Sunday, July 09, 2006

Why I’m a Failure as a Canadian Book Buyer (Or the conspiracy against having me spend money on Canadian authors)

For years, my annual budget for books has been in the thousands. I have shelves upon shelves of books in my office I’ve accumulated. But on those shelves?

There are exactly 9 crime fiction books by Canadian authors.

Because this topic came up elsewhere, and I was going to answer it there but then found it becoming too… angry for what I wanted to say there, I’m putting it here. Because this topic does make me angry. Any time I say anything on it, people jump up and tell me I’m wrong.

But this is my experience as a reader and book buyer going back about five-six years that I’ll look at here. It isn’t about right and wrong. It’s about my reality. And if people want to ignore it, that’s fine.

However, I think it reflects that there are problems in the Canadian book-selling industry and I think Canadian authors shouldn’t dismiss what I’m saying here so quickly.


It was five or six years ago, something like that. I was done a series, at least as far as the series was written. I was a very monogamous reader – one author at a time, one series at a time was my usual route.

I was frustrated with the end of the books I’d been enjoying. Incidentally, a series written by a woman. Now, being five, six years ago, I wasn’t using email, never mind shopping online yet. You know how I heard about books?

Gasp, shock of horrors, if they weren’t on the bookstore shelves, they didn’t exist. Not for me, anyway.

So I relied on those displays. And I tried some books, by American authors. Mostly women at the time, not that it matters. There were a few I didn’t finish and some I did finish that I thought, “it was okay”. I wanted a new series to read, and nobody was holding my interest.

Then I went back to the bookstore, and I had some ground rules. First, a good six inches. That’s how much space the author's books needed to take up on the shelves – they needed to have that many titles for me to consider them. I wanted another series, dammit. I wanted someone I could fall in love with.

I took books down and read the backs. LA. New York. Nothing really capturing my attention.

Pull down Ian Rankin. Well, I don’t need to bore you with a discussion about where that ended up, do I?

At that point, Ian Rankin had plenty to keep me satisfied as a reader for a long time. And when I was finally approaching the end of the series written thus far, I remembered my earlier frustrations and wondered how to avoid buying books that wouldn’t fill the hole for me.

By then, I was online, so I thought I’d be smart about it. I read some interviews with Ian Rankin - the first time ever that I started reading author interviews, although I was writing then (children's stuff, I might add, not crime fiction). After all, if I loved his stuff so much, maybe I’d like the authors he liked? Made sense to me. And so my referral list grew.

I’m not sure this link will come up to the exact lists cited by fans I was looking at but if it does, I think a scroll through will show just how few Canadians there are on the list.

Which is something that started coming up for me. Referrals had Peter Robinson, sure, but beyond that? Americans or Brits. And I was happy enough staying on the British police procedural side of the coin, because I loved those books. After all, why spend money on books you don’t like?

The only Canadian I was reading then was Mel Malton. I heard about Mel Malton because someone from Muskoka sent me her book as a gift 7 years ago. I've never once, ever, been able to find Mel's books in local stores, when I lived in Vancouver, or Calgary. Now, that's not to say they don't come in from time to time, but every book of hers I've bought I've had to order. 7 years ago I wasn't using email either, or ordering online, so until I started using the internet more and getting back into the writing world, I honestly thought she didn't have any more books. I caught up on them well after their release dates, but again, I went looking. A lot of people won't. I recommended those books to a friend recently and she came back and told me the first two aren't available anymore and she's trying to order the second two Polly Deacon books in. I haven't tried myself - relying strictly on what she told me - but last I heard she was still waiting.

I never go into any bookstore and rely on staff. The staff usually know less than I do. Because I live in the sticks, when I go to the bookstore, I have a list in hand -I don't drive 50 km each way to the closest Chapters for wasted trips! I do search online beforehand, but find the computers are usually not updated with correct stock, so I always check in-store. And I hate to say it, but I scoured every Chapters, Indigo and McNally Robinson on the east and north sides of Calgary looking for a Rick Mofina book - any Rick Mofina book - recently and couldn't lay my hands on one. Tried Red Deer too. Finally gave up and turned to the internet - I don't even know why I bother with the bookstores sometimes.

And I never take it at face value that they'll be in the mystery section either. (He's not Canadian, but) John Rickards' books are over in literature & fiction, for example.

Now, this is where I’m going to say sue me, I like gritty books. I like police procedurals. I don’t mind the occasional amateur sleuth but that’s not what the bulk of my reading is, nor is it in the PI vein. I want police procedurals, and I wanted to find police procedurals set in Canada that filled some of the Rebus void.

I asked a group of authors/aspiring authors how many had read a book set in Canada in the past year – not just by a Canadian, but set here. The list was pretty short.

Here’s my experience as a writer. I spent two years being told to set all my work outside Canada because the Canadian setting wouldn’t sell. And, yes, it makes me angry. Being rather obstinate, I went ahead and did what I wanted with my writing anyway, but I do have a stack of rejection letters that backs up what these people told me. It was hard for me to sell the Canadian book.

Now, because I wondered if the kind of books I liked were even being written by Canadians and set in Canada, I started searching. I went to publisher websites. I joined Cool Canadian Crime. And I have a list of Canadian authors I’m looking for, a list I keep in my wallet and check on in stores. And you know what? It’s taken me all these years to have ONE time when I went to the bookstore and exclusively filled my basket with Canadians.

Not for lack of bloody well trying.

And I'm sure I was improperly influenced, but local writers I knew told me not to bother joining the CWC unless I was an author, because they don't have meetings or local events or do anything but promote authors. I'M NOT SAYING THIS - it's what I was told. It's what I've heard other people be told as well, so I'm likely not the only person who should have joined sooner but didn't because local mystery writer's groups didn't exactly encourage it.

My point is that I had to go looking, very specifically, to find out about a lot of Canadians. I have actively made a choice to learn more about what's happening here, but if I hadn't decided to do that, would I be hearing about new authors? I'm skeptical. It's part of the reason I've stayed on DorothyL, actually. I have friends who keep telling me that it's like there's a whole world out there they never knew about, and every few months they ask me for a list of what they should be reading, and if you're on my radar, you're on my active referral list. They aren't writers, and they aren't hearing about Canadian authors. How are we marketing ourselves to the readers here? (Readers, how many of you rely on DorothyL? What other sources do you turn to to hear about Canadian authors? Is it better in Toronto, for example, than Calgary and there are lots of author events?) Sorry, but my friends don't even have internet at home, so take DL and enewsletters and ezines aside - we can't forget that surprisingly, I have friends in their early 30s who don't even have email. How are we reaching them? Based on my experience anyway, it doesn't seem like we're doing a stellar job.

And my sister is a librarian - she takes all author event referrals from me. They'd never been approached by a local author on their own. Can I say what the hell, people? Since when do librarians have to go looking for local author referrals? Sorry, complete vent here, but if she didn't know me, guess how many local mystery authors would be going there to do events? Big fat zero. We've been talking about three possible events for next year for months now, and if I didn't know these authors, I wouldn’t know they’re coming to Calgary this year on tour and we wouldn't have had those conversations. Fortunately, in the past year I’ve gotten connected, which means I can help my sister out.

Conversely, I hear about a lot of authors from the UK and US with no effort on my part at all. I won't bore you with an even longer post explaining how but I'll unbite my tongue. The Canadian issue of Spinetingler is the hardest one to put together each year. This topic is hitting on the supremely grumpy side of me, because this issue causes me more stress than the ezine does for the rest of the year combined. Even with the narrow focus for that issue, the submissions are far below the amount we'd expect. But set that aside. This year, months back, I contacted Canadian publishers and told them what we were doing and that we were looking for Canadian authors to feature (interview/profile) in the issue. I did announcements through CWC.

I didn't get a single response from any Canadian publisher,
whereas whenever I've contacted publishers elsewhere they've been only too happy to jump at the opportunity of getting free publicity for their authors. I'm even interviewing a UK publisher when I go to England later this month, someone I've been in touch with since last July.

Call me cynical, but I've got people waiting to hear back from me about whether or not I'll take their review copies and I'm trying to find them reviewers, and not one Canadian publisher had a book coming out by one of their authors they wanted some free promotion for. Fortunately, one author took the initiative herself, and a Canadian reviewer stepped forward with submissions.

We're waiting on a replacement for a damaged file now, and then the Canadian issue will be out, and it's much better than last year for amount of content and strength of content. But this one always puts me through a few months of extra stress, wondering if we'll get enough material. I do more to promote this issue to writers to try to get submissions than the entire rest of the year combined and by the time we're assembling, I'm wiped out from all the advance promo. No doubt this has all contributed to my cynical attitude - talk to me in two months when I've forgotten about it and might foolishly start thinking about doing another Canadian issue again next year (two years out of two I've sworn I won't, no matter how much I want to promote Canadians. With my own edits coming due at the same time as this issue, it's been extra hellish). I have to say I highly doubt we will put out a Canadian issue next year, because it’s just too demanding time-wise, and we don’t get enough to fill a typical issue size now. I won’t just run crap just to fill numbers.

I simply can't believe, when I'm getting more review and interview requests from the US and UK than I can keep up with, why I have to beg for Canadians and it doesn't even seem like the publishers care. I stress seem. I mean, hell, the last issue had over 7000 downloads in the first month, and that doesn't include online reads. Even Miss Snark linked to us. And you offer people a chance for some free promotion and they don't want it? With all the talk I hear about how hard it is to sell books, I just don't understand.

I actually only found out John McFetridge had a book out because I've learned to google the name of anyone who emails me that I don't know. He never even told me he had a book out (tsk tsk John!). If I hadn't googled his name, I highly doubt I'd be reading Dirty Sweet now. And I didn't even bother reading about it online - his email was enough to persuade me if he'd written a book, I wanted to read it, and I haven't been disappointed. Yes, I’m that easy to persuade to give a book a try, especially if it’s set in Canada. I’ve been desperate to find some Canadians, setting stuff in Canada, I can be enthusiastic about.

And all that aside, when I was debating publishing options, I talked to independent bookstore owners who told me if I had an offer from even a small US press to take it over a Canadian one any day of the week. Am I the only person who finds that heartbreaking? I think it's tragic that this is the advice I'd get from within the industry here. I always hear people quickly jump on the defensive that this isn't so, but I know what people were telling me. What I'm trying to understand is why. Even the perception of problems within the industry here isn't good - independent Canadian booksellers shouldn't pull you aside and tell you not to bother signing with a Canadian publisher... Right? So why did that happen to me not six months ago?

Incidentally, in this Canadian Spinetingler, two Canadian authors chat about Canadian settings and how things are changing for Canadian authors. For the better, I might add, but it still indicates that there have been challenges for our authors here.

Hopefully, there will be fewer in the future.

This is pretty much rant - it's just frustration. Don't knock me if I haven't heard of a lot of Canadian authors - knock the system in place or lack thereof to promote them. I've been actively trying, for a few years now. I finally feel like I'm making some headway, but you know what? The average consumer here isn't an author and a lot of them don't think of going to publishers websites to hear about books by Canadians. They think about going into their local bookstores and buying something off the shelves there.

And nobody feed me some song and bullshit about population size of Canada vs the US. Look at Scotland. Just over 5 million. 1/12 of the population of the UK. Yet look at the Scottish crime writers alone – Ian Rankin, Alexander McCall Smith, Stuart MacBride, Christopher Brookmyre, Val McDermid, Denise Mina, MC Beaton. Internationally known best-selling authors that hold their own against the best from England, America or anywhere.

This subject came up because of a post about the summer reading habits of Canadian politicians. As they said themselves on Type M for Murder: So what’s the final word? McMurdy says that she’s unsettled by the preponderance of murder mysteries amongst MPs summer reading. Personally, I don’t think she needs to worry. With not a single Canadian crime novel on our MPs summer reading list, our federal politicians obviously prefer out-of-country crime. As long as we stay in Canada, we should be okay. Unless, of course, you’re a Canadian fiction writer writing about Canadian crime.

So, it isn’t just me who’s saying the Canadian authors setting books in Canada have some challenges. It’s been my experience. I’ve been brushed off and told I’m being ridiculous for saying so before, but the only reason I bother saying anything is that this is my actual experience, first as a consumer, then as a writer, and so sue me, I care.

I find myself thinking I should just pack it in and move to the UK because clearly, either I’m a completely inept shopper or there’s a conspiracy to keep books from Canadian authors away from me.

Though I doubt I’m important enough for the Canadian booksellers to come up with such an elaborate conspiracy.

So, come on, tell me I’m wrong. Maybe for you, but this has been my real experience. It’s getting better.

But there’s still a hell of a long way to go.

And my apologies to regulars here who’ve had bits and pieces of this before. The topic came up and you know what? I know it sounds ridiculous, but this subject upsets me so much I had a hard time sleeping last night because I kept thinking about why it is that it’s been so hard for me to find out about Canadian authors…

And why it seems unreasonable to me that it would be suggested I have to join lists to learn about them. In my day-to-day flesh-and-blood world, none of my friends are writers. And the majority of them don’t even use email.

Lists aren’t reaching those people. Now, they’re hearing about stuff through me. But if I wasn’t making such an effort, they wouldn’t be hearing about Louise Penny when I’m telling them about Val McDermid.

32 comments:

Cornelia Read said...

I think I've told you about when I worked for the book catalog in NYC, and got handed the job of answering people who'd asked for reading lists on specific topics. One woman wrote in and asked for reading suggestions on what she termed "Canadian literature?!?"

I was pretty much a dodo about Canadian literature, outside Robertson Davies and Margaret Atwood, so I wrote her back (pre-internet) and suggested them. Then got a NASTY letter from the woman saying "HOW DARE YOU!! Robertson Davies, that old hack???" So, what a bitch.

I was talked out of answering her with another note that read "HELLO? Who the fuck put '?!?' at the end of her initial query? and I'm in New York, and YOU'RE in Canada, so why don't you suggest some stuff to ME because I'd like to know what's happening on the North-of-me lit scene, thank you very much." But I didn't.

SO, anyway, I wish I knew what her name was, because I'd send her a link to the Canadian issue of SPINETINGLER and just go, "so there, have at it, and don't be mean and nasty to people who are publishing slaves of NY, because they will bear you a grudge forever."

Sandra Ruttan said...

Wow C - a Canadian writes to New York for referrals on Canadian authors.

See, now that just supports my whole point that it obviously isn't as easy as it should be to find out about Canadian authors!

But yeah! What a bitch! Holy frickin' crap. And people always say we're so nice. Please. We're as sinful and nasty as the next guy. We just bend over more often. Politically and culturally speaking, of course!

Sela Carsen said...

There's a word picture I didn't need, Sandra!

I have a dear friend and sometimes-CP who writes romances SET IN CANADA! I think they're fantastic. Of course, I couldn't care less where they're set -- I just like the stories. But she works hard at getting the setting right and I feel as though I'm right in Toronto with her.

Unfortunately, she hasn't been published yet and I fear she's losing heart. It's too bad, too. I think she's better than a lot of contemporary romance writers I read.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Sorry Sela - I hope your friend doesn't give up! Do you know if it's the setting that's been the obstacle? I just have to say I find that so frustrating, but if I can get a US publisher after being told I'd never sell outside Canada, I think it's just a question of not giving up - eventually you get there.

Linda L. Richards said...

If the book is good, setting will not kill a possible sale.

A case in point, an author who is getting to be somewhat nameish. When he wrote his first novel, it was set in Vancouver. He made a large sale to one of the big houses: but they had him relocate the book in a large US city. (I'm being deliberately vague because it's not something he talks about.) And the book worked very well once re-imagined, in any case.

For my part, I never saw the Madeline Carter books taking place in Canada. (The third one does, but that's just a road trip.)

The energy of the stock market that I wanted -- for me -- just didn't exist in Canada. I wanted the world of Maalox-chugging overachievers that drop dead from overwork at 45. Those guys probably exist in Toronto, but the idea of that was more foreign to me than the New York ones. For that matter, as a west coast girl, Toronto is just more foreign to me than LA. (Course I've lived in Los Angeles and only ever been in Toronto for a few days at a time, so that's likely part of it, too.)

I guess my point is, you can't set books where you think they'll sell, as you know Sandra. You have to put 'em where your heart tells you.

S. W. Vaughn said...

Every time I read a sentence of this post in which "Canadians" and "Canada" both appear, I saw "Canadia" both times... I think I need a nap.

I'm stunned that Canadian publishers seem loathe to take advantage of free promotion. Is the book industry really that good in Canada? And why do so many Canadian publishers only accept submissions from Canadians, and then allow their authors to fall into black holes of obscurity where not even their fellow Canadians can find their books?

I hope I've gotten all my Canadian/Canada ducks in a row here. Otherwise, this might not make much sense. :-)

Sandra Ruttan said...

Linda, I do think you have to put the book where your heart tells you to. My first one, the type of political corruption I wanted to play with, it was always meant to be in the US. The one I put in Canada was always meant to be put in Canada. I'm happy to write wherever the story belongs - what I don't like is being told I have to do it one way or another to sell.

As to your example, I could guess... But I won't!

SW, the book industry isn't so great here. I was told - and I stress told - by a bookseller that a bestseller in Canada is a book selling 800 copies. Now, I know nothing about sales stats so all I've got is my source, who owns an independent bookstore, telling me this. I assume he knows what he's talking about.

Honestly, I just find the whole thing sad. I'd say things are getting better, but there's still a ways to go.

Linda L. Richards said...

My first book was published in 1995. It was called The Canadian Business Guide to Using the Internet. (Copies are still around but please don't go buy it, it's about two million Internet years out of date.) The book sold 14,000 copies its first week out. At that time I was told a Canadian bestseller was 5000 copies. I've heard that since. (So I guess I could go around calling myself a bestselling author? It just seems like cheating somehow.)

As a place of reference, though, my second book was called Teach Yourself Photoshop, published by MIS:Press (which was then an arm of Henry Holt). It sold 30,000 copies in fairly short order and was not considered a huge seller. Apples and oranges, eh?

I'm told Canadian/US fiction numbers stack up comparably. There really are a lot more of them!

Sandra Ruttan said...

30,000 isn't a huge seller? Wow, I'd think 30,000 would be fantastic.

What am I, living in the dark ages? Is it different for technical books re: quantities as opposed to fiction? Any idea on how to find out? I know with albums, you sell 50,000 in Canada you're gold - in the US you have to sell 500,000.

Vicki Delany said...

Wow! That was quite a rant, Sandra. But well spoken. All I can say is that I have spoken to the Coles store near my office about five times over the past couple of months asking them when I can set a date for a book signing. (It shouldn't be too much of a stretch as they told me at least years signing it was the biggest event they had ever had!) They keep putting me off, so I am now telling people to buy from Amazon. I live in Oakville, I work in Toronto, I've been reviewed (favourably) in the Globe and Mail, and I can't get into Coles (which is owned by Chapters/Indigo). Spare us.

Vicki

ivan said...

I think Canadians write too long, even if the books are short.

And about very little.

There are only so many stipulated things they can be angry or emotional about. Because of political correctness, extreme political correctness, you are stuck with a kind of Gongorism that only touches upon Sixties-style political issues. You dare not critizize the government or its policies, because that's where the money comes from, for author and publisher. It's not the number of books you sell--that's just stock--but the grant structure.
You can write about child abuse, illicit relationships, feminism and gay themes, but that's about it. You dare not be incisive about Canadian society.

The ideal plot, it seems to me is of an aboriginal girl growing up in an uncaring white society...and it can't be written by a white person; that's taboo.

Now I love Aborigina art in all its forms, have written letter of support, but if you can only write about your own group, it narrows down the material a writer can use.

Dare I use the word communism?

Sandra Ruttan said...

Oh Vicki, that is so discouraging. You know what's funny? Part of the reason I resist shopping exclusively on amazon is because I want to support bookstores - I don't want them to go out of business. Yet you hear stories like this...

I guess the question is, what can we do to change things? Why should our own retailers not be interested in supporting local authors? Is there a way to bypass the booksellers that aren't interested and still reach readers? Should that be what we're doing?

Geez, this whole topic is so depressing.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Ivan, wow. You know what? I think there is a problem there, and I think you've hit the nail on the head with some of my frustrations as a reader.

FYI, I had Canadian publishers scared senseless with my Canadian book. There was an underlying tone of "can we say this about Canada?" All I could think was, why the fuck not? I write crime fiction because I believe in the ability to make social commentary throught it - I'm hugely influenced by Ian Rankin in that regard. So I set me work here so I could say, "Look around people." One reader did come back to me and said, "You obviously have a lot you want to say about society." It's funny, because it was all fairly subconscious, but yeah, it's important to me.

Part of the reason I'm enjoying Dirty Sweet, actually. Toronto the not-so-good, with it's real big-city crime and the real challenges people face.

I want to touch on Canada the same way David Simon touches on Baltimore in The Wire. Nothing makes me want to go to Baltimore more than that show. People think that's nuts, but to me, it's about the heart of the place, the real struggles, the core of how it works. I get it. I want people to get that about my country too. We aren't perfect, but we're still a good country. We're just like everybody else - cleaning up our messes and having to answer for our mistakes. What should separate us from other militant governments is not the force with which we advocate we're perfect, but the humility with which we own up to our shortcomings and strive to do better.

ivan said...

Wow, Sandra.
Thanks for mentioning David Simon and Baltimore. There are certainly parallels to Toronto the (bad?).
The great H.L. Mencken was the first to point out Baltimore's problems,way back. We seem to have had no H.L. Mencken, though the oldies like Sinclair Ross and Margaret Laurence--were certainly goodies.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Oooooh Ivan, I love Margaret Laurence. Not familiar with Sinclair Ross, but if anything like ML, worth recommending.

You know what's funny? 18 years growing up in Gravenhurst, I was afraid to go to Toronto for the day to shop.

But I got on a plane and went to London England and toured the city by myself. Crazy, eh?

ivan said...

The Stone Angel was world class in my books as well as As For Me and My House by Sinclair Ross.
Seems to me Canadian literature went to pieces at about the time a jealous cabal of U of T profs all but drove Marshall McLuhan out of town.
We've got the stuff--hell, look at what we're doing in music--but rock is under a different kind of funding structure.
You know what happens?
All our best literary and film output goes to Hollywood and New York.
We get stuck with the dogs.

Going to London alone: Brave and daring. I'll bet you will never forget it as I will never forget Petticoat Lane, the double-decker buses and what seemed as a universe of experience. Splendor out of the ruins. Great people.

I have gone to Copenhagen alone. Hate to say it: Extreme culture shock; the plumbing and the trains seemed different. But then everybody, I mean everybody spoke English and I was soon in with people and saw kind of an early version of Canada today.
Crikey. Wasn't it nice to have had money? Things seemed so much cheaper then.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Ivan, McLuhan is one of my gods. I could go on about McLuhan forever.

And Stone Angel is a phenomenal book. I have A Jest of God, This Side Jordan and The Fire-Dwellers as well.

A real phenomenal talent, Laurence was.

Amra Pajalic said...

That just sounds so sad and wrong. That not even publishers are making an effort to promote their writers. Weird.

I think there is a similar thing in Australia where most people can list overseas authors, but struggle with Australian authors.

Linda L. Richards said...

Ivan writes: "All our best literary and film output goes to Hollywood and New York. We get stuck with the dogs."

And Sandra says, "Geez, this whole topic is so depressing."

That's just kooky. Canada has a strong literary tradition and a vibrant publishing industry. We have some really talented authors writing -- and publishing -- in Canada. And they're being read by Canadians as well as others.

People -- regular Canadian readers -- know who wins the Governor Generals Award and the winner sells more books. The same can't be said for the NBA in the US. And, per capita, Canadians read a lot more than Americans. Period. This is all good stuff.

Sure: it's always possible to say, "Well, that sucks," and "this can be better" or even "but they're not reading the stuff I think they should be reading." But the reality is this: a Canadian reporter went to some of the most important politicians in the country and asked them what they read. And all of those politicians answered with the titles of books. That's because A/ Canadians read and B/ Canadians care what other people -- the people they voted into office -- are reading. I think that's not only hopeful, it's much more than one would expect in many other countries.

Sandra Ruttan said...

I don't have a clue who won the GGA. Couldn't name a winner for a year of my life. Three months ago, I'd never heard of you Linda. And I've been on DL two years. I don't say it to be rude, but there you have it. I've been looking, and not always finding. I know this is true of many of my friends as well. For me, this post may have started with the discussion of politicians and what they're reading, but ultimately my thoughts on it are of a personal nature and more about my frustration with the industry.

BTW, some of the email I've gotten today is very interesting, and very moving. At the same time, I find it sad that there are people out there with real frustrations who don't feel comfortable putting them in the public sphere. I don't blame them, but I think the reality is, there's huge room for improvement here. At least, it's true in the circles I travel in. Maybe I shouldn't worry about it? I mean, I watch Book TV, subscribe to Cool Canadian Crime, read DorothyL, read blogs by Canadian authors to try to learn more and more... But if that isn't enough, maybe I should just shrug it off and refer all the British and American authors who dominate my lists these days?

I think I'd be so much happier if I didn't care. That said, when the Canadian Spinetingler comes out, don't send the hate mail over the publisher's letter to me, I'm not the publisher!

Amra, I'd love to read some Australian fiction. I love exploring through reading. I hope to see more, maybe read Peter Temple. Shane Maloney will be at Harrogate - he sets his stuff in Australia, doesn't he?

Evil Kev said...

The central issue I see with the Canadian Publishing Industry is that it lacks an understanding of what Canadians want to read. Driven by well-meaning government grants, they too often publish what will appease the bureaucrats rather than the readers.

Far too often when I listened to the CBC or BookTV, I would hear pretentious and elitist commentators discuss Canadian fiction as if each book was some artistic attempt to further define the elusive Canadian culture and Identity. Then I hear these same commentators lament poor sales and assign blame to foreign influence and an apathetic public more interested in CSI than stories from a Canadian perspective.

I feel the problem has more to do with navel-gazing and an industry so isolated and insulated from actual Canadians that they have no idea what their audience want to read. Here is an example:

“This author produced another work that reinforces his place in Canadian literary tradition. His past works are used in university Canadian studies courses because of his keen understanding of the struggle to define the Canadian identity.”

The above is a composite of several different Canadian books reviews.

What this kind of review tells me is simple: This author is very sophisticated and you need to take a university course to fully appreciate just how sophisticated he is.

But what does that have to do with what many readers of fiction look for in a book, a compelling story and engaging characters?

While a black tie affair with a number of literati sycophants, sipping from a brandy sniffer and praising themselves about how clever they are may appeal to some, the majority of Canadians would agree with me that these kind of people have no better understanding of Canada than the most xenophobic American and do more damage to Canadian authors than all American media combined.

What should be encouraged are compelling stories set in Canada. No more stories about tragic characters despondently gazing out their windows, mourning their lost youth in Montreal or Toronto. How about a nice police procedural based in Hull, but without a melodramatic exploration of French-English relations or a murder-mystery in Northern Alberta without a subplot about aboriginal disenfranchisement. I want to go to L.A. or London and see a Canadian book that people read because they actually enjoy it, not because it makes them look cultured or enlightened to read it. For example, when I saw Ian Rankin at sold out event at Wordfest, it was clear to me that he is writing what people want to read. Why can we not encourage our own ‘Ian Rankin’s? Imagine if we had someone writing about Canada the way that Rankin writes about Scotland?

I think it is time for more Canadian publishers to have the courage to try to actually sell books rather than just meet grant criteria. Publish AND promote authors who are writing what people want to read. You may be surprised by the results.

Linda L. Richards said...

I keep saying this, but clearly not in a way that's being understood: there are great books being published in Canada. And lots of people are reading them. Not because the books are like cough syrup, but because they're good books. You keep going back to the grant system, but it's a whole different issue. There's always room for improvement, but neither is there need for excuses. What we have is good and getting better. So what's the problem?

Trace said...

Sandra, have you read Steve Hamilton? He's got a crime/private eye series that's really good and is set partly in Northern Ontario. He's a Canadian who lives in the states.

Trace said...

And well said, Evil Kev! You're right on the money.

ivan said...

Well.
I got a mention from Linda L. Richards.
I don't care what context it was in,I was mentioned. I know how well connected she is; January Magazine abounds in glowing reviews of people writing about Rideau Hall.
The problem, Ms. Richards, is sheer amaeurism.
Heaven forbid I should slag a GG winner, but No Such Mischief is easily bested by a well-crafted National Geographic or Canadian Geographic piece; certainly vintage Star Weekly.
Hell, say it on. Time Magazine has better writers than our "best" novelists. Only Mordecai Richler was in there with the top "Three Stooges" of American Literature, Mailer, Irving, Updike. He was right up there with Barney's Version and they all remarked on how fine the book was.
More true gold seems to come from Newfoundland. I don'tknow why this should be so, but the Newfies certainly excel at broadcasting and comedy. Certainly comedy.

Heven forbid that I would guess that eighth-generation UEL folk simply can't write.
I think I heard an echo of this observation from a Mr. Sawyer, rising Canadian writer who seems to have the right stuff.
We probably need more young Leonard Cohens or Giles Vignaults.
It seems Canadians make great journalists and producers of documentaries--they are good at following things. But they can't lead.
Maybe a Newfie ship captain?

p.s.:
Canada is nearly 400 years old.

Andrea at Lochthyme said...

I would love to read Canadian mysteries but to be honest I've never heard of any until I met Sandra. One you mentioned was Giles Blunt and I now have Black Fly Season(and it's getting rave reviews here) which I actually found at our local Walmart (please don't tell anyone I shop at Walmart...oh wait never mind). Anyway....It's on my TBR pile and it's the first Canadian author I think I've ever read/plan to read. They certainly aren't highly publicized here but if Sandra can't find them in Canada I'm not surprised. Now British authors we got..in spades. I know of many and have read many...they are prominently displayed in bookstores and publicised in the US. So it seems Canada has a way to go to get the same recognition that British authors already have. And that's in the US. If they can't even be found in Canada then that's just very sad.

E. Ann Bardawill said...

One day I'm gonna write a Canadian police procedural.

With tons of femme fatales, sex scenes, hard drinking RCMP officers and a stolen painting that nobody noticed had gone missing.

Like Voice of Fire.

Or maybe not.

I know!!
Let's get all the Canadians to write one chapter each!

We could call it

"The Canuck Who Came In From The Cold"

ivan said...

Hi e Ann.
Nah.
I'm going to do the Long Island-get-back-to my backround thing:

"Naked Came the Ukrainian"?

I'm pretty sure the thing will rock.

I have read your published stuff,and there are places where you rock.

Ivan

E. Ann Bardawill said...

Naked came the Ukrainian?"

Which rmeinds me.
Never fry perogies in the nude.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Thanks for that Bardawill. Wish I'd known sooner...

ivan said...

God help us all.
I was just watching Jon Sewart and he said something, obliquely, about Kim il Jong's cooking.

Cream of Yng Gai?

--sorry Sandra, the full moon has just passed and I am still hysterical after getting a letter from an agent. It's to do with other people, and I have made some noises about becoming an agent myself. They all seem to remember me and I'm kinda thrilled, still howling at the full moon.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Hey Ivan, if you become an agent, does that mean I have to say only nice things about them?

Seriously, good for you if that's the direction you want to go in! Awesome to have options.