Annick Press has long been a company focused on creator outreach and in-house collaboration when developing our publishing program. Our guiding principles—to find new ways into ideas, challenge ways of thinking, and try to be as inclusive and representative as possible—have led us to seek out exciting new opportunities with creators early in their careers and to ideally establish strong and long-lasting relationships with everyone on our list. Over the last few years, however, we have shifted our approach to outreach and acquisitions.
Over the last 18 months in particular, with the renewed call for concrete ways to address the inequities that exist in publishing, we have discussed extensively how to take more transparent steps toward helping underrepresented writers find ways to get their stories told. How do we prioritize and amplify those voices? How do we examine our own assumptions about the industry? How do we implement changes across the company to improve infrastructure and processes to help break down barriers, rather than create them?
Most importantly, when we’re connecting with new writers, how do we go about building good relationships with them? Establishing trust, respecting their processes, giving informed feedback, and helping to develop ideas are things that can’t be rushed and look different for everyone.
One result of all these conversations was to create a mentorship program for writers who have been historically excluded from publishing. This includes but is not limited to LGBTQ2SIA+ writers, Black writers, Indigenous writers, writers of color, writers living with disabilities, and anyone living at the intersections of these identities.
Our goals with the mentorship program are: to improve and expand on the ways in which we develop ideas with new creators and help them refine their work; to clearly define a process and a space for providing that guidance; and to offer creators the opportunity to learn more about an industry that has not provided equal access to everyone. We also wanted to compensate creators for this time, regardless of whether or not their project would ultimately be a fit for Annick’s list.
So, after months of in-house collaboration and support we were thrilled to roll this program out in January and overwhelmed at the enthusiasm with which it was received. Our first call for submissions resulted in nearly 150 applications. Applicants were asked to submit a form outlining what they were looking for in a mentorship and briefly describing a project they’d like to develop. We also asked them to include a writing sample of their choice, no matter how rough or unpolished.
A selection committee made up of editors and two in-house staff from different departments (to ensure as wide a range of perspectives as possible) then reviewed the applications and met to discuss them and select a shortlist. From that shortlist, three mentees were chosen for the first round, each of whom worked with a different editor.
The three-month mentorships are intentionally structured to be flexible and transparent in order to meet the needs and goals of the creators. Some focus exclusively on idea development; others include an industry overview and participation from staff in addition to the editor. Internally, this flexibility has allowed us to review and refine our processes as we go and to shift things based on applicant responses, feedback from the mentees, and any other helpful takeaways from each round.
Our second call for submissions is now closed; we are planning for a third in the fall. We have an even more robust selection committee for the remainder of the program, with the addition of two new editorial team members since May. Their perspectives have bolstered the integrity and inclusivity of the selection process. Our goal is to work with nine to 12 writers in 2021, each of whom receives a C$1,000 honorarium upon completion of the program.
At the end of the day, we want children of all different backgrounds and identities to see themselves represented in our books; we want our books to offer new perspectives to readers and to increase their understanding of the world and the many experiences and points of view within it. The mentorship program provides new and exciting ways to achieve this kind of meaningful representation by helping us support writers early in their careers and by fostering relationships with a wide range of creators we hope to work with now and into the future.
Rick Wilks is the director of Annick Press in Toronto. Katie Hearn is the editorial director of Annick Press.