canadian ~ twenty-first century literature since 1999

Canadian Writers Beg

. . . for your support

The web site illustrated on this page is an extension of a campaign launched by a handful of Canadian writers to draw attention to the plight of the publishing industry in Canada - and the obvious hand-me-down troubles that plight has on Canadian authors. 

The group has gathered $50 from 400-odd writers and has used that money to run full-page ads in The Globe and Mail's Books section. The newspaper ads promote the same question asked on the web site: "Why should you buy Canadian books this holiday season?"

"What do you think of that ad?" I asked someone this past weekend.

"Not much," was the reply.

"Does it make you want to buy Canadian books?" I asked.

"No. It makes me think Canadian books aren't any good - or they wouldn't need special help. I'm not going to buy Canadian books out of pity."

I don't want to suggest that the people behind the Canadian Writers Coalition (as they're calling themselves) are looking for pity. Far from it. They are attempting to call a spade a spade. The Canadian publishing industry is in tough times. It could use more consumer support. It could use more government support. It could also use a marketing campaign much more dynamic and invigorating than - do it now, so that you can do it again later.

On December 19, 2001, The New York Times reported that Random House, "the largest publisher of general-interest books, has begun a round of layoffs as it cuts costs to address what its executives call a prolonged downturn in book sales." The Canadian publishing industry is not alone in its troubles.

At the same time, on December 18, 2001, The Canada Council announced $75 million in new funding for Canadian artist and arts organization, including publishers. In its press release the Council says it will

. . . also invest additional funds in support for the cooperative projects of writers and publishers - aimed at encouraging more effective promotion of Canadian books - literary and arts magazines, and grants for individual writers, literary readings and festivals.

Hmm. What writer reads that paragraph without pausing on the phrase "more effective promotion of Canadian books"? The troubles of the Canadian publishing industry are not new - and they are unlikely to ever disappear entirely. Someone I know recently published a book of poetry, and she said to me she'd be happy if her book gets noticed beyond her immediate circle of friends.

"That's the most one can hope for," she said.

Sadly, this is usually true. I myself have published two books of short stories since 1999 with Canadian small press publishers. If you seach under my name on the Chapters-Indigo web site you will find that both books are "Temporarily unavailable." Temporary until when? Temporary until they start selling in a volume worthy of shelf space. My story is not unique, and I don't tell it here to whine. Just to illustrate a point: Most writers of creative writing have virtually no audience.

It's almost enough to make one beg. PLEASE PAY ATTENTION TO ME!! But lapsing into self-pity is pointless. It is better surely to consider the Canadian music recording industry. The Tragically Hip sells peanuts in the U.S.A., but they have a huge cult following north of the border. The Canadian music industry, protected by quotas, can now send send its stars out on the world stage, or provide a living for its artist right here.

I'm not suggesting Canada start a quota system for Canadian books. Far from it. But I would like to see Canadian books taken more seriously. Which partly means ripping the bad ones and creating cult followings around the good ones, the odd ones, the half-formed ones that keep you up twitching for half the night. WHERE IS THIS HAPPENING?? At The Danforth Review, I hope - but where else?

Please don't buy a Canadian book because you've been led to believe that you are responsible for the survival of the Canadian book industry. You aren't. Pure and simple. 

Please buy a handful - a truckload! - of Canadian books because they make you quake with joy or quiver with anger. Don't know where to start? Try here.

- Michael Bryson

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