The Globe and Mail is currently running a three part series on Canadian writing and publishing. Written by James Adams, the weekly essays have so far covered the perceived decline in publishers' promotional effort for Canadian books (last Saturday), and (today) the rise of new benefits program for Canada's struggling writers*.
The Adams series is generating some controversy on literary blogs across the country and, predictably, in the comments section at the Globe online. Opinions about Canadian books and Canadian writers are as plentiful as they are varied. Canada is having a good talk with itself about literary culture.
Contributing to this discussion is Marc Coté, publisher of Ontario-based Cormorant Books, who uses the Endpapers column of this weekend's Globe to respond to Adams' first installment. The image problem for Canadian books, Coté argues, is not lack of effort from either writers or publishers. It's Canada's porous cultural border:
Canadian bookstore and library shelves are filled by approximately 80-per-cent foreign-authored and -published books. These are promoted by U.S. television programs and magazines such as 60 Minutes and People, which have, respectively, more viewers in Canada than The Fifth Estate and more readers than Maclean's. Canadian books occupy some 20 per cent of shelf space. Their greatest promotional vehicles are CBC's Canada Reads and the Scotiabank Giller Prize. Authors lucky enough to be selected for glory will see their sales climb to an average 10,000 copies for a nomination and 30,000 for a win — numbers an Oprah selection can match in days.
With so much doom and gloom in the news, sometimes its nice to just pick up, and argue about, a good book.
* Disclosure: I was running the Professional Writers Association of Canada (PWAC) when we hosted meetings with Susan Swan, the Writers Union and the AFBS to design what has become this valuable new benefits plan.