Kevin Hanson is the president and publisher of Simon & Schuster Canada. He believes that today Canadian publishers are uniquely positioned to succeed outside the borders of the country and calls this the third wave of Canadian publishing.
Before we get to the third wave of Canadian publishing, can you please tell us about the first two waves?
The first wave was the period following the Second World War, when Canada emerged as a strong market for the export of British- and American-originated books. The distribution of books flourished in Canada alongside strong independent and national retailers and a robust educational library system. Canadian warehousing operations were built, and larger foreign-owned publishers set up Canadian operations to meet the ever-increasing expectations of Canadian customers.
The second wave of Canadian publishing began in the 1970s, when both local and foreign-owned publishers expanded in a country more and more interested in hearing its own voices. Publishers like Penguin and William Collin & Sons, along with Random House, established domestic publishing programs. Canadian-owned publishers also competed in this vibrant period that saw emerging authors such as Alice Munro, Margaret Atwood, and Michael Ondaatje join perennial bestselling authors such as Peter C. Newman, Farley Mowat, and Pierre Berton. My career started at the tail end of this wave when I joined Hurtig Publishers, a medium-size publisher in western Canada that published The Canadian Encyclopedia in 1985.
And the third wave?
The third wave of Canadian publishing not only focuses on discovering and promoting a new generation of Canadian voices, but also on exposing the rest of the world to those Canadian voices as effectively as we do within Canada. Canadian authors are global in their views and storytelling. Note the emergence of poet Rupi Kaur, who has become a truly international phenomenon, or academic Jordan Peterson, the Canadians competing for international prizes. Not only are our authors finding success outside of Canada but other aspects of our business are also expanding. I think many eyes will be watching the opening of Indigo’s first U.S.-based store in New Jersey this fall. The Canadian government is actively working on Canada being the focus at the Frankfurt Book Fair in 2020. I think we are seeing Canadians being much more at home away from home. It’s an exciting time.
How does all of this affect Simon & Schuster Canada?
Simon & Schuster established its Canadian editorial team five years ago. We are the new entrant to local Canadian publishing by a large non-Canadian company, joining Penguin Random House, HarperCollins, and Scholastic. Our nonfiction list has successfully emerged as a curated blend of memoir, history, and ideas. Our first locally produced title was A Great Game: The Forgotten Leafs & The Rise of Professional Hockey by then–prime minister Stephen Harper. Two of our most successful titles are A House in the Sky by Amanda Lindhout, a book we acquired jointly with Scribner, which continues to be a bestseller five years after publication, along with The Sun and Her Flowers, the second collection of poetry by Rupi Kaur.
What about fiction?
Building a fiction list has been a lot of fun as well. We publish both commercial and literary, including bestselling authors such as Iain Reid with his mind-bending new novel, Foe, psychological thriller authors Amy Stuart and Roz Nay, poetry by (as mentioned) the phenomenal Rupi Kaur, and a legal mystery by former chief justice of the Canadian Supreme Court Beverley McLachlin. We also publish, in tandem with our international colleagues, authors such as Ruth Ware, Fredrik Backman, and Liz Nugent, along with many others. We can proudly say that we have published over 100 titles in the last three years, and that well over half of them have become national bestsellers.
We are now focusing on acquiring and producing new titles not just for our home market but for the wider Simon & Schuster network. Next spring, we will publish for the North American market novels by bestselling Canadian authors Daniel Kalla, Andrew Pyper, and S.J. Maher, alongside Quebec superstar author Patrick Senécal.
What will the challenges be going forward?
Most of us have spent our careers trying to figure out how to connect authors from abroad to readers in Canada. That has involved determining which books fit, which ones don’t, what covers will work, which ones won’t, which authors we need to tour, and so on. Now we are thinking not just about Canadian readers, but about readers in the U.S. and abroad. We have fantastic colleagues who are helping us do that, and I know we are ready for the challenge. I also believe the world wants to hear more Canadian voices. One way or another, here we come.