Biblioasis, indie publishing house, puts Windsor on the literary map with Giller finalists

Indie publishing house Biblioasis is helping put Windsor, Ont. on the literary map, with two books in the running for Tuesday's Scotiabank Giller Prize as well as other recent award contenders.

Bookstore-turned-publisher hits 'home run after home run' this literary season

The indie publisher is making a splash this literary awards season with a raft of accolades 2:17

Move aside, Toronto: the new literary capital of English Canada may now be Windsor, Ont., thanks to the success of upstart small publisher Biblioasis, which is gunning for Giller glory.

Biblioasis has two books in the running for the nation's richest book prize, the $100,000 Scotiabank Giller Prize, which will be awarded Tuesday night.

Anakana Schofield's novel Martin John and Samuel Archibald's short story collection Arvida (translated by Donald Winkler) both made the short list of five titles. 

Arvida and Martin John, both published by Biblioasis, are among the 5 finalists for the 2015 Scotiabank Giller Prize. (CBC)

Biblioasis had a third book that made the Giller long list – Russell Smith's short story collection, Confidence, which was also a contender for the Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize. The publisher also released Robyn Sarah's poetry collection My Shoes Are Killing Mewhich won a Governor General's Literary Award last week.

"It's been a massive success, with home run after home run this fall. Overnight, Biblioasis has turned into the most prestigious small press in Canada," Smith, a Globe and Mail columnist as well as an author, told CBC News. 

"I am thrilled to be in the company of these authors who are getting so much attention and will be getting international attention soon." 

Biblioasis founder Dan Wells, who got into publishing 11 years ago after first opening a bookstore in 1998, is modest about his company's accomplishments. But he did reveal the secret to his success. 

"What it really comes down to is every writer we publish, we believe in completely," he said.  

Whereas big publishers may have other pressures or considerations, "the only thing that matters to us is the work and whether we can respond to it and whether we, as a small group, can get behind it fully and passionately sell it."

Biblioasis founder Dan Wells, who published 2 of the 5 Giller Prize 2015 finalists, reveals what he looks for in a manuscript. 1:26

In the video above, Biblioasis publisher Dan Wells reveals what he looks for in a manuscript.

Dan Wells is the founder of Biblioasis, first a book store and now a publishing house. (CBC)

As an experienced bookseller — the editorial office is in a converted garage behind the bookstore that shares the Biblioasis name — Wells has firsthand experience of what readers may like. He also credits the firm's Windsor location as part of their success since they were able to afford to buy their building — which they likely couldn't afford in Toronto's hot real estate market.

As a result, Wells said, Biblioasis has more freedom to take risks. 

"We can invest more into things like an international translation program. We can invest more into things like short stories, non-commercial genres that other presses in big cities maybe have to be more careful about, even if the desire is there."

Biblioasis has put Windsor, Ont. on Canada's literary map. (CBC)

His Giller-nominated authors agree. 

"I think Biblioasis is getting to be so successful these days because these guys take a lot of risks," said Archibald, whose short story collection was published in translation.

"I made the choice to go back to Biblioasis after my first book," noted Schofield. 

"I'm so impressed with how hard Dan Wells works for us and they did amazing things." 

'These guys take a lot of risks,' Samuel Archibald said of Biblioasis. ((CBC Books))

But with all the accolades so far during this literary awards season, Wells has found himself making a lot of trips to Toronto. He'll be back again Tuesday for the Giller Prize gala, nervously waiting to see if one of his books comes out the winner.

"Although I have horses in the race, in many ways I feel I'd already won," he said.  

"We've won in the sense that it's raised the profile for these books."

The Scotiabank Giller Prize gala will be televised Tuesday, November 10 at 9 p.m. (9:30 NT) on CBC Television.