Getting Yourself Properly Published in Canada

John Pearce is a literary agent with Westwood Creative Artists in Toronto, and acts for the Andrew Lownie Literary Agency in the separate sale of Canadian rights. He argues that separating Canadian rights for the appropriate book can be greatly beneficial for an author.

At a guess, 200,000 new books flood into Canada from British and American publishers every year. The log-jam is enormous, whether your book is with a Canadian distributor you’ve never heard of; or whether you’re with a multinational company in Canada (such as Random House, Penguin or HarperCollins) or a Canadian-owned house such as Douglas & McIntyre or McArthur & Co – all of whom distribute on a large scale but are also Canadian publishers in their own right.

The result? Most of the 200,000 books sell only a few hundred copies in Canada. Of course some sell a good deal more, but only a few “foreign” books make it to bestseller status. Remember that Canadian publishers are promoting dozens of their own Canadian authors for those bestseller spots.

How to get attention in this overcrowded marketplace? Well, ideally you find yourself a Canadian publisher. Two problems:

You may risk alienating your UK (or US) publisher, both of whom traditionally like Canadian rights as part of their territory. US and UK publishers often fight unreasonably over the few hundred copies they’ll probably manage to sell in Canada – but they also tend to shrug and get on with life once it becomes clear that Canada simply isn’t on the table. Two, will a Canadian publisher want your book? There are no more than ten English-language publishing houses in Canada who regularly buy books from outside Canada. And for them to buy your book, they’ll want to foresee selling a minimum of 3,000 hardcover or 5,000 trade paperback copies hardcover in Canada, ideally more. So again there’s a bottleneck. Currently only 200 – 300 “foreign” books achieve separate Canadian contracts in any one year.

So is it worth it to try? Absolutely. Because if you succeed in getting a separate Canadian contract, the results can be extraordinary. Here are a few of the advantages:

Full domestic (not export) royalties on all editions sold in Canada. An advance for Canada that sometimes counts as an add-on to the US and UK advances A committed publishing house that has invested in the project and now has extra reasons to make it work. (This includes making more profit per copy publishing a successful book than distributing it.) An enthusiastic and friendly publishing and editorial staff on your side -- many of them amongst the most creative people in Canadian publishing. Without a separate contract, you’ll be handled by sales and marketing alone With a publishing deal, you’re more likely to get a larger print run, appropriate pricing in Canada, stronger sell-in, sometimes a special Canadian cover, plus significant promotion and advertising; you’re more likely to be reviewed, interviewed, and perhaps invited to tour Canada, including the major literary festivals. One such visit, and you’re likely to be feted as an honorary Canadian, with beneficial long-term results. The resulting sales figures can easily be two or three times what they would have been – sometimes as much as ten times higher.

As a publisher I’ve been involved in making Canadian “careers” for many writers – ranging from Ruth Rendell and Bill Bryson to Jeffrey Eugenides and Audrey Nifenegger. But these are all (now) famous names in Canada. The writers I’m placing with Canadian publishers at this moment -- Randell Hansen, Philipp Blom, Lesley Downer, Nigel Spriggs, Alison Weir -- are often less well or sometimes completely unknown in Canada. But whether they become household names and sell well here – or at least the rate at which they do so – may have a lot to do with their separate Canadian publishing deals.