Wednesday, February 9, 2011


When I was asked to blog for Mystery Maven, I was immediately intimidated. The authors who write for this marvelous blog are all so witty and interesting, They have entertaining stories and viewpoints and that’s part of what makes them authors. What can a publisher possibly say that can rise to the level of the entries below this one.

Should I talk about the difficulties of being a small publisher in the large corporate world that is our present publishing environment? Or could I entertain you with statistics that tell us the whole world is reading the same hundred bestsellers into which the largest advertising dollars have been poured? The remaining thousands of books jostle for position in a much smaller playing field. Or, we could talk about the decline in print book sales without a corresponding uptick (yet) in eBook sales. (Al Navis just wrote a provocative blog on the topic of e-books.)

But this is a blog for people interested in crime/mysteries, so I thought what might interest you is the view that our funding agents at all levels take of your work. Crime writing can’t get no respect! I know this is not news to those brilliant writers among you who labour just as hard and write just as well as your purely “literary” brethren, and yet can’t get reviewed in the major literary journals or in the general book reviewing columns at major newspapers. Being labelled as genre mystery fiction can be a liability.

Twenty years ago, Canadian literary fiction was already considered a respected and growing field, with international exposure and many awards committed to its promotion. Canadian mystery fiction still hardly existed and Canadian fans of the genre read British novels particularly, in my opinion, and American novels as second choice. Even today I think the Canadian mystery follows the British pattern more closely and has more similarities with it than the American model. Whereas Americans have always excelled in the thriller category, with great international events as the backdrop to their stories, and intrepid American heroes as their protagonists, as befits our more modest nature, our Canadian protagonists strive and struggle on a less heroic level; they cope with everyday stresses and petty impediments. They’re endearing—they’re like us. (I like to think.)

Our cozies, detective series and police procedurals are as good as anything in the world. And I think Canadian readers are really finally beginning to appreciate their own indigenous group of creative and entertaining authors—that is, if they get to hear about them. It took a small number of Canadian publishers to recognize that Canada needed its own mystery writers to admire and to enter the field with their own mystery imprints. RendezVous Crime began twelve years ago, near the beginning of this trend, and has never looked back.

At this point, I’d love to name some of RendezVous Crime’s authors, who epitomize this talent for Canadian crime, but as a Canadian, I’m too modest to boast of our collective accomplishments. I’m afraid if I mentioned those terrific RVC series by Mary Jane Maffini or Barbara Fradkin, or by R. J. Harlick or Rick Blechta or Lou Allin or Joan Boswell or C.B. Forrest or Vicki Delany (I could go on) that I’d be slammed for self-aggrandizement, so I won’t.

So what’s my point? Despite the difficulties of promoting our own Canadian authors in a field crowded with Brits and Americans and now Swedes, there are certain cultural funding bodies in our nation that look down upon the whole mystery genre as being too “commercial”, suggesting that somehow the writing is not up to the level of purely “literary fiction”, not as worthy of respect. The term also suggests that crime fiction is automatically an easier sell. If a publisher overloads their list with crime fiction, they will be penalized or denied funding altogether. Enough said.

I won’t get into the discussion which rages occasionally about whether Canadian publishers should receive any funding at all to help them compete with the elephant south of our border or the dolphin across the seas.

Instead I will grit my teeth and carry on, because I love every moment of being a publisher of “Canadian” crime fiction and I think our work is worthy of respect.

Sylvia McConnell is the publisher of Napoleon & Company and its RendezVous Crime imprint. Publishing is Sylvia's second career. After 25 years of teaching French, German and English in Europe and in Toronto high schools, she switched to publishing when the 26-year-itch hit. Napoleon began with children's books and added adult fiction in 1998 with the RendezVous line. 2010 marked the 20th anniversary of Napoleon and Company.


  1. Sylvia, as RendezVous authors, we are so thankful for your vision, perseverance and commitment to telling Canadian stories, in the face of infuriating odds. It's hard enough to be in the book industry at all these days, harder to be in the Canadian book industry, and hardest still when that industry does not recognize your worth. Thankfully, readers are beginning to. Onward and upward!

  2. What Barbara said. I read in this month's Walrus Magazine that few mystery authors bother to apply for grants (knowing they won't get them).

  3. We are so happy that you stay the course, Sylvia. You have changed the face of Canadian mysteries and I am grateful for that as a reader and an author.

  4. How can we, the readers, and the writers promote our cause within government? Are there respeccted journalists and taste-makers who could work on behalf of our cause(Shelagh Rodgers, Margaret Cannon to name just two)? Should there be a write-in campaign with the Arts Councils --- taking a page from Yann Martel's heroic attempt to inform the PM)? We could send in fictional murders until the grants are granted?! Trade in our Canadian modesty & apply some of that famous Canadian humour to make our case?

  5. An inspiring blog - thank goodness you are fighting the good fight - Canadian mystery writers and readers benefit from your perseverance. Thank you.