Where Good Books Come From, by Linda Leith. Part I: The Writer-Publisher Relationship


I have now published seven books, all of them in both print and digital formats. I publish literary fiction by Canadian writers, this year including two first novels by writers you might not otherwise have heard of. One of them, The Darling of Kandahar was nominated for Canada Reads a couple of weeks ago, and the other is Peter Kirby’s moody crime novel The Dead of Winter that is getting superlative reviews and international interest.

I also publish Singles essays on subjects of vital interest on the importance of public education (award-winning journalist Rick Salutin’s Keeping the Public in Public Education), and on migration and movement (Clerks of the Passage is a brilliant essay and first book by Abou Farman). In Spring 2013 I will be publishing Wade Rowland’s book on Saving the CBC in the Singles series. And I publish cartoons by Aislin and other Canadian cartoonists.

I am proud of the books I have published, and indeed their quality and my pride in them is central to the point I want to make about what is at stake when we look at the future of books and publishing. My thoughts on this will focus on the writer-publisher relationship, which in some ways remains essentially unchanged, even though it is also in some danger.

Let’s look at how that writer-publisher relationship works, even today, in many cases. A writer – Peter Kirby, say, my Montreal crime novelist -- writes a book. This is the sine qua non of all publishing. He submits his book to a publisher. If the book is good – and with some luck – and it can sometimes seem like winning the lottery – the writer gets an offer of publication. This is the point at which the writer-publisher relationship takes off.

The publisher edits the book substantively, copy-edits it, and proofs it. A good publisher helps save a writer from herself. We all need an editor. The publisher is responsible for figuring out how to promote the book, and to whom, and will work closely with the author on some of that planning. More than that, however, the publisher is a shoulder to cry on when the inevitable bad review comes in or when the writers is stuck on the next book, a friendly voice when the press is great and it’s all going swimmingly, a sounding board, a supporter, a cheerleader and, not infrequently, a friend.

That’s the way it has been, and to some extent that is still the way it is. But the relationship between the writer and publisher is also affected by the changes that are revolutionizing the industry. In some ways, it might be that this relationship is what is most in danger in the digital revolution.

© 2012, Linda Leith

Tomorrow: Self-publishing, mega-publishing houses, and the writer-publisher relationship

Photo: Judith Lermer Crawley

Linda Leith is the author, most recently, of Writing in the Time of Nationalism (Signature 2010) and Marrying Hungary (2008), and she is the publisher at Salon .ll. and Linda Leith Publishing.

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