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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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Random House of Canada launches online magazine as part of digital overhaul

What does a major publishing house look like in the digital age?

Random House of Canada has offered one answer with today’s launch of a multifaceted digital strategy that includes an online magazine (known as Hazlitt), an ebook imprint (Hazlitt Originals), and a website redesign.

The centrepiece of the campaign is the online magazine, the subject of some industry speculation ever since Random House of Canada hired Christopher Frey, a founder of Outpost magazine and Toronto Standard, earlier this year. While Hazlitt, which takes its name from a 19th-century literary critic and essayist, will be hosted on the Random House of Canada website, the company says it will maintain editorial independence, relying on freelance journalists to provide much of the content.

“As the idea evolved, there was an understanding at several levels of the company that for this, as a magazine, to succeed and build an audience and have credibility, it will have to have its own editorial identity,” Frey told Q&Q, following a media launch earlier this week. “Many of the people writing for it will have to be non–Random House authors or working journalists. We will need to be able to write about everything in the culture, and not just Random House books.”

Contributing writers will include Lynn Crosbie, Kaitlin Fontana, Billie Livingston, Jason McBride, Drew Nelles, and Carl Wilson, as well as filmmaker Scott Cudmore (who will provide multimedia content). Frey says he views the magazine as “competing with any other Web-based magazine out there, like Slate or Salon or The Awl, or the Web versions of other print magazines.”

Hazlitt stories can be read online for free. At launch, the magazine features limited advertising, and cross-promotions for Random House titles appear low-key.

“This is an opportunity for us directly to engage with readers, and to bring the writers we represent close to readers,” says Robert Wheaton, vice-president and director of strategic digital business development. “Learning from readers is of tremendous importance to us across the entirety of our business.”

As for the other key facet of Random House of Canada’s online push, the digital department will work with the company’s book publishing division to produce ebooks under the Hazlitt Originals imprimatur. The first title in the series, which will focus on non-fiction and essays, is journalist Patrick Graham’s The Man Who Went to War: A Reporter’s Memoir from Libya and the Arab Uprising. It will be followed by U.K. journalist Steven Poole’s “anti-foodie polemic” You Aren’t What You Eat and Ivor Tossell’s The Gift of Ford, about Toronto’s mayor.

The digital-only publishing initiative takes a page from and the Canadian Writers’ Group, the writers’ organization behind the ebook Finding Karla: How I Tracked Down an Elusive Serial Child Killer and Discovered a Mother of Three by journalist Paula Todd. Likewise, the Organization of Book Publishers of Ontario’s Open Book project and the Association of Canadian Publishers’ 49th Shelf are both attempts to create an online hub serving the dual role of marketing tool and source for compelling content.

But the scope of Random House’s digital ambitions are unprecedented in Canadian publishing. “Ultimately, we view this as a platform for future innovations in publishing,” Frey says.

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Frye Festival throws 100th birthday bash for Northrop Frye

Frye Festival

As Northrop Frye’s 100th birthday is recognized across Canada this week, the Frye Festival is commemorating its namesake by hosting a community event in honour of the literary critic. The free event takes place on July 13 at the Moncton Public Library.

The celebration will feature the unveiling of a life-sized bronze sculpture of Frye, depicted sitting on a park bench with an open book in his lap. The event will also include a barbecue and birthday cake, live music, and a reading by local poet Serge Patrice Thibodeau, whose poem, to be read in French, was originally published in a special edition of the University of Toronto Quarterly dedicated to Frye.

“There isn’t much public art in Moncton so we thought this would be a great way to enhance the downtown area while celebrating Frye’s legacy,” says Danielle Leblanc, the festival’s executive director.

Designed by local artists Darren Byers and Fred Harrison, in collaboration with Janet Fotheringham, the sculpture was funded through the Department of Canadian Heritage, private donors, and local fundraisers. CBC reports that officials at the University of Toronto have expressed interest in having a copy created for its campus, where Frye taught.

Along with the unveiling of the sculpture comes the announcement that leading Frye scholar Dr. Robert D. Denham has donated his personal collection of Frye memorabilia to the library. Appraised at $40,000, the donation includes signed editions of Frye’s works, plus paintings and caricatures, audio-visual materials, and Frye’s writing desk, chair, and typewriter.

The donation will be housed in the library’s Heritage Room, though some pieces will be displayed in its lobby for viewing at the party.

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Book links roundup: Kobo to launch in Japan, Rotimi Babatunde wins Caine Prize for African writing, and more

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PEI pulls publishing grant – again

The government of Prince Edward Island has axed a subsidy designed to support the province’s publishers. The Island Publishers Support Program offered up to $10,000 to PEI publishers to “encourage and develop Prince Edward Island information, stories, and authors,” and “help increase sales of Prince Edward Island books,” according to the program’s website.

For PEI’s publishing and literary communities, the cut must seem like déjà vu: last year the provincial government announced it would defund its publishing assistance program, but promptly overturned the decision. At the time of the reversal, Culture Minister Robert Vessey told CBC News that a meeting with the province’s publishers had convinced him to give the program another try, with the expectation that more would take advantage of it. “It’s a not a huge dollar figure but it helps the publishers and I think it’s very important that we continue that program,” Vessey said.

A representative from the Department of Tourism and Culture states that the most recent decision to cut comes after the program “saw very little uptake; in fact, this program … was for the most part accessed by one business.”

Acorn Press received funding through IPSP in 2012. Owner Terrilee Bulger is now left to once again figure out how to sustain operations in PEI. Bulger told CBC News that although 2012 has been the company’s biggest year yet, she wouldn’t have sent her full roster of 13 titles to press had she known the cuts were coming.

Irene Novaczek, director of University of PEI’s Island Studies Press, says that despite the expectation surrounding the grant’s 2011 reinstatement, her company was shut out from the program because of its institutional affiliation. “We have already swallowed our bitter pill,” Novaczek writes in an email to Q&Q. “The further blow to other publishers is most regrettable.”


Ryerson University confers honorary doctorates on Mistry, Atwood, Gibson

Toronto’s Ryerson University is confering honorary doctorates on three CanLit heavyweights at the school’s spring convocation ceremony.

This morning, Rohinton Mistry received an honorary Doctor of Letters degree from the Faculty of Communication and Design, and treated soon-to-be Ryerson grads to a speech that bordered on a “brilliant, political fairy tale,” according to one tweeter in the audience. Mistry has previously received honorary doctorates from the University of Toronto, York University, and the University of Ottawa.

Margaret Atwood and partner Graeme Gibson will be presented with their Doctor of Letters degrees from the Faculty of Arts at convocation events on Tuesday afternoon. Atwood is no stranger to honorary doctorates, having received recognition from U of T, Trent University, and the National University of Ireland Galway, among others.

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Book links roundup: Saddam Hussein’s daughter seeks publisher, World e-Reading Congress happenings, and more

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Maurice Sendak, author of Where the Wild Things Are, dies at age 83

Where the Wild Things Are, 1963

He is known for upending the traditions of American children’s fiction – for taking it out of the safe confines of the home and plunging it into darker, more raucous places.

Maurice Sendak was wildly popular, sometimes misunderstood, and not always well received. But it’s safe to say he will be remembered. Often called one of the most important figures in 20th-century children’s literature, the author and self-taught illustrator died Tuesday at age 83 due to complications from a recent stroke.

From The New York Times:

“Roundly praised, intermittently censored and occasionally eaten, Mr. Sendak’s books were essential ingredients of childhood … His visual style could range from … airy watercolors reminiscent of Chagall to bold, bulbous figures inspired by the comic books he loved all his life, with outsize feet that the page could scarcely contain. He never did learn to draw feet, he often said.”

Born in Brooklyn in June 1928* , Sendak’s longtime career began in 1952 when he illustrated Ruth Krauss’s A Hole Is To Dig. His children’s book, Where the Wild Things Are was published by Harper & Row in 1963. Other popular titles include In the Night Kitchen (1970), Outside Over There (1981), The Sign on Rosie’s Door (1960), Higglety Pigglety Pop! (1967) and The Nutshell Library (1962, which includes “Alligators All Around,” “Chicken Soup With Rice,” “One Was Johnny” and, “Pierre”).

In the 1980s, toward the second half of his career, Sendak designed sets and costumes for ballets and operas produced by major houses in the U.S. and England, including Mozart’s The Magic Flute and Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker.

In September 2011, a new picture book, Bumble-Ardy (the first book he wrote and illustrated in 30 years), was published by HarperCollins, and a posthumous picture book, My Brother’s Book (inspired by his late brother, Jack), is to be published in February 2013.

Throughout his career, Sendak was the recipient of numerous awards, including the 1964 Caldecott Medal for Where the Wild Things Are, the 1970 Hans Christian Andersen Medal for illustration (the only American ever honoured with the award), and the 1983 Laura Ingalls Wilder Award, given by the American Library Association to acknowledge his works as a whole.

In 1996, President Bill Clinton presented him with the National Medal of the Arts, saying he “single-handedly revolutionized children’s literature.” In 2003, Sendak received the first Astrid Lingdren Memorial Award, which was established by the Swedish government to recognize children’s literature internationally.

*CORRECTION, MAY 8: An earlier version of this post stated that Sendak’s birth year was 1948.

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Book links roundup: Jennifer Egan’s writing life, Brick Books redesigns website, and more

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Update: Hachette, Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins to modify agency agreements in U.S.

Publishers Lunch reports that the three publishers opting to settle the antitrust lawsuit launched today by the U.S. Department of Justice have agreed to drop the agency model for a period of two years. However, the report is quick to point out that the agency model is not dead, as other firms named in the lawsuit are choosing to fight the charges in court.

Michael Cader of Publishers Lunch offers analysis (subscription required):

While those three publishers will relinquish their agency models, agency itself will persist, since Macmillan has pledged to continue that pricing model, and one can infer that Penguin will continue with it as well. Which should allow those who adopted it later, such as Sourcebooks, to also continue to employ agency if they wish.

HarperCollins’ New York office has already released a statement on the matter, noting that the firm “did not violate any anti-trust laws” and that its “business terms and policies have been, and continue to be, designed to give readers the greatest choice of formats, features, value, platforms and partners – for both print and digital.”

The press release also describes the decision to settle as a “business decision” intended to “end a potentially protracted legal battle.”

[Updated at 1:08 p.m.] Publishers Lunch has updated its analysis of the settlement, pointing out that it “does not seem to require [Hachette, Simon & Schuster, and HarperCollins] to abandon the agency selling relationship itself.” The expanded report also notes that the Department of Justice “appears to have set up a system that will allow limited discounting of ebooks, so as to inhibit predatory loss-leader pricing of ebooks from the settling publishers.”

From Publishers Lunch:

They [i.e., the settling publishers] actually can “enter into Agency Agreements with E-book Retailers under which the aggregate dollar value of the price discounts or any other form of promotions to encourage consumers to purchase one or more of the Settling Defendant’s E-books (as opposed to advertising or promotions engaged in by the E-book Retailer not specifically tied or directed to the Settling Defendant’s E-books) is restricted.” But that restriction “shall not interfere with the e-book retailer’s ability to reduce the final price paid by consumers…by an aggregate amount equal to the total commissions the settling defendant pays to the e-book Retailer, over a period of at least one year, in connection with the sale of the Settling Defendant’s E-books to consumers.”

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