canadian ~ twenty-first century literature since 1999

TDR Interview: Biblioasis: Dan Wells

Dan Wells has published a limited edition fiction series dedicated exclusively to the short story (Biblioasis). The chapbook series is available in both hand-bound soft cover and cased versions. Put together with the help of John Metcalf, the series features the work of Leon Rooke, Annabel Lyon, Clark Blaise, Caroline Adderson and Judith McCormack. Wells intends to showcase some of the best writers around the world in his series. 

Meghan Hurley found out how he made the leap into the publishing field (March 2005).


How did the series start? What inspired you to create a short fiction series of chapbooks that no one in Canada had ever done before?

This series started almost by accident.  I ran a literary festival in Windsor for three years, and in 2003 invited John Metcalf down to read.  I was seriously considering making the leap into publishing, and hoped to glean something from his long experience as the editor at the Porcupine's Quill.  It was only a thought. I'm not sure I would have acted on it if it wasn’t for John and his support and enthusiasm.  John said that he thought a short fiction series would be very smart, as no one else in Canada had ever done a series of chapbooks exclusively dedicated to the short story.  I'd immediately have a corner, so to speak, on the market. 

I wanted to do a short fiction series because I think it is a very important and neglected form.  It is also the one I am personally most interested in. It represents Canadian literature's biggest contribution to world literature. 

Why did you choose to do a limited edition chapbook series?

The series itself has taken its present shape as a strictly limited edition chapbook series for a variety of reasons.  The primary one is that many of the authors we have attracted are under contractual obligations elsewhere.  Our original intention to do both a limited edition and trade run of each chapbook met with immediate resistance on the part of some of the larger publishers.  We had to tailor this series to slide under their radar, so that we could not be perceived as in direct competition.  If we truly want to showcase the best writers in the country and elsewhere -- and it is our intention to do just that -- we needed to find a niche that would allow us access to them.  Going in this limited format has allowed us to do just that. 

What do you think is the place of short fiction in Canlit today?

It represents our most important contribution to world literature.  Yet the story and story collection itself seems to be, in terms of public awareness and respect, in a state of decline.  The Danforth Review itself has done a fine job exposing this.  The magazines that publish short fiction are fewer than they have ever been.  Short fiction collections sell poorly.  Fewer and fewer publishers seem to be willing to take a risk on them.  Those that do tend to do so as a way of hooking an author in for a future novel. 

The future of the Canadian short story should seem bright.  We have Annabel Lyon, Caroline Adderson, Steven Heighton, Sharon English, David Bezmozgis, Michael Winter, among many, many others.  All have established themselves in the form.  But people are not reading their short fiction; they are forced to write novels to garner attention.

You would think that the short story would be more popular than ever.  The best short stories can have the same intensity, resonance and depth as a novel, but you can read them in one sitting.  It would seem to be a form for our times.

How did you pick the authors that are included in your series?

We solicit manuscripts from writers we respect.  We've tried to aim at a balance between new and established writers.  The first five, which will all be in print very shortly, include stories by Leon Rooke, Annabel Lyon, Clark Blaise, Caroline Adderson and Judith McCormack.  The next installment will include pieces by Terry Griggs, Patricia Robertson, John Metcalf, Sharon English, Lisa Moore, Michael Winter, Steven Heighton and Russell Smith.  After these, we intend to go international, pairing the best Canadian writers with their American and British counterparts.  

What are the economics surrounding publishing?

The economics of small-scale publishing has played a large factor in determining price: the smaller the print run, the more expensive a title is to produce. We haven't spared much in the way of expense either.  Our soft covers run for $40 each and the hard covers $75. Both editions are very beautiful, and were quite expensive to produce.  Each is signed and numbered by the author.

Biblioasis also publishes full-length books.  It does not take long to clue in that publishing is expensive.  I have sold nearly 250 copies of our first full length title and I have not yet broke even; I am much closer to doing so with these chapbooks, even before a couple of them have been released, which proves that these chapbooks are actually more economically viable than many full length books.

The average literary book in this country runs between 16 and 20 dollars.  But the average literary title is also subsidized through government grants between another $10 and $15 per book, bringing the actual cost of the typical Coach House, Brick or Gutter Press book up to $25 or $30. If you keep this in mind our chapbooks, which have superior production standards and are not government subsidized, no longer will seem quite so expensive.   

How have the sales of your series done so far?

The hard covers have actually completely sold out in advance. I could have sold many more of them. I will be increasing the limitation on the next batch, likely by five or ten copies. I will also be raising the price on them.  A couple of book dealers have subscribed to the series, and I can guarantee that they will immediately list the hard covers at 2 to 3 times the publishing price. The limitation is so extreme: these will be the scarcest books these authors ever produce.  

You can probably guess what market we've aimed for.  We've aimed at the collector market because collectors know value when they see it.  They understand limitation and quality.  

By circulating a handful of prospectuses and placing a single ad in Canadian Notes and Queries advertising the series, we've managed to pay for more than three-quarters of the costs of production in advance.  We will actually make money, evidence that the market for our books does exist.

Meghan Hurley is a journalism student at Ryerson University. She has done freelance work for various publications across the province and is very interested in political reporting. Last year she was an Editor for McClung's Magazine, Ryerson's feminist voice for women. She has also produced a "Medical Minute" for Rogers Television, but decided to stay in print media. She currently lives in Whitby, Ontario with her family and two toy poodles. 







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