The Harper government this week abruptly cut federal funding to the Literary Press Group, a not-for-profit association of 47 Canadian book publishers.
By acting as both advocacy group and sales-and-marketing agent for such small independent publishers as Coach House Books and Insomniac Press, LPG has boosted the careers of many an up-and-coming queer author, including journalist Shawn Micallef, mystery writer Anthony Bidulka, playwright Thom Vernon and poet Marcus McCann.
At an awards dinner in New York on June 4, Toronto writer Farzana Doctor was presented with a Lambda Literary Award for her second novel, Six Metres of Pavement.
“LPG was the distributor for my first book’s publisher, Inanna,” Doctor says, “one of those tiny feminist presses that will publish work the larger houses won’t. They work hard with few resources and staff. My sense is that they very much rely on LPG to get their books into stores across the country. This will create hardship for small publishers and the authors they publish.”
LPG executive director Jack Illingworth calls the move “devastating for gay and lesbian authors.”
“This is going to make it harder to get those books into the hands of readers,” he says, noting a first novel from a queer Canadian author is rarely the top sales priority for Amazon or Indigo.
“You can see really clearly that there’s an indifference to small press publishing in the Conservative government,” says McCann. “Basically, they want us all to be reading Maclean’s and John Grisham. LPG is a way to level the playing field just a tiny bit for smaller presses. And if you don’t level the playing field a little for smaller guys, then work by, for and from alternative and minority voices doesn’t get made, produced or sold. That’s bad news for the gay reading public. It puts at risk sexually explicit work, work that challenges gender and political work.
In 2011, LPG received approximately $250,000 through the Department of Canadian Heritage’s Canada Book Fund and had applied again last October. Illingworth says it’s the timing of the funding cuts now, two months after the start of the fiscal year on April 1, that’s the biggest problem. Had they been told of the cuts earlier in the year, he says, LPG could have worked out a contingency plan.
“Our chief concern is the fall season,” says Illingworth, who is marshalling marketing efforts toward getting books in shops before the holiday season, even as the entire sales force has learned they’ll be laid off at the end of August and LPG’s administrative staff of eight cut down to two by November.
While this move from the Harper government is similar to the 2010 funding caps in the Canada Periodical Fund that led to a culling of small magazines, Illingworth doesn’t see a particularly anti-arts agenda at work.
“I can speculate, but I really have no clue,” he says. “It’s weird and stupid public policy. Support for the Canada Book Fund was renewed 18 months ago, but obviously someone didn’t understand. We were vetoed at some higher level.” Beyond what seems like whim, Illingworth says, is the larger issue of “no transparency in the process . . . It’s all a big mess.”
Representatives from the Canada Book Fund did not return Xtra’s requests for a statement by press time.
The ripple effects are already being felt, reports book industry magazine Quill & Quire, as Insomniac Press publisher Mike O’Connor has announced the pruning of their spring 2013 list from 10 to 12 new titles to about four.
Toronto author Liz Bugg just had her second mystery novel, Oranges and Lemons, published by Insomniac in April and had been impressed by LPG’s work on her behalf.
“Many Canadian publishers just don’t have the person power to do the jobs necessary in order to get our books out there,” she says. “Without government assistance, these same publishers will not be able to hire someone to take the place of LPG. I hope that this is all a huge mistake, but if not, the Canadian book industry and the government opposition parties must take action in order to swiftly rectify the situation.”
Illingworth says he’s “cautiously optimistic,” noting that some of their members, such as Coach House, will come out of this okay, but overall, “running a sales agency requires scale. Government funding allowed us to do that.” Now, however, queer authors have lost a strong voice.