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How Tanya Davis and Andrea Dorfman’s viral video landed a book deal

When Tanya Davis and Andrea Dorfman collaborated to create the YouTube video-poem How to Be Alone, the Haligonian duo never imagined it would go viral, let alone lead to a book adaptation.

Released in July 2010, the poignant video rode the zeitgeist into popularity, garnering more than five million views to date. “It [confronts] the challenges and joys of figuring out how to be alone,” says Dorfman, a filmmaker, animator, and artist.

Those themes resonated with the pair even before they met. “I think a lot about solitude and connection, and how [they] are part of the same human experience,” says Davis, Halifax’s former poet laureate.

While Davis and Dorfman were pleased with the project’s runaway success, the idea of turning it into an illustrated book did not come about until they were approached by a U.S. publisher. Advised by a friend, they signed on with agent Denise Bukowski, who was convinced they could improve on the original offer.

“I have never seen an offer that low, especially when [the publisher] wanted the authors to supply finished art for every page,” says Bukowski, who began shopping the book around.

Eventually, Maya Ziv, an editor at Harper­Collins in New York, picked up North American rights to the book, which will be released in the fall. How to Be Alone will feature Davis’s poem and illustrations by Dorfman, who is “champing at the bit” to complete them in time for the book’s imminent release.

Despite their elation, Davis and Dorfman say going from screen to page has its challenges. “How I lay out the text so [people] read it the way I intended is difficult,” Davis says. “I can’t really control how they hear it in their heads … but you have to really relinquish that control … once the book gets in the reader’s hands.” For Dorfman, the video’s success adds “a certain amount of pressure” to meet fans’ expectations.

Those concerns aside, the pair is excited for the direction their artistic collaboration is taking. “I like seeing it on the Internet … but a book is just [something] you can smell, see, and feel,” Davis says. “This is a nice way, in the impermanent world, to have a little piece of something concrete.”

How to Be Alone launches in Toronto tonight, 7 p.m. at the Gladstone Hotel.

This article appeared in the March 2013 issue of Q&Q.

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Olivia Chow memoir due out early next year

Trinity-Spadina MP Olivia Chow announced Wednesday morning that she is set to pen a memoir, which will be published by HarperCollins Canada.

The book will chronicle her life as a young Hong Kong transplant in Toronto with previously middle-class parents struggling to adapt to an immigrant lifestyle. It will also tell of her political career as a former Toronto city councillor and sitting NDP MP, as well as her partnership with the late Jack Layton.

“My story is like [those of] so many Canadians. It’s a story of challenges and loss but also the story of finding my home in a country and community that has given me so much,” says Chow in a statement.

It has been widely speculated that Chow will run for mayor of Toronto in 2014, although she has not confirmed this. Whether or not Chow runs, the book, due out in early 2014, will coincide with the beginning of mayoral campaigning.

“I’m proud to have the opportunity to work with someone who has given so much for this country, and in many ways embodies the modern Canadian immigrant experience,” says HarperCollins Canada publisher Iris Tupholme in a statement. “Her life has been an adventure, a struggle, and a triumph, and Canadians will now have the opportunity to see the private side of this very public figure.”

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Beach Boy Brian Wilson to write autobiography

With more than 50 years of music under his belt, rock ’n’ roll legend Brian Wilson is set to pen an autobiography. According to a press release, the chief songwriter and producer of the Beach Boys “will describe for the first time the epic highs and lows of his life.”

Published by Random House Canada, I Am Brian Wilson will explore Wilson’s relationship with his father, the loss of his mother and brothers, his fears about live performance, and his success leading the Beach Boys into experimental terrain. It will also cover his nervous breakdown and comeback from drug addiction.

Anne Collins, publisher of the Knopf Random Canada Publishing Group, acquired the book in a pre-empt. “That [Wilson] now is ready to tell the story of his life, in which he at last has come through the tragedy, betrayals and illness that so often threatened to dim that genius, is an epic publishing event,” she says in a press release.

“Life’s better than it’s been in the past 20 years,” Wilson adds. “I’m 70 years old and it took me a long time to learn a really simple thing: it’s hard work to be happy.”

Wilson will co-write the memoir with Rolling Stone editor Jason Fine. Random House Canada has scheduled a 2015 release.

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Amy Poehler to publish “non-linear diary” with HarperCollins

Following in the footsteps of her best-selling BFF Tina Fey, Amy Poehler is the latest celebrity to sign a book deal.

The spring 2014 title is described as an “illustrated, non-linear diary full of humour and honesty and brimming with true stories, fictional anecdotes and life lessons.” It will be published in 2014 by It Books, HarperCollins’ pop-culture imprint.

The book was acquired by It Books executive editor Carrie Thornton in a tandem deal with HarperCollins Canada senior editor Kate Cassaday.






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IFOA’s International Visitors Programme: the schmooze factor

The 2011 cohort at Niagara Falls (Photo: IFOA)

Less than 24 hours into a September business trip to New York City, three people had already asked Iris Tupholme the same question: how could they land an invitation to the International Visitors (IV) Programme? In truth, the guest list is chosen collectively by a committee, which Tupholme chairs, but that fact didn’t stop her peers from trying to wrangle a spot in what has become one of the industry’s most coveted networking events.

Launched in 2008, the five-day IV Programme runs in conjunction with the International Festival of Authors at Toronto’s Harbourfront Centre, which kicked off its 2012 edition on Oct. 18. Participants arrive on the first Sunday of the festival and spend the following week attending publisher-hosted breakfast and lunch meetings, touring bookstores and literary agencies, taking in festival readings, participating in pitch meetings, and attending presentations. It’s a fast-paced symposium that immerses visitors in the Canadian publishing industry and, ideally, sends them home with a list of promising Canadian authors and attractive foreign-rights opportunities.

“Five years ago, we started it with the goal of bringing a small group of editors and publishers and an occasional agent or literary scout to Toronto for a series of meetings with colleagues, and attending readings by our Canadian authors and others,” says Tupholme, the vice-president, publisher, and editor-in-chief at Harper­Collins Canada. “It has blossomed from there.”

Tupholme first approached IFOA director Geoffrey Taylor about creating the IV Programme in 2005, after attending the Visiting International Publishers program in Sydney, Australia. Creating an IFOA-related networking event was already in the festival “job jar,” says Taylor, so the pair began developing a program designed for publishing professionals in mid-career who might not be able to attend major international book fairs in Frankfurt or London.

But right from the beginning, says Taylor, “everyone wanted to be a part of it at a much more senior level.” The program also fills the annual networking gap created when Reed Exhibitions announced the permanent cancellation of BookExpo Canada in 2009.

Sales pitches at Toronto’s Harbourfront Centre (Photo: IFOA)

Funding for the IV Programme comes primarily from the Ontario Media Development Corporation, with the balance covered by the Department of Canadian Heritage, Authors at Harbourfront Centre, individual publishers (who might sponsor a party or event), and foreign arts councils or funding bodies affiliated with program participants. The program pays for airfare, accommodation, meals, and ground transportation for all “fellows,” while “distinguished guests” (such as agents) cover their own travel costs.

“The exact mechanics vary from year to year,” says Taylor, who emphasizes that the distinction is purely financial. All invited guests participate equally in the week’s events.

While organizers can’t quantify the number of deals and foreign-­rights sales that have resulted directly from the program, most alumni confirm that they have, indeed, discovered Canadian talent in Toronto.

Ziv Lewis, foreign-rights manager for Israel’s Kinneret Zmora-Bitan Dvir Publishing, learned about Deborah Willis’s Vanishing and Other Stories (Penguin Canada) during the 2010 IV Programme and recently published a Hebrew translation. Lewis also met Andrew Kaufman in Toronto, and Kinneret will release an Israeli edition of Kaufman’s second novel, The Waterproof Bible (Random House Canada), in early 2013.

Likewise, London-based literary scout Rosalind Ramsay learned about Katrina Onstad’s novel Everybody Has Everything (McClelland & Stewart) during a 2011 visit to Westwood Creative Artists, and has since encouraged Netherlands publisher Artemis/Ambo Anthos to secure Dutch rights.

The cultural exchange can also happen in reverse. During the 2010 program, former Picador editor Sam Humphreys (now publisher at Penguin U.K. imprint Michael Joseph) introduced Coach House Books editorial director Alana Wilcox to Eye Lake, a novel by U.K.-based Canadian writer Tristan Hughes. After connecting with Humphreys in Toronto, Coach House bought Canadian rights and published the novel in October 2011.

Schmoozing at Toronto’s Harbourfront Centre (Photo: IFOA)

Agent Gray Tan, president of the Grayhawk Agency in Taipei, sold The Man with the Compound Eyes by Taiwanese author Ming-Yi Wu to his fellow 2011 IV participant Lexy Bloom, a senior editor at the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group in the U.S. Tan and Bloom became friends during the program, and two months later, Bloom bought Wu’s novel for the Vintage and Anchor imprints.

Perhaps most importantly, representatives from independent Canadian presses have a chance to rub shoulders with influential visitors during the IV Programme. Alumnus Aram Fox, a New York City literary scout, introduced Coach House’s Wilcox to more than a dozen publishers at the 2010 Frankfurt Book Fair after the pair connected in Toronto. “Scouts aren’t that excited to see smaller presses,” says Wilcox, “but [Fox] was open, has the greatest contacts, and arranged the meetings.”

Many alumni agree that running IV during the festival gives the event a cozy atmosphere often lacking on a trade-show floor. The intensive schedule also encourages long-lasting bonds. “It’s something completely different from meetings at book fairs,” says Tan, who represents The Cooke Agency, Random House of Canada, McClelland & Stewart, and the Beverley Slopen Literary Agency in the Chinese market. “Sure, we would still love to do business with each other, but the priority is simply to make friends and exchange ideas and experiences.”

“A huge amount of trust and goodwill is generated, and I imagine that many Canadian authors have benefited indirectly as a result of that goodwill,” says Nick Barley, director of the Edinburgh International Book Festival. In addition to Barley, directors from some of the world’s leading authors’ festivals – including the Melbourne Writers Festival, Beijing’s Bookworm International Literary Festival, and the International Literature Festival Berlin – have participated in the IV Programme, and in 2010, the five festivals formed a unique partnership known as the Word Alliance.

Organizers say they don’t plan to expand the number of fellowships available in future years. The current group size of roughly 20 participants – including both fellows and distinguished guests – ensures each visitor has a meaningful experience, says Taylor. The 2012 IV Programme, however, saw the addition of a Canadian editorial fellowship (awarded to Trena White, publisher of Douglas & Mc­Intyre) and a new industry prize known as the Ivy Award. The committee also hopes to create events for the growing list of program alumni and institute a juried IV application form to replace what’s currently a more subjective selection process.

Alumni suggestions for improving the program are strikingly minimal. “I hope the ‘speed date’ part of quick meetings with Canadian publishers and agents can be modified according to the needs of each IV [participant],” says Tan. “Otherwise 10 minutes is just too short.” Barley says the focus on meetings and socializing comes somewhat at the expense of attending literary events, but he adds, “This is a very minor quibble. The organization of the IV Programme is 99 per cent right.”

Overall, past participants have nothing but praise for the event – including the annual field trip to Niagara Falls. Many souvenir photos are snapped while these literary VIPs sport the requisite yellow ponchos. Visiting the landmark site is also one of the most relaxed moments in an otherwise demanding week. “You make people get up really early in the morning, you pour them onto a bus when they’re barely awake, they suddenly arrive somewhere and they get soaking wet,” says Taylor. “What’s not to love about that?”

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Michael Winter’s forthcoming novel strikes out in new direction

Michael Winter is a writer who is known for taking chances. Widely praised as a stylistic virtuoso, his last novel, 2010′s The Death of Donna Whalen, blended fact and fiction to tell the story of a notorious St. John’s murder and subsequent miscarriage of justice. Now, Penguin Canada’s prestige fiction imprint, Hamish Hamilton Canada, is set to publish Winter’s new book, which takes even more of a left turn for the author.

Minister Without Portfolio begins in Kabul, Afghanistan, and tells the story of Henry Hayward, an alcoholic drifter who gets embedded with a Canadian forces regiment in the Middle East and finds his life unravelling after a fatal incident during a patrol.

Nicole Winstanley, Penguin Canada’s president and publisher, acquired the novel, and says in a press release that the author has “really broken new ground”:

By exploring our generation’s defining international struggle through an intensely local tragedy, [Winter] forces us to confront the deeply personal effects of war in a fashion in which civilians are rarely afforded…. The plot unfolds like The Deer Hunter in reverse and the story is every bit as emotionally resonant.

Hamish Hamilton Canada plans to publish Minister Without Portfolio in September 2013.

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Penguin to publish Sheila Watt-Cloutier memoir

Canadian Inuit activist Sheila Watt-Cloutier has been awarded the Order of Canada and, in 2007, was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize (the Nobel eventually went to former U.S. vice-president turned environmental activist Al Gore). She talked about climate change as a human rights issue long before most people felt comfortable using such language, and spearheaded a 2005 legal petition against the U.S., claiming that their contribution to climate change infringed on the human rights of Northern Canadians. In 2010, The Globe and Mail named her one of 25 Transformational Canadians.

Today, Penguin Canada announced that associate publisher Nick Garrison has acquired rights to Watt-Cloutier’s upcoming book, The Right to Be Cold, which Penguin intends to publish under its prestige non-fiction imprint, Allen Lane Canada, in fall 2013. The memoir tells Watt-Cloutier’s story, beginning in the community of Kuujjuaq, Quebec, and culminating in her current position as one of the world’s most respected advocates for Inuit culture and the preservation of the Arctic.

In a press release, Garrison says that Penguin “jumped at the chance” to publish Watt-Cloutier’s book. “What struck us all was the irresistible originality of her understanding of the way we are affecting the planet. The very best non-fiction answers questions you didn’t even know you have been asking.”

The press release goes on to quote Watt-Cloutier herself: “As our beloved Arctic is plundered for the riches that lie beneath the melting ice, the need to awaken the world to these critical issues has never been more important…. Writing The Right to Be Cold is also my way of giving back to the people and the culture that has served not only as my grounding foundation but also as the very anchor of my spirit as I was propelled out into the challenging world of international politics.”

Penguin Canada won the rights to the book in competition with several other publishers; Rick Broadhead negotiated the deal.

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Andrew Pyper sells manuscript to Universal Pictures, Simon & Schuster

The film rights to Andrew Pyper’s forthcoming novel, The Demonologist, have been optioned to Universal Pictures.

The book follows a Columbia University professor and demonology expert who uses Milton’s Paradise Lost as a guide to the underworld, where he plans to rescue his daughter who killed herself while seemingly under demonic possession. The big screen adaptation will be produced by ImageMovers, the company behind Cast Away, Polar Express, and Beowulf and co-owned by director Robert Zemeckis (Romancing the Stone, Back to the Future, Forrest Gump).

Along with the movie deal, Pyper has recently secured a North American home for the book with Simon & Schuster. (Orion had already picked up U.K. rights before the North American deal was made.) S&S acquired the book at auction in a six-figure deal arranged by Anne McDermid of Anne McDermid & Associates and Stephanie Cabot of the Gernert Company in New York. (McDermid arranged the film deal along with Howie Sanders at United Talent Agency in Beverly Hills.)

Pyper’s last book, 2011′s The Guardians, was published by Doubleday Canada, which also released The Killing Circle in 2008. He’s also previously published with HarperCollins Canada and The Porcupine’s Quill.

On his website, Pyper writes the forthcoming book is “something of a creative departure for me – or perhaps more an escalation – and so it feels right for it to have a new home. I’m inspired by the brainstorms I’ve already had with my editor at S&S, Sarah Knight, and hope this is the beginning of a long, happy marriage.”

S&S will publish The Demonologist early in 2013. In the U.K., Orion will publish the book in October of this year.


Indigo deals with the digital revolution

Information wants to be free, or so the popular bromide has it. Heather Reisman, CEO and “chief booklover” of Indigo Books & Music, has another formula: “All content wants to be digital.” According to an article in Saturday’s Globe and Mail, the head of Canada’s largest book retailer thinks that the recent launch of the company’s digital bookselling platform Shortcovers will be insufficient to forestall what she projects (somewhat startlingly) as a 15% drop in book sales over the next five years due to the advent of a digital marketplace.

If traditional bricks-and-mortar bookstores are in peril due to the groundswell in digital publishing, currently the fastest-expanding segment of the market, Reisman’s response may seem counterintuitive. According to the Globe article, she plans to confront the digital revolution by enticing more parents, children, and teens into her stores. Granted, she plans to do this by stocking more non-book-related items:

She started by wooing children and their parents with toys about four years ago, after her research showed that 40 per cent of Indigo customers were adults with kids. Parents wanted educational and stimulating toys, not video games or battery-powered cars. (The chain promptly dropped in-store DVD monitors playing Dora the Explorer, after parents gave them a thumbs-down in a test run.) Ms. Reisman worried initially that the toys might cannibalize Indigo’s book sales, but in fact the stores with toys enjoy stronger book sales than those without, says chief merchant Joel Silver. Customers tend to stay longer in outlets with toys, and wander over to the books.

As for the teen market, Silver (who is not, as Quillblog first assumed, the guy who produced Die Hard) claims that teen sales have jumped 200% in the past five years, largely on the back of the Twilight series of teen-oriented vampire novels.

If Reisman is correct about content wanting to be digital (Quillblog will refrain from pointing out that content, like information, can’t want anything at all), then a move to entice more people into the chain’s stores may appear like one step forward and two steps back. On the other hand, Indigo wields such a stranglehold on the traditional book market in Canada that it’s probably not going to lose by beefing up its stores to attract a larger – and younger – clientele. In the event, the idea is so nutty it just might work.

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