21 September 2010

Skibsrud on Giller Long List

Johanna Skibsrud: Pre-Giller Long List

Gaspereau Press is pleased to discover that Johanna Skibsrud’s novel The Sentimetalists is on the Scotiabank Giller Prize long list. The list, selected by CBC’s Michael Enright, American writer Claire Messud and UK writer Ali Smith, looks something like this:

David Bergen, THE MATTER WITH MORRIS (Harper Collins)
Douglas Coupland, PLAYER ONE (Anansi)
Michael Helm, CITIES OF REFUGE (M&S)
Alexander MacLeod, LIGHT LIFTING (Biblioasis)
Avner Mandelman, THE DEBBA (Random House)
Tom Rachman, THE IMPERFECTIONISTS, (Random House)
Sarah Selecky, THIS CAKE IS FOR THE PARTY (Thomas Allen)
Johanna Skibsrud, THE SENTIMENTALISTS (Gaspereau)
Cordelia Strube, LEMON (Coach House)
Joan Thomas, CURIOSITY, (M&S)
Jane Urquhart, SANCTUARY LINE (M&S)
Dianne Warren, COOL WATER (Harper Collins)
Kathleen Winter, ANNABEL (Anansi)

Johanna is over the moon, of course (and in Paris, which never hurts). Everyone here at Gaspereau is pleased too, but circumspect as usual. Long lists can mean very little for actual book sales, though the soft benefits are critical.

When we are running behind (and this year, we are running very behind) an award nomination can mean that we end up having to decide whether or not to delay fall books in order to print more copies of the nominated book in case there is a sudden demand that exceeds our present inventory. And what if you reprint a book and then the sales are illusionary? That can quickly take a book from break-even to loss. We have to consider whether it is better to fill big retail orders for the promotional displays that have been organized around the award instead of filling orders from small booksellers, and whether shorting the chain stores will preempt the inevitable returns or hurt sales. There's a lot of balance, and a lot at stake.

In fact, when all is said and done, we’ve often found that long lists and short lists only result in increased book returns (unless the book actually wins). Sometimes it feels like we’ve only loaned the big retailers stock to fill out their displays. But why would we think that a retail system that does a poor job of selling literary titles to the public all the rest of the year will suddenly succeed during awards season?

So where is the line between careful management and simply being an awards wet blanket?! When you run a literary press, and you run it on a shoestring, you have to be careful not to drop the ledger, the dictornaty, or the ink knife while you’re strapping the party hat under your chin and blowing up the balloons. You have to keep things in perspective.

Johanna Skibsrud: Post-Giller Long List

Having books on long lists or short lists can be reassuring and amusing too. Nominations bring us into contact with many aspects of the publishing trade from which working in a small Nova Scotian town usually insulates us. People who are usually disinterested in our press suddenly act as if they are diehard supporters. We get calls from journalists in Toronto who have determined the story’s angle (small regional press is dark horse nominee for important national award) before they even call, and boy are they frustrated if you suggest a more complex reality. Agents, editors and publishers come fishing for rights knowing little or nothing about the book, the author, or the press other than that it was on the Giller long list. And organizers and publicists call, working so hard to convince us all that something very, very important is afoot. Nice as some of these people are, these encounters reassure me that I'm not missing much by working outside the mainstream of the publishing world.

I know that for some authors who win major awards, the experience has a transforming influence on their career. Winning a prize can be the thing that lands you an agent, or a better publishing deal, or a deal in a foreign territory – to say nothing of the monetary prize and the psychological boost of approval. These are good things as far as they go. And as embarrassing as the boosterism of national awards can be, and as corrosive as their cattle-shoot effect can be on our thinking about literature, I think we sometime expect a little too much of these awards. They are what they are.

The Sentimentalists won first prize in the fiction ctegory of the 2010 Alcuin Awards for Canadian Book Design. Illustration by Wesley Bates

Why wouldn’t the Giller Prize be any less complex and contradictory than the culture and the literature it aims to promote? The Giller short list will be announced on October 5th, and I would like very much to discover that The Sentimentalists is on it. And we’ll happily wrestle with whatever complications, challenges or indignities come with it, approaching them with the same grin and tenacity as everything else we deal with around here. Because at the end of the day, I feel that we ought to take Mr. Rabinovitch and his ilk at face value as wanting simply to promote good fiction. While I wouldn’t want to live in the media cycle and trade publishing culture surrounding such awards indifferently, or engage them as my guide to literary excellence, The Giller Prize is at least doing something positive in aid of a cause that is important to me. I’ll embrace their way of helping literature, as I trust they also embrace mine.



Anonymous said...

damn you're well spoken!

Anonymous said...


Unknown said...

Well written as always, Andrew. It's a challenge for you as a publisher, I know and sympathize. But I am very happy for you and for Joanne that The Sentimentalists is on the short list for the Giller. I hope you're able to solve your printing dilemma.

Kerry said...

Hi, Just a note that I'd be buying the book if you did a reprint all thanks to the Giller list. And congratulations on the shortlist!

Unknown said...

I feel horrible for Johanna that she got stuck with you as printers! Instead of relishing in the afterglow of Giller success which she rightly deserves she will be relegated to an afterthought because you obviously do not have the capabilities, the inclination or worse yet the mental fortitude to ensure that you take advantage of the honour bestowed her.

I really hope for Johanna's sake that she moves on and finds herself a publisher that can help her career flourish.