Friday, February 11, 2011


Reading, writing and all that other stuff.

It's been quite a couple of weeks in the publishing world. Yet again. Canada has lost another key player, H.B. Fenn & Company, a distributor that has been a major player in the business for decades. That's after shutting down its publishing arm, Key Porter Books, last month.

Scary news for booksellers, authors and readers, mostly because of what it's saying about the publishing industry. Other distributors will muster to take over the many lines that Fenn had distributed. The most pressing seems to be MacMillan from the UK, which was quick to re-assure authors and booksellers that it would make new arrangements as soon as possible.

There's often a disconnect for the reader with these stories, the distributor being so far removed from the reading experience. It becomes more immediate if a favourite author's latest novel is unavailable for an unknown amount of time. Frustrating and inconvenient.

For authors, it's a feeling of total frustration and helplessness. Authors can pour a year's hard work into writing a book, then launch into a whirl of promoting it, but it helps to have the book in hand and available on the bookstore shelves. This happened in another scenario, to some of the RendezVous Crime authors in November, the prime selling time as readers were doing Christmas shopping. Their latest books were sitting in a Chapters/Indigo warehouse rather than on bookshelves in stores. The good part of the story is that once Heather Reisman was notified (by author Barbara Fradkin) of the situation, she acted right away, determined it was a problem stemming out of the switchover to a new system, and she made sure the books shipped as soon as possible.

But wait...there's more. As Napoleon/RendezVous publisher Sylvia McConnell pointed out in her guest blog on Wednesday, the mystery genre "doesn't get any respect" and that often translates to fewer publishing grants, a mainstay for smaller Canadian publishers. And that's what we as readers, and we all are readers, want isn't it...Canadian publishers giving us the Canadian experience in print?

This publishing game is changing rapidly -- e-readers are gaining popularity and the selling of paper book keeps taking blows from all over the place. Bookstores are closing; those that remain in business are often finding it necessary to diversify and bring in other merchandise. What a different world from when Mary Jane Maffini and I bought Prime Crime Books in 1995. I think we had the best of the years as booksellers.

But the constant in all this is the author. But that too, is changing. In Canada, we have an amazing number of mystery and crime writers these days, and wow -- they're good at what they do! They're telling our story in the pages of a mystery novel...and those who set their books in other locales are making it on another playing field. This is all good news for the mystery reader.

So we'll keep reading...and we'll keep writing...and all this may turn up as a plot in someone's next mystery.

What's your take on what's happening out there?

Linda Wiken/Erika Chase


  1. It's discouraging because it means so many Canadian readers who would love Canadian mysteries (we all like seeing ourselves and our lives reflected on the page) will not be introduced to terrific authors who are as good as any in the world.

  2. You are right, Linda. Those were terrific times for booksellers, writers and readers. Now, sometimes I feel like a surfer riding the waves! We can't read the future but we can sure feel the change coming. I think that something will be lost and something will be gained. We will have to be strategic to ensure that our Canadian stories are visible.

  3. You're all right on, as usual. Thanks for that excellent post, Linda.