Behind the Scenes: Giller Musings

Well hot-damn, we haven’t seen this much controversy over a Canadian book prize for at least a few months now, and for once it’s not childish quibbles over whether the jury is unbiased or not! Oh no my friends, this latest news story is brewing into much more, pitting small press against large, vanity over practicality, and of course the e-book over print material. Really, this could be considered the fight of the season, and if I owned a drinking establishment I would be charging a five dollar entry fee for those who would like to witness the ensuing battle.

For those of you who don’t follow the Giller Prize, I will sum up the argument as simply as possible, in the format of my reliable friend the list:

  1. shortlist of books from smaller presses is announced by Giller jury-literatis across the country rejoice.
  2. Gaspereau Press, publisher of shortlisted The Sentimentalists struggle to keep up with demand, as they publish at most 1000 books per week.
  3. larger publishers recognize the pickle Gaspereau is in, and offer to print books for them in a cheaper format, thus helping them meet the large demand
  4. Gaspereau says no, Johanna Skibsrud cringes but diplomatically supports her publisher and their mission
  5. The dark horse of the evening pulls ahead, and Skibsrud takes the Giller
  6. Gaspereau curses quietly under their breath as they realize they will not be spending Christmas 2010 with their families but printing books instead
  7. Skisbrud begins to crack under the media pressure, admitting in a round-about way that she just wants to sell some freakin’ books
  8. Larger publishers continue to shake their heads in disbelief over why Gaspereau rejected their offers, while others plot a better attack** (ie. what if we print on thicker paper, would Gaspereau say yes to that?)

So as you can see, this is quite a predicament. Especially because the group of people with e-readers have had access to the book whenever they like- thus the opportunity for the larger debates to arise (e-books vs. paper, yadda yadda yadda). What’s my take on it? To be perfectly honest, I’m with the publisher. If Johanna didn’t care about the aesthetics of the book itself, why would she publish with someone like Gaspereau in the first place? They publish in-house, therefore are bound by certain constraints. There are many small presses out there that don’t publish expensive, beautiful books (but still good books all the same) and they would have been able to up the print run quite easily. So, Gaspereau keep doing what you’re doing. People- if you are truly desperate to read this book today, stop you’re whining and go download a copy (or pre-order the print copy if you’re concerned about premature wrinkling that could occur by staring at a screen and squinting your eyes too much).

** Since I wrote this blog, it has been announced that Douglas & McIntyre will print paperback copies of The Sentimentalists.

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