When Douglas & McIntyre – once one of Canada’s largest independent book publishers – filed for bankruptcy in fall 2012, the news sent reverberations throughout the industry. Although rumours swirled at the time that the 42-year-old Vancouver press would be sold to a Toronto-based multinational, its future remained uncertain until early 2013, when founding partner Scott McIntyre sold the flagship D&M imprint to British Columbia–based Harbour Publishing. D&M’s Greystone Books imprint also remained in the province, sold to Heritage House Publishing.
As the imprints settled into their new homes, several former D&M employees became entrepreneurs, building on the publisher’s notable legacy.
Figure 1 Publishing
Chris Labonte – who’d served as D&M’s associate publisher and acquiring editor – launched Figure 1 Publishing in 2014 with fellow former staffers Peter Cocking and Richard Nadeau to produce high-end niche books on behalf of the art and architecture, business, and culinary sectors. “Obviously the challenge in book publishing forever has been how to sell books. How do you get to market? How do you let a readership know your book even exists?” Labonté says. “We’re looking for ways to get books to the right people.”
By partnering with restaurants, cultural institutions, and private companies to collaboratively produce high-quality “keepsake artifacts,” the Figure 1 model “mitigates some risk, when the retail market is not dependable in the way it might have been 20 years ago.” Labonté credits D&M for teaching Figure 1’s principals “how to deliver the quality, work collaboratively, and how to make the finances work in these kinds of books.”
Next up, Figure 1 has sights on expansion south of the border, starting with some forthcoming editions of its City Cooks series that will spotlight U.S. locales.
Page Two Strategies
Page Two Strategies’ co-founders – former D&M chief operating officer Jesse Finkelstein and publisher Trena White – say the goal for their creative book publishing agency, which specializes in taking a customized approach to each project, is to maintain D&M’s high editorial standards. “It’s a new model and we didn’t initially know how it would be received, but we spent months discussing and testing it with colleagues and advisers before we launched,” Finkelstein says. “Our philosophy is simple: no two authors or books are alike, so no two publishing strategies should be the same.”
The operation has expanded to a six-person team that includes industry professionals from D&M. Their focus is on tackling non-fiction projects that require a unique approach, whether it’s a travel guide on a tight turnaround, a dedicated ebook, or a commissioned title about Pokémon Go. Finkelstein and White also represent authors as literary agents through a partnership with the Transatlantic Agency. “It’s exciting to think that our company is only a few years old, but we’ve had the good fortune to work with a host of great authors and organizations,” says Finkelstein.
Any media outlet covering Canadian books will at some point run across Zoe Grams’s boutique full-service agency, ZG Communications. The Edinburgh native – who worked for marketing agencies and as a freelance writer and designer in London and Vancouver before finding her calling in publishing – didn’t set out to run her own business. She had only been employed with D&M as a publicist for 18 months before the bankruptcy, and continued freelancing to make ends meet.
“I had enough freelance work to keep the lights on, but nothing excited me in terms of jobs,” says Grams, who thanks D&M for giving her the opportunity to work with both emerging and established authors. “If nothing else is giving me these butterflies, why don’t I continue to do this? It was a very organic process.”
One of Grams’s first clients was Greystone, which hired her to publicize the launch of its first season under its new ownership. By 2015, she “started thinking about it not just as me taking on work, but as a company and as a brand.” Today, 70 per cent of Grams’s clients are from publishing (including Page Two), and the remaining 30 per cent are mostly non-profits.
ZG Communications is now a two-person agency, with former Talonbooks publicist Megan Jones acting as communications manager. Currently, the pair works out of Grams’s home, but they’re on the lookout for office space, anticipating another hire this fall. – Sue Carter and Becky Robertson