times a year—and he doesn't want to have co-agents representing the agency's titles. "The thing an agent has to offer is passion, and if it's not your book you just don't always have it," he observes. But the question of whether to buy an existing agency (in response to recent rumors involving several, he joked to an interviewer that "we plan to buy all three!") remains moot. At some point, however, he's convinced that there will be a permanent position in London. Meanwhile, Westwood will continue to deal directly with British publishers, without going through any "middleman."
The internationalization of Canadian publishing is an ongoing process, Westwood says. "If you'd told me six years ago that American, British and European publishers would be flying to Toronto to see us, I'd have thought it was highly unlikely. But that's what's happening now."
Pearce says part of his brief is to look for authors whose work will sell as well as, or even better than, outside Canada as in. "We haven't been strong on nonfiction with international interest," he notes. "And that's where we'd like to develop a stronger profile. I think in future we'd be likely to eschew books of primarily local Canadian interest." He cites a book called Revolution, Inc. by Mark McKinnon, about U.S. commercial activities in Russia today, just sold in the U.S., as an example of the kind of book the agency is looking for.
The active government support in Canada for publishers and writers, including a vigorous program of literary awards and prizes, has led to the curious situation that literary fiction has been encouraged at the expense of commercial fiction ("We have very little home-gown genre fiction"), and Canadian subjects at the expense of writing with a wider view. Most publishers we spoke to agreed that this would, and should, change.