Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Small press success

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I’m a small press author – and a grateful one at that – but I’ve never been a small press fundamentalist. Though I think it goes without saying that small presses are more willing to publish daring and unconventional work, an interesting side effect of their relative success in Canada is the extent to which a lot of the stuff that comes out with a small press could just have easily been published by a large, mainstream multinational. There’s a lot of aesthetic overlap, and occasionally some small presses are guilty of putting out work just as dull and conventional as the latest Giller-scented doorstop novel.

But like I said, it’s a backhanded compliment to say that some small presses can be just as boring as the bigs. Whether this is an ideal situation is another question, but it at least helps create a scenario where small press publishing is not seen as the exclusive realm of literary freaks and hippies. For better or worse, a small press novel is not dismissed as being, by definition, “fringe lit” (though in reality, this does still happen a lot). After all, a House of Anansi novel just won the world’s richest literary prize. (Anansi doesn’t like to be called a small press, but for the sake of argument let’s put that aside for now.)

The extent to which this is an anomalous situation when compared with the literary realities of other countries can be seen in this blog post on the Guardian’s book site:

“Without indie music, there would be no Smiths, no Happy Mondays, no Kylie, even (she was on Stock, Aitken and Waterman's own indie label, PWL). Without indie cinema, there would be no Reservoir Dogs, no Ghost World, no Night of the Living Dead. Without indie publishing there would be no ... who? Who are the big indie writers, those who refuse to compromise by not allowing The Man to dictate what and how they should write, and earn massive respect because of it?

The literary world only bestows acceptance, it seems, on those who are published through the traditional avenues. Independent and small presses get short shrift - national newspaper supplements seem loath to review indie books, the big high street sellers won't stock them, unless the books are about the tough lives of mill girls or histories of public house names, which can be shoved on a shelf marked ‘local interest’.”

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

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Nathan Whitlock

Nathan Whitlock is the review editor of Quill & Quire magazine. His writing and reviews have appeared in The Toronto Star, The Globe and Mail, Maisonneuve, Toro, Geist, Saturday Night and elsewhere. His novel, A Week of This: a novel in seven days, was published this spring by ECW Press.

Go to Nathan Whitlock’s Author Page