Three Very Different Books Up for APMA Best Atlantic-Published Book Award
Could three books be more different? This year’s short list for the Atlantic Publishers Marketing Association (APMA) Best Atlantic-Published Book Award include a political biography, an historical novel and a coffee-table book about art.
Alexa!, written by Stephen Kimber and published by Goose Lane Editions, tells the story of Alexa McDonough, the first female leader of a mainstream Canadian political party. Future Possible, written by Mireille Eagan and other artists and writers and published by Goose Lane Editions with The Rooms Corporation, is a history of the art of Newfoundland and Labrador, based on two exhibits at The Rooms. My Indian, written by Mi’sel Joe and Sheila O’Neill and published by Breakwater Books, is a re-imagining of a historical event, the journey of Mi’kmaw guide, Sylvester Joe, and European, William Cormack, across the island of Newfoundland, aimed at young readers.
Th Best Atlantic-Published Book Award is presented annually to the Atlantic Canadian publisher whose book, published in the preceding year, best exemplifies excellence and achievement in all aspects and phases of the publishing process. That means the door is wide open to any genre or type of book. These three books exemplify that diversity.
The award also illustrates the nature of the relationship between publisher and author and how they must work together to get the book into the hands of readers.
Stephen Kimber, the author of Alexa! says, “We have learned as writers over the last 20 years that you have to do a lot of stuff yourself. There used to be more happening inside the publishing house. Goose Lane Editions did more promotion than is normally done these days and was very collaborative.”
Kimber was consulted on everything from the marketing plan to the illustrations and book cover.
The publisher’s efforts included going outside house to find the right editor.
“It’s a complex story about a complex woman who lived in a complex time. We assigned an editor who knew Alexa and Stephen and could bring a knowledge of the subject to the manuscript. It was key to drawing out the feminist history of Alexa because that was central. It’s a huge issue for women and we wanted to ensure that was made clear,” says Goose Lane Editions publisher Susanne Alexander.
“We saw this as a national story about a woman who changed the future possibilities for other women in this country in politics and got the book into stores throughout the country.”
Alexander calls Goose Lane’s second nominee “An incredibly beautiful groundbreaking book which reached across the country.”
Mireille Eagan, curator of contemporary art at the Rooms Provincial Art Gallery in St. John’s, is the lead author/editor of Future Possible: An Art History of Newfoundland and Labrador. She explains that the book, which took over five years to bring to fruition, is the first comprehensive art history of the province and the first one of its kind in the country.
“Not only is it filled with images from senior and emerging artists but it is rich in different histories being told in different ways – stories, interviews, memories,” Eagan says. “History is a way of telling a story about a place and culture is a verb that is constantly growing.”
There were special challenges to presenting a book with a co-publishing partner. The Rooms wanted to show the broad diversity of art in Newfoundland and Labrador and Goose Lane wanted to ensure it reached beyond that province to bookstores and libraries nationwide.
Producing a quality art book has its own special requirements. Future Possible has lots of reproductions and to do them justice it needed to be a large book, on good paper and printed to high standards. Even the quantity of pixels affects the look of the final product and because the book is so big it has a sewn binding.
Alexa!, on the other hand, is designed to give the reader a more intimate experience. Therefore it’s not too big and not too heavy – meant to be held comfortably while one reads.
Whilst every book has a different, individualized marketing plan, both books had at least one thing in common: a COVID19 launch. “What one would normally do – personal appearances, in person events – is thrown out the window,” says Alexander. The company mostly relied on print and digital advertising and even used billboard advertising for Alexa!, a strategy that has been successful for Goose Lane in the past.
COVID was also a factor in the marketing of My Indian. “We had to resort to doing it all digitally from ads to interviewing to festivals,” says Breakwater Books president and publisher Rebecca Rose. Ironically there were some benefits to that restriction, she says. Some national festivals are reluctant to take on Atlantic authors, particularly those from Newfoundland, simply because of the cost of getting them there.
That wasn’t the case with virtual appearances. “Readings and signings were hard to do, but we all had to adapt and we were still able to find readers.”
My Indian was a controversial book to produce if only because of the title, which uses a word no longer considered acceptable. “We had a very good relationship with Joe and O’Neill and they had to be prepared for blow back,” says Rose.
It was the authors who insisted on the title and that was fine with her. “We’re committed to learning best practises for all BIPOC voices and we’re willing to go the extra mile.”
Going that extra mile included bringing in an Indigenous, preferably Mi’kmaw, editor. “It’s important for publishers to take seriously our responsibility to the community, not just the author,” Rose explains.
“I’m so proud of the book. It’s so nice to have newer content and being a part of decolonizing this new version of Newfoundland history.”
What makes a book a success? “It starts at the beginning with a clear sense by the author of what a book is and then the publisher knowing what it could be,” says Kimber. “Publishers help to make it something people know about, then it has to make a life of its own.”
All three of this year’s nominees seem to have done just that.