A storied past: Behind the scenes at Nimbus Publishing
The region’s largest book publisher invited us in for the day. Get to know the team at Nimbus Publishing
In 2012, changes were afoot at Nimbus Publishing, which left Terrilee Bulger and Heather Bryan with a momentous decision to make. The company’s owner, John Marshall, planned to sell the business, and general manager, Dan Soucoup, announced his retirement. The workplace the two women loved would have a new leader and be up for sale by year’s end.
“There was every possibility that a company in say, Ontario – where the provincial government provides way more support to the publishing industry than here in Nova Scotia – would snap it up,” recalls Bulger. “We had to ask ourselves what would become of our team if that happened.”
“Heather and I ultimately decided to purchase it. We were really committed to keeping the company here and making it work in this place.”
Bulger tells this story in the boardroom of the newly renovated Nimbus offices overlooking the Bedford Basin. As well as being home to 15 employees, the office houses an impressive library of all the books published by Nimbus since the company’s founding in 1978. The collection covers subjects relevant to Atlantic Canada, beginning high on a bookshelf where Joan Payzant’s Like a Weaver’s Shuttle: A History of the Halifax-Dartmouth Ferries is perched.
The Nimbus story then wends its way chronologically across rows of shelves spread through the office. Volumes of non-fiction titles slowly become interspersed with children’s books beginning in 1981 with the publication of Lance Woolaver’s Christmas with the Rural Mail.
“Nimbus made its name as a publisher of non-fiction,” says Bulger. “It was a long battle to prove children’s books could be profitable, since they are expensive to produce and the price has to be low. But kids’ books are now 28 per cent of our business.”
Adult fiction titles begin appearing in 2005 with Lesley Crewe’s Relative Happiness, the first book published under the Vagrant Press imprint. The move into adult fiction was precipitated when Relative Happiness crossed the desk of Penelope Jackson, a Nimbus editor at the time. “She really championed the book, and we thought it was time to move into fiction,” recalls Bulger. “But I still had to prove that I could sell fiction.”
“Fiction is different because its success relies on word of mouth. We had to start doing advance reading copies and that meant everyone needed to be on board to get things rolling way earlier than with non-fiction.”
Patrick Murphy has been managing editor at Nimbus since Vagrant’s conception 10 years ago this fall. While he is active in shepherding all of Nimbus’ approximately 35 titles each year, he says he has a soft spot for the fiction titles.
“Of the manuscripts we publish, the majority are solicited. We reach out with ideas for non-fiction work to someone we had in mind,” explains Murphy. “But because it’s fairly rare for us to do fiction – we only do two to four titles per year – those feel kind of special.”
Unsolicited manuscripts come to Murphy first, and he says discovering hidden gems in the slush pile, whether they be fiction, non-fiction or children’s books, is always fun.
Once a manuscript is accepted, it goes through several stages of editing that focus on the structure, the style and the nuts and bolts of the writing, says Murphy. “I think the role of the editor is to help the author give the book what it needs. We try to help them see what they can’t because they’re so close to it.” It’s not unusual for a book to take two years to move from the contract stage to a reader’s hand.
Another part of the Nimbus story is told by the books in the expansive warehouse adjoining the office. Here the other half of Nimbus’s business is done, distributing books for a number of other Atlantic Canadian publishers like Cape Breton University Press in Sydney, NS; Pottersfield Press in Lawrencetown, NS; Bouton D’or Acadie in Moncton, NB; and The Acorn Press in Charlottetown.
“This is an essential service we offer to other publishers,” says Heather Bryan, production manager and art director. “It means they don’t have to worry about selling or distributing their books.”
Bryan started at Nimbus in 1999, and it’s obvious she feels a sense of pride when she surveys the work it has produced. “I came from the magazine world where the product is disposable,” she says. “Books are different. Everyone who works here is passionate about making great books. It’s a dream job.”
Editor’s note: At press time we learned that Patrick Murphy is leaving Nimbus to pursue a medical degree. In his absence, Whitney Moran will become senior editor. Congratulations Patrick and Whitney!