On the morning of April 23 I wake up early with the intention of handling a few side-projects and emails before heading off to McGill-Queen’s University Press. Fishing through my inbox I realize that when I switched the time on my computer to EST, all the appointments in my calendar switched with it. What I thought was going to be an 11 o’clock appointment is actually at 9! Thankfully the B&B owner is already in the kitchen making breakfast.
Over fresh-baked bread and homemade jams I have the pleasure of getting to know the owner—a 27-year-old Japanese woman who is kind enough to explain to me that kaizen is indeed, for most Japanese, just the word for improvement rather than a philosophy about gradual betterment. She wrote it out for me (in three different scripts) on a yellow recipe card. This is important because by the end of the week, when I make it to Halifax, I will have decided to take part of what she wrote and tattoo it on my left hand.
McGill-Queen’s University Press
(On time!) I walk to the McGill campus along Rue Sherbrook and head up an office tower to the 17th floor. There I meet Susan McIntosh, Associate Director and Marketing Director of MQUP, and we head to a boardroom that doubles as the press library.
Susan McIntosh began her publishing career working for D&M as a Sales Representative. Over her years there she eventually became the VP of Sales. In 2005 she decided she wanted to move back to her home city of Montreal and applied for a marketing manager position at MQUP. She got it!
There was a big adjustment from trade to scholarly publishing. Susan identifies a basic difference between a trade and a scholarly publisher as the amount of control over the end product. When it comes to their publications, MQUP is looking to produce the best, and that best will be so not only according to MQUP, but also to a number of the author’s peers who have the experience, authority, and credibility to ascertain a work’s merit.
The best can be hard to find, however. When it comes to non-regional subjects, many authors prefer to be published in the United States where the market is inevitably better. Knowing this, MQUP actively pursues international sales and boasts that 50% of their current distribution is international.
So, something happened while I was at MQUP that I feel is important to acknowledge. One of the editors there is also a writer (this is common in many houses—editors publishing their own books with other houses or sometimes within their own press under a pseudonym). He’s a writer whose book was in limbo when D&M filed for creditor protection.
I have been strict about ensuring that this tour and blog is encouraging. I want to fuel the positive side of the Canadian publishing conversation because I think the negative side gets enough attention. Frankly, I’m of the school of thought that the beast that wins is the one you feed. In talking with this author, however, it was hard to draw out any sort of positivity. He was content that his book would (under another publisher) still be published, but his attitude towards the industry as a whole was… unenthusiastic. After reflecting on it, perhaps it was naïve—even rude of me—to ask about the bright side. You don’t ask someone whose partner just died to find the silver lining. In this case, “But hey! Your book is still getting published!” was just…not right.
The reality is in the ecosystem that is publishing (and this isn’t unique to current times) sometimes things suck. Sometimes things go wrong and fail, and positive-thinking can only go so far. It’s not a reason to give up entirely, but I feel it is important to acknowledge such things.
Having literally come face-to-face with the negative reality for some of those in the industry, the walk back to the B&B is uncomfortable and melancholic. But now what?
I remind myself of the end of my conversation with Susan. Again trying to direct our conversation in a positive way, I had asked her what she looked forward to seeing in publishing. Her response was that she is excited to see the new energy in publishing coming from people unafraid to be shameless or controversial. She recalls Jack McLelland in the 70s—fearless in getting his own media to sell books—who ran up and down Yonge street in a toga.
…Hint taken, Mrs. McIntosh, hint taken.
Y’all keep your eyes on Yonge Street.