Monthly Archives: November 2021

BWS 10.11.21 report: “Inside the Pages: A Book Editor Demystifies the News and Reviews Process” with Deborah Dundas

Deborah Dundas is the Books Editor at the Toronto Star with a broad background in the media, including stints in business, lifestyle, and national and city politics, in television and in newspapers, in Canada and while working and living in Northern Ireland. She’s reported and edited/produced on air and for print – and has interviewed some of the world’s most recognizable authors including Salman Rushdie, Margaret Atwood, Colson Whitehead, Jonathan Franzen, Zadie Smith and John Irving. She regularly appears on stage, television and radio and is deeply involved with the literary community, often acting as a juror or host. She studied English and Political Science at Toronto’s York University and is currently pursuing an MFA at the University of King’s College.

Inside the Pages: A Book Editor Demystifies the News and Reviews Process

One thing that I think we’ve all discovered over the pandemic is that books – and particularly print books – aren’t dead. Which is good news for all of us.

Sales of print books in the first half of this year screamed back from the first half of 2020, according to BookNet Canada. On the other hand, there has been some bad news – the books industry is facing shortages and challenges that threaten every part of the supply chain — from paper to printing capacity to shipping to, believe it or not, glue.

That big storm in Texas a few months ago? That led to a hike of 80 to 90 per cent in the price of glue used in binding books. And there’s more. I’ve taken a deep dive into what some in the industry are calling “a perfect storm” and what it will mean over the next few years. 

But back to the numbers. The latest numbers from BookNet Canada – which measures these things for the Canadian industry – look like this. Book sales improved over 2020 – and are almost back to where they were in 2019. “Print sales for the first six months of 2021 vs. the first six months of 2020 show a significant increase of approximately 1.5 million unites (to 22,502,564) and an increase of $47 million (to $463,780,134) year-over-year.”

Books in Canada are a billion dollar a year industry. As writers, you need to know what the trends are in the industry, what readers want to read, what’s selling, and how the pandemic has

Go to booknetcanada.ca – they have a blog and are a fabulous resource for all of these numbers and offer a really good overview of the books industry. You can follow their blog for updates – most of their reports are at least partly available to everyone, although some of the more detailed information is subscription only. Still, they’re a great resource.

I’m here as the books editor at the Toronto Star 

As books editor, I choose the books, interviews and stories that get covered in the books pages and also assign writers to do reviews or interviews, although I also myself regularly do interviews and industry stories. I don’t have a staff of thousands: it’s just me and freelancers I hire.

I get hundreds of books every month – books come from all of the big publishing houses domestically, as well as small indie houses from across the country – but I also get books from some international publishers, particularly in the U.S. I also get at least 100 emails a day in my inbox. This means a lot of books don’t get mentioned and a lot of emails don’t get answered. But it also points out that there’s a lot of competition for the limited space.

I have one to two dedicated book reviews pages each week – the second depending on advertising. I usually have a genre column, one or two reviews, the bestsellers lists and sometimes a round-up of new or notable books. I’ll also have likely at least one interview and sometimes news stories (awards, etc.) throughout the week. If I have some extra space I might run an excerpt. Basically, I like there to be a balance and rhythm to the pages, and changing up length and depth of stories allows that. So our books coverage is reasonably robust.  

The pages are meant to serve our readers – let them know what’s coming out, what the trends are by giving a flavour of different writers and types of books, giving them a taste of their favourite genres, and giving them an inside look at author lives and craft, and what’s going on in the industry. Most writers want a review – and they do happen. I try to, again, balance out big and small publishers, local and national or international books, fiction, non-fiction and genre. 

I make a particular effort to try to include small Canadian publishing houses as much as I can. There aren’t a lot of places they can turn to so, again, I’ll consider their pitches and do what I can. There are dozens of small publishers across the country – at least mid-40s so, again, it’s simply not possible to include everybody, but I do try to include something from everyone over the course of the year.

Restrictions

There’s only one of me, so if you don’t get a response, don’t take it personally. You can try resending – often it takes two or three attempts.

I try to reflect the books community in all its diversity and breadth of interests – in very limited space. Not everything is going to get mentioned. Balance is the thing that’s important to me. Also, don’t discount small mentions – whether in a new and notable column or as someone who can comment on a particular aspect of the industry in a larger piece. Every mention is good, even if you don’t get a full review.  

I can’t do self-published books. There are more than I could possibly look through; traditional publishers have a vetting process, and publicists have an idea of what I’m looking for and make sure they mention the books they think would best suit The Star. That’s invaluable for me.

How to get noticed

I tend to plan in advance so if you’re a traditional publisher, make sure to send well in advance. Always put the pub date up near the top of your press release or email – I organize by pub date, and not including it means more work.

Tell my why I should be interested. If this is a good local story, say so. If there’s a particularly interesting back story, let me know it.

For independent publishers – give me the local story if you’re local – there are other parts of the paper that cover books, too. If I see something I think will work I pass it on to one of the other sections or reporters. Books appear throughout the paper, not just in the books pages. 

For authors – there are lots of ways for you to get noticed. Get out there, be obvious, self-promote. Be on social media – engage with readers and other writers. Be a supportive part of the community and become part of the books community.

For self-published authors – there are so many resources out their in terms of digital platforms and word of mouth. Get out their and be on them. It’s a lot of work, but it sells books. Look at these numbers: When BookNet conducted a survey asking who those being surveyed believed had benefited the most from the digital transformation of the last five years, the top three responses were Amazon (72%), self-published authors (63%), and readers (52%).

Keep up to date

I regularly send out updates – our reviews, interviews and other stories, news, etc. – on social media. You can follow me on Twitter @debdundas or Facebook. I’m also on Instagram @deborahdundas

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BWS 10:11:21: In case you missed it!

Click here to see the recorded live stream of our November 10th event featuring Kelly Robson, Mary Lou Dickinson, Lisa Richter, Jael Richardson, and guest speaker Deborah Dundas who took us, “Inside the Pages: A Book Editor Demystifies the News and Reviews Process”.

Stay tuned for our next event, the first of the new year, on Wednesday, January 12th at 6:30pm!

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BWS 10.11.21: Lisa Richter

Lisa Richter (she/her) is a Toronto-based poet, writer, teacher and editor. She is the author of two books of poetry, Closer to Where We Began (Tightrope Books, 2017) and Nautilus and Bone (Frontenac House, 2020), whose honours include the Canadian Jewish Literary Award for Poetry, the National Jewish Book Award for Poetry (US), and Book Publishers Association of Alberta’s Robert Kroetsch Award. Her poetry and creative nonfiction have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies, including Grain, the Literary Review of Canada, The New Quarterly, and EXILE Quarterly. She can be found online at www.lisarichter.org.

Notes from a Return Flight, Moncton to Toronto, October 2020: A Zuihitsu

The zuihitsu is a Japanese form and genre comparable to the lyric essay comprised of casual, loosely connected fragments and ideas, often in haphazard order, such as in Sei Shonagon’s The Pillow Book. (https://www.pw.org/content/zuihitsu)

The Bay of Fundy has the highest tides in the world: sea levels rise and fall as much as sixteen meters in just over six hours. When the tide goes out, the endless stone beaches become alien landscapes of flotsam and rockweed. On our morning walks by the shore, across the two-lane highway from my mother-in-law’s house overlooking St. Mary’s Bay, Nova Scotia, millions of pebbles mash beneath our feet. Bits of frayed rope, crab and mussel shells, bottle glass, rusted lobster traps. A litter of storied wreckage. On one of our walks, S. introduces me to periwinkles, the snails that suction their gummy bodies to rocks. Once I notice one of them, I notice them everywhere. This is true of many things in life, including patterns of speech. For instance, the expression, reach out to someone, to contact or connect with. Has it become more prevalent in recent years, or have I just started noticing it? Please don’t hesitate to reach out. I imagine millions of arms, in every size, shape, and skin tone, stretching invisibly and failing to meet, or barely grazing fingertips.

*

I long to be a keeper: of memories, bonsai trees, orchids, bees, secrets. Is this why poetry is my chosen vocation, rather than another form of writing? I’m a constant tinkerer, scrutinizer, adjuster of words, spaces, line-breaks. Could this be a form of “keeping,” if a poem takes on a life of its own once its words are committed to paper? Of course, unlike organic life forms, a poem will not continue to grow—nor will it simply wither away and die—without human intervention. Perhaps, though, a poem likes to be pruned, watered, given life, being spoken to (in conversation with other poems). I think a poem thrives when attended to, as all life-forms do, but it is all about balance. Too much attention, and your poem will drown.

*

I dreamed last night of a grand hotel. In the basement, there was a sauna which looked like hell—literally. Flames shooting out, the whole bit. Nearby, the requisite sweaty, sooty-faced man in grimy overalls shoveled embers into an oven. Can’t my subconscious come up with anything more original? In the dream, I called a friend to tell her about the infernal sauna, but hung up mid-sentence, as if the words ran out suddenly, without any warning. I woke up in terror. Why am I so attached to language? Is it a healthy attachment? S. and I recently watched the gorgeous Miyazaki film Castle in the Sky, in which a young boy named Pazu catches a girl who floats down from the sky, thanks to a magic amulet. My dreams, too, are like this, drifting softly until the moment I jolt awake and I buckle with grief, beneath the weight of their imminent fading, knowing that even if I succeed in writing them all down, something magical and unrecoverable will be lost forever.

*

The clouds outside the airplane window resemble cotton candy, which is barbe á papa in French (like the Barbapapa cartoons of my childhood), which literally translates as “Daddy’s beard.” My father never had a beard, though for a brief time in his early twenties, he sported a mustache that my mother claims he put mascara on to make it look thicker. Those were the years of my parents’ apartment bathroom doubling as a photography darkroom, road trips to the Philadelphia Folk Festival in a car they called Old Shitball, and smoking lots of “grass.” By the time my sister and I were born, my father had abandoned the mustache, and remained cleanshaven the rest of his adult life. I used to love watching him shave, the swift downward strokes of the razor, the careful upward strokes up his chin. There was something pure in his attention to detail, a quietness and patience I rarely observed in him, a man whose presence that could fill up a room. Many years later, after my father died, I held up one of his sweaters to my face, clinging to the lingering scent of his aftershave, its waft of woodsmoke and spice.

*

My earliest memory is from the age of three, an old farmhouse my family rented that summer. I remember the attic bedroom my sister and I slept in, its sloping ceilings, its pleasant cedar smell, and rows of twin beds with alternating red and yellow bedspreads (for the owners’ grandchildren, we were told). Throughout the house, there were old-fashioned keyholes in the doors, around my eye level. I loved to look through them, the thrill and novelty of being a witness to a scene unfolding to me while I remained unseen. The power was in the looking.

*

The relaxation music on my iPhone app is a mix of orchestral music layered with ocean sounds, piano melodies and grandiose choral harmonies. I almost expect a baritone-voiced narrator to begin intoning, “Since the dawn of time, man has looked to the stars…” On a trip to New York a few years ago, at the Museum of Natural History, S. and I stood around a massive bowl, looking down at a concave screen playing a film about the Big Bang. Such a strangely moving experience: to be staring downwards into space’s ink-splattered depths, like a circle of gods marveling at their own handiwork—some gods waist-height, tugging on parents’ arms, ready to see the dinosaurs. Or were they anxious, as so many of us are, to get away from all that’s dark and unfathomable—forgoing the chance to float, suspended, even for a few moments.

 Lisa Richter visits Brockton Writers Series via ephemera series on Wednesday, November 10, 2021 starting at 6:30pm alongside Kelly Robson, Jael Richardsonand Mary Lou Dickinson . Our guest speaker Deborah Dundas will take us through, “Inside the Pages: A Book Editor Demystifies the News and Reviews Process.”

Special note: As we adapt to current social distancing regulations, we’re happy to announce our event will be hosted by the wonderful ephemera series! They have already done their show online multiple times, so we are thrilled to benefit from their technical expertise, while also increasing collaboration within the literary community and growing connections between organizers, authors, and audience. You can attend the event by watching on the ephemera series YouTube channel. Please log in at 6:30.

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BWS 10.11.21: Jael Richardson

Jael Richardson is the author of The Stone Thrower, a book columnist on CBC’s q and the founder and Executive Director for the Festival of Literary Diversity (FOLD) in Brampton, Ontario. Her debut novel, Gutter Child was shortlisted for the Amazon First Novel Award. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Guelph and lives in Brampton, Ontario.

Ahead of her appearance on our virtual stage, Jael Richardson shares the first chapter of her debut novel, Gutter Child.

PROLOGUE

When I drew pictures of Mother and me, I used Peach for her and Chestnut for myself. “Why is your skin named after something soft and sweet and mine is something hard and bitter?” “Because you are so much tougher,” she said. I thought that was a very good answer. And maybe it’s true. But I am forced to be tough. It takes a particular kind of strength to exist in a world where you are not wanted that doesn’t feel like strength at all. Like giving up or giving in would be easier, smarter even. Maybe that is my chestnut, my toughness. The fact that I am still here.

LIVINGSTONE

The driver looks in my direction, full of worry. Her lips are red, glossy and pouted, and there’s a crease in her forehead, like she’s the one with problems, not me. I stare out the window wishing I could go back and put my old life back together, which is impossible, I know. So here I am instead. Hours away from the only home I’ve ever known and driving up a long gravel road through a tunnel of trees with branches that reach down like fingers, hungry for touch.

“This is Livingstone Academy,” Miss Femia says, as we pull up to a grand white house with black shutters and a door that’s green like a swamp.

The car slows to a stop under a droopy willow, and I step out in what feels like a whole different world. I take one deep breath and close my eyes, and when I open them again, Miss Femia is standing in front of me with her tight bun and waxy mouth.

She takes my hands in hers, rubbing my scar with her thumb—the hideous X on the back of my right hand that’s ugly and raw. She sighs, and I wonder if it’s sadness in her eyes, because it’s hard to tell with Mainlanders. Pity looks very much the same.

“I know this wasn’t the plan,” she says. “But let’s make the most of it, hey?”

Her voice is high and hopeful, and I hate the way it sounds, like forgetting the life I had is my best option. Like that’s even possible.

“I really think you might like it here. I think your mother would have really liked this place,” she says.

I want to tell her that what Mother would probably like is to be living instead of dead, to be back home with me instead of wherever it is she is now. But Miss Femia doesn’t have children, and people without children always share silly bits of wisdom, like it will all go to waste if they don’t.

“Yes, let’s make the most of it,” I say, turning up the corners of my mouth as high as I can manage. Which isn’t much.

“You can do this, Elimina,” she says, wrapping her fingers around the doorknob, holding the swamp-colored door with her back. “You can find happiness here.”

But happiness isn’t something a kid like me can afford to hold out for.

The main entrance of Livingstone Academy is large and impressive with tall columns and a wide, carpeted stairwell that curves like a bow. Framed pictures of open landscapes and wide fields hang on brightly lit walls.

At least it’s not the Gutter, I try to tell myself as I turn and take it all in.

“Miss Femia,” a man says, emerging from a hallway in a sharp tan suit, followed by a girl in a gray dress with a crisp white shirt underneath.

The tall man with slick brown hair takes large steps across the room to greet us, kissing Miss Femia on the cheek and smiling down at me after. I stare back with wide eyes because, other than Mother, no Mainlander has ever looked at me this way. Like they’re actually pleased that I’ve arrived.

“Elimina, it’s a tremendous honor to have you here at Livingstone Academy. I’m Headmaster Samuel J. Gregors. But Mr. Gregors will do just fine.”

He smiles and pauses for a moment, raising his chin in a way that makes me wonder if I’m expected to curtsy or applaud.

“While the circumstances that brought you here are less than ideal, I believe that Livingstone is exactly where you need to be,” he says. “Elimina, I sincerely believe that here in our tidy little academy, you’ll find a home that propels you into an excellent future.”

He looks down at the girl in the gray dress whose hair is pulled into two round ponytails. Her skin is like mine, the color of oak trees and coconuts, as Mother would say whenever she rubbed lotion onto my skin that smelled like a spring rain.

 “This is Josephine. She’s one of our best students,” he says, nodding in Josephine’s direction as she takes a step forward, so we’re close enough to touch.

Josephine tilts her head, taking in my shaved head and raising one eyebrow.

Mother started shaving my head when I was five years old because I had curls that refused to submit to her—hair that grew out instead of down. “It’s impossible to deal with. There’s just nothing else I can do,” she said, lifting me onto a tall stool, where a pair of scissors lay resting on the countertop. She cut one messy ponytail, and when I gasped, she cut the other quickly before grabbing a razor to take the rest. When she was done, when tiny black curls were scattered around her like feathers, she held my face between her hands, tilting me this way and that, marveling at the richness of my skin, held in her moon-colored palms. She smiled, like she was proud of the result—the smoothness, the even shape, how clean I looked. “Perfect,” she said. “You look perfect, Elimina. A beautiful, ebony goddess.”

Her eyes were wet, but no tears fell. And I believed every word she said. You are perfect. Beautiful. A goddess. But when I looked in the mirror, I saw someone I didn’t recognize. I saw a head that was naked and shorn like a bird born too soon, one that would never grow up and fly. And I knew that she had lied.

“You made me ugly,” I yelled, and when I said those words again, shrill and loud, she called me vain and selfish.

“Elimina?” Miss Femia says, placing one hand on my shoulder. “Mr. Gregors just asked you a question, dear.”

I look up, my heart racing wildly, like I’ve just been caught doing wrong. “I’m sorry, sir. I—”

“Never you mind. It was a very long drive,” he says, waving one hand in my direction like it doesn’t matter at all. “Josephine will take care of you today, and I’ll meet with you tomorrow after breakfast. After you’ve had some rest.”

“Yes, sir. I’m sorry, sir.”

“Don’t be sorry. And don’t be late,” he says, pointing in my direction. “It’s a basic tenet of the work we do here to always be on time. I consider tardiness a sign of disrespect. Let’s not get off to a bad start.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Josephine, show her around, and do it proper,” he says. “No shortcuts. Leave nothing out. Get her a uniform and be sure to take her to Nurse Gretchen. I want her ready to go when I meet her tomorrow. I’ll have Violet inform Miss Darling that you’ll be away for the duration of the day.”

“Yes, sir. Thank you, sir,” Josephine says, nodding her head.

Miss Femia moves closer, placing her hands on my shoulders and opening her red mouth, like she’s going to say something, but when she looks back at Mr. Gregors and Josephine, she presses her lips back together like now is not the right time.

“Miss Femia?” I say, hoping she’ll reconsider and say what’s on her mind.

“It’s not important,” she says. “You’ve got enough to worry about right now, Elimina. Go on with Josephine. Get settled in. I’ll swing by another time.”

She wraps her arms around me, and I don’t squeeze back or cry, but when Miss Femia whispers in my ear, “You’ll be fine,” I feel a stick in my throat that hurts so bad it makes it hard to swallow, like a knife cutting from the inside. “I’ll see you soon,” she says.

But somehow, I know this is a lie.

Josephine leads me down a long hall with high, curved ceilings, our footsteps clicking against the floors. When she reaches the tall set of doors at the end of the hallway, she places her palms on the brass panels and turns toward me, the X’s on both of her hands standing tall. For a moment, I’m not sure I’m breathing at all.

“You ready?” she says.

But I don’t answer. I just stare and follow her slowly through the doors, feeling somewhere deep in my gut that this is all wrong. I should turn and run.

The dining hall is filled with long tables and wood chairs. It reeks of fried meat and steamed vegetables, and when we enter the room, students in matching gray uniforms turn and stare. But I just look down at all of the hands that look just like Josephine’s—two scars instead of one, like mine.

I stop, and when Josephine turns to me, I whisper the only words I can manage, my throat still thick and tight: “I don’t belong here. You’re all . . . I’m not . . . I’m not a Gutter child,” I say.

But Josephine just hands me a tray and shakes her head, like I’ve got a lot to learn.

Jael Richardson visits Brockton Writers Series via ephemera series on Wednesday, November 10, 2021 starting at 6:30pm alongside Kelly RobsonLisa Richterand Mary Lou Dickinson . Our guest speaker Deborah Dundas will take us through, “Inside the Pages: A Book Editor Demystifies the News and Reviews Process.”

Special note: As we adapt to current social distancing regulations, we’re happy to announce our event will be hosted by the wonderful ephemera series! They have already done their show online multiple times, so we are thrilled to benefit from their technical expertise, while also increasing collaboration within the literary community and growing connections between organizers, authors, and audience. You can attend the event by watching on the ephemera series YouTube channel. Please log in at 6:30.

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