Young editor treks across the country to take pulse of publishing in Canada

You've got to admire her moxie. When 27 year-old Erinne Sevigny decided to pursue a career in publishing, she flew out to Victoria, BC and travelled across the country in a beat-up old car to visit 24 publishing houses. 

Beyond the hope of making professional connections, the trip really was a chance to take a peek behind the curtain of a variety of Canadian publishers. On the eve of a new career, she wanted to see if the industry is flourishing or floundering. 

According to Erinne Sevigny, it’s looking pretty good.

What is your connection to writing? Tell us about yourself.
I began my career after a degree in professional writing, and among many things I became involved with a local literary journal where I had the opportunity to read thousands of stories and poems written by Canadians. I stayed with the journal for about six years or so, and now I work as a freelance editor. I didn’t start with a huge interest in writing or reading; it’s something that developed over time. Now I can say confidently that my passion is story. 

What gave you the idea to travel across the country to visit Canada’s publishing houses?
The idea sparked while I was driving (all my ideas spark in a car). I had enrolled in the Humber Creative Book Publishing program and knew I would be driving from Edmonton to Toronto. I thought, I should make use of the space and meet some publishers along the way. It would give me more context for what I was getting into and I could start networking. Then I thought, I could blog about it. But if I was going to blog about it, I figured should expand the route and include the coasts. From there I guess it was go big or go home. Why not have a bit of an adventure?

How did you choose the publishers you did?
The goal was to have a variety of publishers, from literary to genre, large to small. Some houses I already had a personal connection to, but most were cold calls or emails. When Humber learned of my trek, an instructor offered help in the form of introductions to some houses, too. Bit by bit, it all came together. As word spread, publishers started contacting me. Unfortunately I couldn't fit them all on the tour, but I think in the end I had a good balance that truly reflected the variety Canadian publishing has to offer.

You blogged about everyone you met on your site. Can you share with one of your most memorable encounters?
One of the most memorable encounters is one I had with a hostel owner in Thunder Bay. 

I arrived really, really late, but Lloyd—the owner—was still up writing. He writes “essays,” as he calls them, about everything from food to political prisoners he’s met while travelling (he has travelled a lot over the years). He prints up these essays and leaves stacks upon stacks of them in all the rooms and shared spaces in the hostel. Even the bathrooms have racks of them labelled “For your reading pleasure.”

Being a lone, female traveller, he put me in a room right next to his office. In the room, along with stacks of essays, were artifacts and photos all over the walls. Tons of interesting things to look at. There was a sign that said something along the lines of helping myself to whatever, as long as it was put back in its place, so after hesitating for just bit, I started going through photo albums from a shelf in the corner. The sign said I was allowed!

I stumbled upon his life. The albums had everything! From old passports, to the telegram used to request someone to marry him and his wife in Borneo (where they spent many years working together), photos from their wedding—my heart was swollen. Unfortunately, Lloyd’s wife had passed just five months prior to my arrival. This was going to be his first summer running the hostel alone.

While I was exploring his history via these albums, Lloyd was in the room on the other side of the wall, writing an essay about water that he would print himself, put in a duo-tang, and leave for his hostel patrons’ reading pleasure. Self-publishing at its heart. 

What did you discover on your trip that you were most surprised about?
There are way more young people in the industry than I had expected, which is exciting. I was also surprised at how differently each house acquires. For some houses, publishing decisions come through a chain of people or are even decided by a board of volunteers. For other houses, it is up to a single person (meaning writers shouldn't be discouraged, because a rejection can mean simply that just one person didn't like your book).

Visiting a variety of different Canadian publishers must have given you a unique perspective on the state of publishing in Canada. How are publishers navigating the changing landscape?
The same way they've always navigated a landscape that has always been changing. They make the adjustments that need to be made, whether it’s cutting back on the number of titles or changing the acquisitions process, and then they get back to work. Sometimes that means cutting back jobs. Sometimes that means shutting down entirely. But publishing is an ecosystem and there is always new life in it. 

Are you hopeful about the current state of publishing in Canada? 
Indeed, the beast that wins is the one you feed. That’s a point I try to make in my blog, overall. I wanted to add something positive to the conversation about Canadian publishing. That’s not to say it’s better to ignore the negatives, but let’s put energy into the positives and the solutions. 

As long as there are stories to be told, there will be publishing. What form that takes will change along with everything else, but stories will still be told and it’s the publishers’ job to ensure that it’s done in the best way possible. Knowing that “the best way possible” and “the most ideal” are not always the same, alas, that is life!

You just completed the Creative Book Publishing program at Humber College. What do you plan on applying that you've learned (both at school and on the road)?
I’ll be formalizing my editing business, for sure. Other than that, I have many ideas, but I haven’t chosen and I don’t want to reveal too much yet. Bottom line is I want to help make a stronger industry and promote Canadian content. 

You can read about Erinne’s adventures at http://thegreatcanadianpublishingtour.com



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