Moderator: Sue Reynolds
SR: What would make you shout “Eureka!” if it crossed your desk today?
CP: If we’re talking fiction, I’m not likely to shout right away, but something fresh, or new, would make me pay attention.
HV: The writing has to be excellent. The writer has to be willing to work hard in the editorial process. I like unique settings, LGBT, quirky, diverse books. In our best essays anthology, there was a piece about hospitals that was fascinating.
CH: I have a spreadsheet with tic boxes. I have to check off all the boxes to consider the piece. It has to fit into one of our current series, have an urban setting, preferably in the downtown core, it must be edgy, realistic, modern, and not elitist. If I receive something that meets the criteria, I’d shout “Eureka!”
SR: How many books do you consider from your respective slush piles? How do you prefer to be approached?
CP: If you want to submit to a larger house, get an agent. Most of what we produce comes to us through agencies. With regard to your first question, it would be close to none. I can think of one book we accepted from the slush pile. It was non-fiction about the intersection of gun culture/manufacture and hip hop/urban culture.
HV: Every season, there’s at least one book I find in the slush pile. We’re a small press and periodically closed to submissions. Sometimes we put out a call for an anthology. Our most recent was for mystery stories. We also accept projects though grants, like the OAC’s Writers Reserve. If I like the work, I’ll get in touch.
CH: I’ve been with Lorimer for eight months and before that, I was with Fitzhenry & Whiteside. At Lorimer, there is no slush pile. When the list is specific, the submissions are low. We ask for specifics. Read the submission guidelines.
SR: How do you make a business case for a book? In other words, what happens after “Eureka?” How do you sell a book?
CP: The business case is part of the eureka moment. We have to see that there is a robust audience for the book. We talk a lot about comps.
HV: Comps are the first thing sales asks for. Tightrope has built its own market. Readers say, “I trust their aesthetic.” We have our annual poetry and essay anthologies, we’ve published material on plus-sized women. We’re not necessarily focused on the market in general, but on our audience. We published a book titled, How to get a Girl Pregnant, about a gay couple trying to have a baby. The author needs to be part of the process.
CH: We also want proactive authors. They have to be willing to attend conference, Word on the Street, commit to local promotion. The biggest market for kids books is in schools and libraries. Take a look at the curriculum and write book club-like content for teachers so they can teach the novel in class. There was a book about Jacques Plante, but it was too focused and a lot of the kids it was aimed at wouldn’t be able to relate. This morphed into a book about hockey safety in general and how players have contributed to innovation over the years. The revised book had a more universal appeal.
SR: Publishing is a business. You know what you’re looking for. What about international rights and contracts?
CH: If you don’t have an agent, you don’t have any negotiating power. You probably don’t have the knowledge, or the connections. Think seriously before you sign a contract.
HV: We had a South African author who wanted to publish in both countries. I have a North American and European distributor. I don’t like being limited to Canadian rights only. It’s a smaller market. The first print run is 600-1000 books. We’ve just added ebook rights as well. We don’t do commercial fiction, however.
CH: You want your publisher to contract for US rights. More books will sell in the States than in Canada. Lorimer insists on US rights, in fact. If the author wants to retain them, that would be a deal-breaker.
CP: You don’t want your rights squandered. Ask what the publisher wants to do. Random House has a great foreign rights department, but half of our authors aren’t Canadian. We’re a Canadian-oriented publisher, though. With an agent, the world is their oyster.
HV: Big publishers will have a legal department. I don’t. If things get too complicated, I send the writer to an agent or a lawyer.
CH: Yes, an intellectual property (IP) lawyer.
SR: Let’s open the floor to questions.
Q: What’s your risk tolerance?
CP: Keep in mind that the greater the risk, the higher the potential payoff. Last fall was unusual. We published books on Bobby Orr and Chris Hadfield. Colossal risks, but the payoff was huge, too. Sometimes you blow it, but if you’re passionate, you take the risk.
HV: We don’t have a big budget, so we don’t take big risks in the traditional sense. I like to build the ladder rather than climb it.
CH: At Fitzhenry & Whiteside, I had a lot of latitude. My risks paid off. I’ve been lucky. Lorimer is less of a risk-taker, but we will still weigh the pros and cons before making a decision.
Q: What is the process of getting on the bestseller lists?
CP: If we knew that, we’d all be millionaires. That’s putting the cart before the horse. In 2006 Booknet started tracking sales at the cash register for 90% of the retailers in Canada. The Globe & Mail Bestseller list is based on Booknet numbers.
Q: Does politics play a role?
CP: It’s hard sales numbers.
HV: Do you mean, “it’s who you know”?
CP: Maybe there’s the odd favour.
CH: Maybe we can get the book into a reviewer’s hands.
HV: It’s a chicken and egg thing. Some authors will automatically be on the bestsellers lists. Stephen King, Margaret Atwood, Michael Ondaajte.
And that’s all we had time for.
Next week: Writing Fantasy with Kelly Armstrong!