Windsor

'Charming persistence:' Biblioasis founder talks publishing, Lucy Ellmann and the Booker Prize

When Dan Wells read Lucy Ellmann's latest novel — a 1,000-page stream of consciousness epic about an unnamed middle-aged Ohio woman living in Donald Trump's America — he knew "this might be one of the most important things we're ever associated with as a publisher."

Biblioasis publishes Lucy Ellmann's 'Ducks, Newburyport,' nominated for the 2019 Booker Prize

Dan Wells is the founder of Biblioasis, a book store turned publisher. (CBC)

When Dan Wells read Lucy Ellmann's latest novel — a 1,000-page stream of consciousness epic about an unnamed middle-aged Ohio woman living in Donald Trump's America — he knew "this might be one of the most important things we're ever associated with as a publisher."

Still, it took Wells — the founder and publisher at Windsor, Ont.-based publishing house Biblioasis — six months to acquire Ellmann's 2019 Booker Prize-nominated novel Ducks, Newburyport.

"Every American, multinational and most of the best independents read it and turned it down," he said. "So we got it mainly due to what Lucy called our 'charming persistence,' and … since then, we've just kind of driven that home."

Biblioasis has been working on Ducks, Newburyport since January 2019 and the book was officially released on Sept. 10, 2019. 

In that time, the novel has received rave reviews, including glowing write-ups from the New York Times, the Guardian and the New Yorker

"There's been a range of other coverage, so it's become a sensation within the literary community in a way that has not happened in our 15 years as a publisher," he said. 

At the same time, acclaim for the novel — including its place on the 2019 Booker Prize shortlist — has also benefited Biblioasis.

"There's a practical benefit of sales, which will help us a great deal — and the attention it brings," Wells said. "But I also take a great deal of comfort and confidence from the fact that we have always just done what we're going to do."

According to Wells, the attention received by Ducks, Newburyport will also provide greater exposure for Biblioasis — a publishing house that otherwise can't compete with larger companies like McClelland & Stewart, Random House and Bertelsmann.

"We are certainly going to be better known as a result of this," said Wells. "We can now point to Ducks, Newburyport and the coverage we've been able to get when talking to foreign agents who might otherwise be reticent."

Of course, a Booker Prize nomination isn't the only impressive news this year for Biblioasis. 

Two other books — K.D. Miller's Late Breaking and Adam Foulds's Dream Sequence — both landed on the 2019 Giller Prize long list.

And for Wells, more books under the Biblioasis umbrella means more opportunities for readers to connect with literature.

"My job as a publisher is to ride the wave as much as I can, when something like the Booker Prize happens," Wells said. 

"I'm thrilled for Lucy [Ellmann] and this book, but we have other books as well that we care about equally … the hardest challenge here is to ensure that they all find the audiences they deserve."

With files from Chris Ensing

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