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Stories of strength and resilience: the publishing community’s heroes, chosen by you

Q&Q‘s June issue celebrated the publishing industry’s innovative, generous spirit during the trials of COVID-19. We asked the publishing community to nominate heroes who have in some way, big or small, contributed to sustaining the industry. These messages of gratitude were among those heartfelt responses.

Kate Edwards and the Association of Canadian Publishers board of directors   
The Association of Canadian Publishers, under the leadership of executive director Kate Edwards, has been working tirelessly to support more than 115 Canadian-owned independent book publishers through the COVID-19 crisis. They quickly developed a survey to evaluate industry impact across the country, established an emergency business consulting program that draws on the expertise of well-known Canadian publishers, and partnered with Access Copyright to administer the Read Aloud Canadian Books program to support educators in their online classrooms while respecting the rights of Canadian creators. All while continuing to serve as an information hub and advocacy body for the sector. I’m grateful for their guidance through a challenging time and their dedication to ensuring the resilience of our literary institutions across the country. –Heidi Waechtler, Association of Book Publishers of B.C.

From the very beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, the ACP leadership team came together to determine how to best support the book publishing industry in Canada. Their regular updates to members, collection of economic impact date from publishers, advocacy with the federal government, and responsiveness to members and affiliated organizations has been outstanding. Kate Edwards is the hub of all of this, and has remained calm, steady and infinitely intelligent throughout this experience. The book publishing industry is stronger because of the ACP, and the ACP is stronger because of Kate Edwards. –Kieran Leblanc, executive director, Book Publishers Association of Alberta

The daily info updates, surveys and support have been vital. –Alexander Finbow

The Frye Festival and Tidewater Books, New Brunswick
The Frye Festival/Le Festival Frye’s quick thinking and flexibility in transitioning to online spaces ensured that while much of the province is shut down, we didn’t lose this amazing festival. Tidewater Books in Sackville, New Brunswick, went above and beyond to help the Frye Festival transition to online events (supported by curbside pickup and delivery of titles featured at this year’s festival). –Kathleen Peacock, author

Jennifer Gillies and gritLIT: Hamilton’s Readers and Writers Festival
gritLIT’s 16th-anniversary festival was on track to be the biggest one yet with more than 35 authors including Margaret Atwood, Mona Awad, Gwen Benaway, Lynn Coady, Robyn Doolittle, Adnan Khan, and Casey Plett, plus many workshops and interactive events.

Cancelling the April festival was heartbreaking for the entire (mostly volunteer) team, but particularly for gritLIT’s longtime artistic director, Jennifer Gillies. After a few days of grief, Jennifer rallied the team and started planning ways the festival could move forward differently to support authors and their books and to offer literary programming that people across the country can enjoy in a time where connectedness is more important than ever.

Many Zoom meetings later, gritLIT has been able to move our popular workshop series online, with more panel announcements and digital content to come soon. It’s not how we planned to run the festival, but we’re inspired by so many arts organizations across the country who are quickly adapting to change by bringing programming into digital spaces. –Jessica Rose, marketing manager, gritLIT 

Epic Books, Hamilton
An amazingly fast switch to online retailing and delivery, along with still supporting gritLIT by donating a portion of the sales of all their gritLit author books back to the festival during when the festival would run. –Noelle Allen, publisher Wolsak & Wynne

Vikki VanSickle, director, marketing and publicity, young readers, Penguin Random House Canada
In addition to using her role at PRHC to organize a number of initiatives that help parents at home with kids (and promote authors’ work) – Tundra Time activities, 7 Silly Prompts, storytimes and virtual author interactions, and partnerships with Indigo, Mastermind, and multiple indie retailers – Vicki is also an author and has done a number of virtual storytimes herself. She’s also been on CTV’s Your Morning regularly (from her apartment) to recommend Canadian kids’ books to those self-isolating at home. –Evan Munday, publicity manager, young readers, PRHC

Kerry Clare
Kerry Clare has always been a tireless supporter of Canadian authors, but her support during this pandemic seems to know no bounds. Alongside the 49th Shelf, she has helped create Launchpad, which assists Canadian authors in launching their books during this time and amplifies their releases online. Kerry also posts daily about the authors she loves and draws attention to their work in the kindest way possible. She provides witty, thoughtful inspiration – even though this is not an easy time to post about anything except our own confusion. She’s endlessly supportive of Canadian literature and authors and wholly deserving of recognition for this. –Marissa Stapley, author

Greystone Books, Vancouver
Greystone is helping independent booksellers by donating 25 per cent of the proceeds of purchases from their web store to a local bookstore of the online customer’s choosing. Their hard work and resilience in bringing out new titles during this time of unprecedented challenges shows their passion for their publishing program and the Canadian book industry. Greystone Books, whose tagline is “Naturally Great Books,” are naturally great people. –Laurie Martella, associate partner, Hornblower Group

Audreys Books, Edmonton
With the store being closed to the public, the owners and staff are doing yeoman’s work getting books to their customers. They are driving all over the city, delivering books to people’s doorsteps. They are filling special orders, and going above and beyond to make sure people in Edmonton have books in their hands. –Kieran Leblanc, executive director, Book Publishers Association of Alberta

Rebecca Rose and Breakwater Books, St. John’s
There’s no one in the industry I’d rather nominate right now than Breakwater Books and its owner, Rebecca Rose. First, there was the blizzard in January and the state of emergency that closed business down for 10 days. Then came March and COVID-19. And in spite of all this, Breakwater has enlarged its playing field, as if previously unnoticed opportunities had suddenly become illuminated.

To name only a few of its recent initiatives (all done with great heart): freshly styled author readings (“watch parties”) on Facebook and YouTube, a launch via #CanadaPerforms [for Wade Kearley’s poetry collection Narrow Cradle], book super-sales with affordable shipping, children’s online storytime and crafts sessions, and a live art lesson. Additionally, Breakwater made a significant donation of books to low-income families, in partnership with First Book Canada and is providing free textbook access to students and teachers in the province during COVID. The house is currently developing an online book auction; all of the proceeds will be donated to a local charity. –Beth Follett, publisher, Pedlar Press

Juliane Okot Bitek (Colleen Butler)

Juliane Okot Bitek
Juliane Okot Bitek helped organize an online celebration for Chantal Gibson, whose book, How She Read, was recently shortlisted for the Griffin Poetry Prize. She went out of her way to organize the surprise and invite people such as Wayde Compton, Canisia Lubrin, and Lawrence Hill to participate. I had been wanting to celebrate Chantal, and Juliane helped make it happen. –Shazia Hafiz Ramji, author

Jennifer Fournier and Paul McLaren, co-owners, Chat Noir Books, New Liskeard, Ontario
Chat Noir Books is offering local delivery and curbside pickup. The local delivery is $5 from Temagami to Kirkland Lake [a 150-kilometre distance] because they have cleverly partnered with a delivery company to keep costs low for customers. They are even mailing all across Northern Ontario to customers who don’t have indie bookstores in their towns. For the most part, it is just Paul working in the store and doing it all. He is engaging in online events with the community and supporting other indie businesses. –Roberta Samec, co-owner, Hornblower Books

rob mclennan
rob mclennan’s blog promotes authors and their books in a unique question-and-answer series that is widely read. He’s been especially active helping authors find an audience since COVID-19 has sidelined book launches and events. –Maia Caron, author

Carla Kean, director, production, Penguin Random House Canada
Prior to the current global medical crisis, Carla had her hands full with an existing printer capacity and paper crisis alongside the expected (and sometimes unexpected) bumps we all encounter when making books in the best of circumstances. In mid-March when the decision was made for all of our teams to begin working from home, Carla’s creativity in problem-solving and can-do approach to business shone through. As leader of the production and typesetting teams, and working with our IT department, Carla got her teams set up to work from their homes quickly and efficiently. Not one ball was dropped as processes that have traditionally been paper-based went fully digital. The printer and paper challenges continue, now with new ones in the mix. On-sale date changes, cost containment measures, adjustments to print quantities and effects – none of this is business as usual, but working with Carla, it feels like it is. She is calm, cool, and collected. Unflappable always. She is leading her team through this crisis and keeping our books moving through our imprints and the supply chain. From full-colour cookbooks and children’s books printing overseas to drop-in titles to our Fall 2020 list and everything in between, Carla gets books on shelves. Our retail partners or our authors may not know Carla by name, but her presence is felt every time a reader picks up a Penguin Random House Canada book. Thank you Carla. –Marion Garner, publisher, Vintage Canada

The Parker Agency
The Parker Agency set up the Elaine Norman Fund — it’s donating 5k to writers missing their launches during the ongoing pandemic. Great great people! –Joe MacNeil

Westminster Books
I would like to nominate Westminster Books for running free writing activities for kids during the COVID-19 shutdown. –Kathleen Peacock

Terese Marie Pierre
Terese Pierre has been creating custom makeup looks to accompany book covers, and sharing them on social media. It is such a creative way of supporting local authors and I have seen how well received this idea has been. I admire Terese’s dedication and artfulness, as do many others. –Fawn Parker

Katherine Fawcett, author
When Katherine Fawcett’s book tour was cancelled due to COVID-19, she looked for other ways to promote her book. The Swan Suit (Douglas & McIntyre) was released on March 14. The tour was set to kick off at a launch party in Pemberton, B.C., but the gathering was called off a few hours before it was scheduled to start.

Like many writers, musicians, and artists affected by COVID-19, Fawcett held a virtual event and explored ways to interact with her established audience via social media. Her hilarious videos about launching a book during a global pandemic went viral. These included instructions on how to make playing cards out of unused event invitations and general advice on timing for book releases. All videos can be seen on Facebook: @KatherineFawcettWrites.

Fawcett has also spent the past weeks partnering with her local bookstore, Armchair Books, to deliver books to readers across the region. These efforts did pay off, and The Swan Suit soon showed up in the #2 spot on the B.C. bestseller list. But the next step was to break into new markets and Fawcett knew the best way to do this was through face-to-face interaction.

In a creative move, Fawcett devised a way to do this while following public health orders. In mid-April, she initiated one of the most original literary events of the season – an intimate reading with Seven, an Appaloosa gelding. She wore an A-line gown in carmine – offset by a single string of pearls – to read an impactful selection from the last story of The Swan Suit. While critics pointed to the fact that this was the last paragraph in the book, Fawcett assured that there were no spoilers.

“In times like these, writers are forced into a steep learning curve,” said Fawcett. “I was a little worried when the dress rehearsal – performed for donkeys – did not go so well. They were, to be blunt, complete asses. But the mane event went off without a hitch. And the venue was spectacular.”

The event was broadcast on Facebook. As of April 27, the video had been viewed more than 1,500 times. It is also available on Douglas & McIntyre’s YouTube channel: https://youtu.be/R4TyI6kSeuc

When Fawcett was asked whether the stunning dress she wore was specifically for this performance, she revealed that it was originally purchased for her daughter’s upcoming prom, which will likely not happen. –Annie Boyar, publicist, Douglas & McIntyre

Don Gorman, publisher, Rocky Mountain Books
Recognizing that the future of the independent Canadian publishing industry relies on the health of the Canadian independent bookselling industry, Don took it upon himself to create a map of those bookstores continuing to operate under COVID-19 through online orders and delivering books to bookstores. The map has been widely viewed and shared, and Don continues to update it. Every retailer on this map also deserves to be recognized for all the extra efforts every one of them makes to ensure Canadians continue to have access to great books. –Jen Gauthier, associate publisher, Greystone Books

Chris Brayshaw, Pulpfiction Books
Chris Brayshaw of Pulpfiction Books in Vancouver for their exceptional service to readers during these difficult times. Chris and PFB crew delivered my books within a few days and have kept the store open with strict social-distancing measures in place. All the staff continue to be paid. –Shazia Hafiz Ramji, author

The PaperHound Bookshop
Kim and Rod of The PaperHound Bookshop have gone out of their way to meet readers’ needs during these difficult times. They have been delivering books by bike and have kept the store open with strict social-distancing measures. –Shazia Hafiz Ramji, author

David Ross, senior managing editor and acquisitions editor, Penguin Canada
David Ross joined Penguin Canada as a production editor in 2008 and quickly established himself as a thoughtful reader and trusted collaborator, shepherding some of Penguin Canada’s biggest authors through the copy-editing and proofreading process. It was during the production of Crazy Town, Robyn Doolittle’s bestselling examination of Toronto’s controversial mayor, that he demonstrated his expert problem-solving skills – maintaining a crash schedule befitting of the book’s title – as well as his rare ingenuity, suggesting that we tweet the juiciest entries from the index to generate publicity in advance of the book’s release. In 2015, his transition to editorial became official when he was promoted to managing editor, overseeing all of Penguin Canada’s frontlist titles with his signature calm under pressure. He’s grown to be an important voice in the room, weighing in on covers and titles and offering book ideas to his colleagues.

In 2017, David pitched the idea of expanding his role by adding a select list of LGBTQ+ titles. He was passionate about bringing more underrepresented voices to our publishing program and swiftly acted on his vision, acquiring four titles in one year without missing a beat on his primary role as managing editor. The first of these books to hit the market was Vivek Shraya’s I’m Afraid of Men, a powerful meditation on masculinity from a trans woman. And what a first it was – it became an instant bestseller, earned a Lambda nomination, raised money for the Tegan and Sara Foundation, and appeared on nearly every “best books of the year” list, as well as in Vanity Fair. David’s idea to emblazon the back cover with the words “Men Are Afraid of Me” lent itself beautifully to a marketing push that included buttons, tote bags, and a citywide poster campaign. He followed it up with Samra Habib’s queer Muslim memoir We Have Always Been Here, which he commissioned based on the author’s popular portrait series and has since sold to riverrun in the U.K., been selected as a Canada Reads contender, and nominated for a 2020 Lambda Literary Award. 

Together these titles have already established the idea of a “David Ross book”: a compelling queer narrative in a bold and stylish package. As a member of the LGBTQ community, he’s able to bring particular sensitivity to each project he edits, and many of his titles thus far have included a charitable component. He’s building on his list with memoirs from arts journalist and radio producer Rachel Matlow and Billy-Ray Belcourt, the youngest ever winner of the Griffin Poetry Prize, as well as two more books from Vivek Shraya. 

We recently announced his promotion to acquisitions editor and senior managing editor, recognizing his invaluable contributions to the Penguin Canada list and team. His passion and talent encapsulate the spirit of our publishing, and we can’t wait to see what he does next. –Nicole Winstanley, publisher, Penguin Canada

Lauren Carter
Lauren has created and curated a virtual reading series for writers who have lost their book launches. –Alexis Kienlen, author

Keriann McGoogan
Guelph, Ontario, author Keriann McGoogan had been working closely with her book publicist in the months leading up to the launch of her first book, a memoir titled Chasing Lemurs (Prometheus/ Rowman and Littlefield U.S.). In February, she began preparing for her scheduled speaking events, while her publicist got to work reaching out to media outlets.

When the COVID-19 crisis struck, one by one, all her speaking events, including her book launch, were cancelled or “postponed until further notice.” Her publicist was placed on furlough. And Amazon stopped receiving additional shipments.

She didn’t freeze. She jokes that she promoted her partner from “husband” to “publicist” and has taken it upon herself to reach out to media with her story. She began by creating a video book trailer and putting it up on her website and on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?reload=9&v=i5-2DOuI408&feature=youtu.be

She reached out to independent booksellers across the country to promote their store during a Facebook live book-launch event that she ran herself. Bookstores in Ontario, including the Bookshelf in Guelph and Different Drummer Books in Burlington, are on board and ready to deliver copies of her book.   

Meanwhile, while occupied with all this, she has just finished a young-adult novel about a Toronto-based student who travels to Madagascar to rescue her father. –Beverley Slopen, agent

Brad Morden, Write Bloody North, Toronto

Write Bloody North is a great young imprint that supports and promotes Canadian spoken-word poets and poetry. These days, spoken-word poets have been very adversely affected since live events have all been cancelled. Brad has created a series of online poetry shows, promoting Write Bloody North poets and others. Each week, these virtual performance events share poetry and give people a distraction from the world around them. –Rusty Priske, editor and poet

Write Bloody North, the independent Canadian imprint of the already well-established publisher Write Bloody, is an exciting new voice in the industry. They focus on publishing poetry from the national spoken word community, giving a showcase for inspiring – and often groundbreaking – talents. Their output proves that the distinction of a “spoken word poet” is merely semantic. So far, they have published books by Titilupe Sonuga and Ian Ketaku, and they have announced books by Lucia Misch and Brandon Wint – all celebrated authors in their own right, and all profoundly inspiring in unique ways.

In the face of COVID-19 quarantine, they have hosted a number of dynamic showcase performances online from other luminaries in the spoken-word community, including Sabrina Benaim, Sheri-D Wilson, Moe Clark, Chimwemwe Undi, Jillian Christmas, and others. Their website also hosts a poet in (their own) residence for National Poetry Month, in this case Brendan MacLeod. More than a book publisher, Write Bloody North creates community and brings attention to exciting voices in poetry. –Brendan Flaherty

This indie publisher of poetry titles in Canada has been resilient in the face of this public health crisis, and they have been forward-thinking in how to engage with their customers. They launched a new initiative called Poetry Phone where people call a toll free phone number and hear poems by two of their authors whose books were postponed due to COVID-19 – Lucia Misch from Vancouver and Brandon Wint from Edmonton. It’s truly delightful to hear poetry on the phone, so much so I actually prefer it now to hearing even the same poems on YouTube. –David Silverberg

Write Bloody North is a newer publisher producing books by some of the biggest names in Canadian spoken word. Due to the current pandemic, WBN produced five shows called “Write Bloody North presents:”. They hosted poets who they’ve published, will be publishing soon, and others who are quite accomplished and well-known in spoken word. I attended every single show and it has been an artistic and community highlight for me and many others in the community. –Alyssa Ginsburg

This story first ran in the June 2020 print issue.


June 29th, 2020

4:20 pm

Category: COVID-19

Issue Date: June 2020

Tags: , , ,