Public denied award-winning book by territorial East Coast publisher

Public denied award-winning book by territorial East Coast publisher

Hot stuff! Johanna's Skibsrud's Giller-winning book is the centre of a supply-demand debacle (Image: Giller Prize) 

She’s been a Giller winner for all of 36 hours, but already Johanna Skibsrud is at the centre of a controversy that has all of Canadian publishing aflutter. Why? Because her book is nowhere to be found.

As we reported yesterday, Skibsrud’s win of the prestigious literary prize came as a surprise to many: she’s a new writer, and her book, The Sentimentalists, was printed by the tiny Nova Scotia publishing house Gaspereau Press in a run of only 800 copies. Now the public is clamouring to get their hands on a copy. But, it seems that the very people responsible for promoting her work now stand in the way of her success: her publishers.

Cashing in on the publicity generated by the Giller win appears low on the list of Gaspereau Press’s priorities. Publisher Andrew Steeves has so far turned down the offers of larger publishers to print a big, quick run of the book. The tiny publisher uses a 1960s offset press and prints its covers with a hand-cranked letterpress. This makes for beautiful books, but at a maximum rate of 1,000 per week, it’s hardly enough to satisfy the demand this win has generated.

Winning the Giller is a writer’s dream. It means thousands more people will read your work, and it also means major sales. For 30-year-old Skibsrud, who wrote the book in the evenings while finishing school, the money generated by the sales is likely sorely needed. After biting her tongue at Steeves’ earlier comments (“If you are going to buy a copy of that book in Canada, it’s damn well coming out of my shop”), Skibsrud is speaking out, admitting she is “concerned” about Gaspereau’s decision. “Every writer at any stage of your career—prizes or no prizes, no matter what—you want as many readers as you can get,” she told the Globe and Mail. “This is a tremendous opportunity for that.”

Now the media is lashing out. “Pretentious. Antediluvian. Mean-spirited” are three terms the National Post‘s Tasha Kheiriddin chose to describe the publisher’s actions. The Globe‘s editorial team agreed, saying, “Someone needs to tell this tiny press that good books deserve a large audience, and that publishers that fail so spectacularly to seize the moment will soon be the last resort of promising new writers.”

The Post reports that Gaspereau’s team is meeting tomorrow to “review their options.” Perhaps the pressure of an outraged public will help them see the value of supporting Skibsrud and making the book available, even at the cost of their impeccable printing standards. After all—and it’s a cliché, but an apt one—you can’t judge a book by its cover.

Giller is enough to drive you to Gasperation [Globe and Mail]
Author’s angst grows over unavailability of Giller winner [Globe and Mail]
Tasha Kheiriddin: Giller winner pays the price of publisher’s vanity [National Post]