Thursday, July 04, 2013

The US Civil War and the book trade in Canada

I've been having more rejections in the last two years than I've had in the first 25 years I was an agent. Unless it's a really sure thing, we're going to be taking on fewer and fewer non-fiction books that are about strictly Canadian subjects.
-- (Toronto literary agent Denise Bukowski, quoted in the Toronto Star, July 2, 2013 (print only)

So what does that mean for the Canadian history you might have been reading in the next few years -- if only it had been published?

Random House-Penguin now controls nearly 70 per cent of publishing of all Canadian authors. With the shrinking of independent Canadian bookstores, the retreat of Macmillan Canada, the absorption of McClelland and Stewart and Tundra, the bankruptcies of Douglas & McIntyre and Key Porter, the closing of McArthur and Company, and so on and so on and so on.... well, the optimistic way to see it is to presume we are probably on the verge of a new wave of small, indigenous, startup Canadian publishing ventures for (and probably by) small, indigenous startup Canadian writers.

It's never quite as grim as the news makes it, fortunately. Or, perhaps it has always been this grim, so why worry now? Local publishing, particularly local history and heritage publishing, thrives everywhere in the country. Self-publishing has never been so easy. University presses still seem to command vast resources.

And books can still get themselves noticed.  I was impressed over the holiday weekend by the ubiquitous presence of Lakefield, Ont. historian John Boyko, who seemed to be very effectively publicizing his new book, Blood and Daring: How Canada Fought the American Civil War and Forged a Nation.

You could say it is published by one of the divisions of Random House (it is) and fits the "find an American angle" message (okay, it does), but no matter.  It's a big readable book on a mostly Canadian subject -- always a good thing in my view. And when I googled it, the publisher's own publicity for it did not even appear on the first several pages of hits. I suspect John Boyko himself -- and the enduring Canadian interest in Canadian history -- are driving most of the media attention that I saw in recent days.  Here is Allan Levine's review -- the top google link.

I still find myself a bit doubtful that Canada "fought the American Civil War," or that the Civil War caused confederation.  But no matter:  history is not the past but an argument about the past.
Follow @CmedMoore