Kenneth Whyte, president of Toronto-based nonfiction publisher Sutherland House, says he often discovers strong pitches in the slush pile. But to sell domestically and internationally, he too frequently passes on ideas that skew too Canuck. “I didn’t think I had a way to bring them to market and have a reasonable shot of being profitable,” he recalls. “Nonfiction ideas, particularly current affairs, have a limited market in English Canada.”
He intends to change that with his new series, Sutherland Quarterly. Announced in November 2022, the series publishes, in book form, longform essays of about 100 pages on timely topics from a Canadian point of view. The quarterly books are available both at retail and by subscription in print and digital formats, emulating Black Ink Press’s The Quarterly Essay. The Australian series that inspired Whyte has been running for a decade and boasts 9,000 subscribers.
Whyte’s goal is to reach 1,000 subscribers over three years, with additional retail sales padding the revenue model. “We’re well ahead of pace,” he says, with subscribers “overwhelmingly” choosing print.
The inaugural title was John Fraser’s Funeral for a Queen: Twelve Days in London, a boots-on-the-ground account of the mourning period in London following Queen Elizabeth’s death and its impact on Canada. Former Maclean’s columnist Paul Wells will publish An Emergency in Ottawa: The Story of the Convoy Commission, about the formal investigation into the events of the convoy occupation of downtown Ottawa during the pandemic, on June 6. Next, medical doctor Elaine Chin will follow up her Sutherland House bestseller Welcome Back!: How to Reboot your Physical and Mental Well-Being for a Post-Pandemic World with a new Sutherland Quarterly title for summer 2023 that will revisit the topic.
For Wells, writing the second book in the series is also an investment in the future of Canadian journalism. “I’ve been actively reaching out to younger writers who I think have strong voices and urging them to get in touch with Ken,” says the frequent political pundit. “All but one of the writers I’ve reached out to are women. And by and large they are politically to my left, and they’re way to the left of Ken. He wants all the perspectives to be different.”
Whyte has already commissioned a half-dozen instalments on topics such as politics, the workplace, law and justice, and science, but submissions remain open. As timeliness is key, an Ontario-based digital printer has been secured for the
ir quick turnarounds.
Wells sees Sutherland Quarterly as a way to encourage nonfiction reporting in a national media landscape where longform journalism is a lost art. “I’ve been saying for a decade that the best hope for journalism in Canada in the 21st century lies in books,” Wells says. “This is a project that takes that idea and runs with it.”