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More than Balancing the Books

New campaign aims to keep Nova Scotia publishing from going the way of film industry

by Katie Ingram

The 'Books Start Here' campaign, launched by the Nova Scotia publishing industry, aims to raise awareness and support for a local industry undergoing budgetary realignment [Photo: Katie Ingram]
The 'Books Start Here' campaign, launched by the Nova Scotia publishing industry, aims to raise awareness and support for a local industry undergoing budgetary realignment [Photo: Katie Ingram]
"A community is only as strong as its ability to tell its own stories." says the new Books Start Here website [Photo: Katie Ingram]
"A community is only as strong as its ability to tell its own stories." says the new Books Start Here website [Photo: Katie Ingram]
About 150 people packed the Maritime Museum in support of the local Nova Scotia publishing industry [Photo: Katie Ingram]
About 150 people packed the Maritime Museum in support of the local Nova Scotia publishing industry [Photo: Katie Ingram]

Nova Scotia’s publishing industry is looking to raise awareness of issues they currently and will eventually face, due to changes in government support.

As part of the 2015-2016 provincial budget, it was announced in a budget bulletin the government would be investing $70 million in “the creative economy” with $12.5 million being reserved for developing culture and heritage programming. Alongside this change, responsibility for these cultural industries was transferred to Nova Scotia Business Inc. (NSBI), a corporation that’s managed through the Department of Business. Previously, the publishing industry had been managed by through the Department of Culture.

“Essentially you always try to work with the process, so when it was announced that we were going to be working with NSBI, our first reaction was that it might work,” said Andrew Steeves, co-owner of Gaspereau Press. “We’d show up to meetings and it was ceremonial; [it seemed] they weren’t interested in talking with us about what is required for this industry to thrive.”

In response to this, the industry has launched Books Start Here, a campaign designed to raise awareness and support for publishing in Nova Scotia.

During the campaign launch, there was a meet and greet with authors, publishers and other industry professionals at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic on Feb. 4. Among those in attendance was author Stephen Kimber, who was also a guest speaker.

Kimber finds that the provincial government needs to pay more attention to what the publishing industry means to Nova Scotians.

“I don’t think the government sees the support the industry has; I think they see ‘how do we cut costs in order to balance the budget for the next election,’ ” says Kimber. “The only way to get them to pay attention is to get people together and I think the Books Start Here campaign puts a public face to this industry and that’s what’s necessary if it’s going to succeed.”

Without this success, publishers feel the industry will take a step back, instead of a step forward.

“I want to see our stories reflected in our books and if we don’t have government support we’re going to end up like the film industry,” said Kim Hart Macneill, Operations Director at Fierce Ink Books.

If this happens, local stories might not get told and local authors might not get published.

“It may not exist, if we’re all reliant on companies in Ontario, New York or London,” says Steeves. “We’re still going to get good books, but we’re not going to get that home grown viewpoint.”

There are four ideas Books Start Here organizers feel would help the publishing industry grow and be more sustainable. The industry would like to adopt a public funding model, form a provincial arts council, double the industry’s size over a five year period and have more support for industry professionals like writers, editors, illustrators and designers.

As these are just suggestions, the industry is willing to work with the government in order to make these or other suggestions feasible.

“There’s been a change to a program that we didn’t get consulted on, but there’s an opportunity now to build something much better than what was there before,” said Steeves.

One area that Steeves highlighted as something that could have better support is marketing.

“We need to identify better ways to get the attention of the market,” said Steeves. “It’s not hard to get a book from me to you, but you have to know this book is there first.”

For some in attendance, the publishing industry’s impact stretches beyond this Nova Scotian level. Many books that are locally published have a regional, national or global impact.

“Local publishers can also go well beyond selling books in Nova Scotia,” said Kimber, whose most recent book What Lies Across the Water: The Real Story of the Cuban Five was released by Fernwood Publishing. “My last book about Cuba was published by a local publisher and it went all over the world.”

What Lies Across the Water has been translated into Spanish, won the 2014 Evelyn Richardson Award for Nonfiction at the East Coast Literary Awards and was long-listed for the 2014 Libris Award as Canadian Nonfiction Book of the Year.

At the launch B.R Myers, author of Butterflies Dont Lie and Girl on the Run from Nimbus Publishing and Asp of Ascension from Fierce Ink Books, was humbled by the amount of people who came out in support. There were about 150 people in attendance.

“I think the important thing is to get to the readers [because] it’s not just about buying the books,” she said. “It’s about people talking about books … success happens when people are talking about the same thing at the same time.”

For Myers, reader support is key, especially with the campaign focused on improving and growing the industry.

“Hopefully the campaign will really get people interested in local authors so the next time they go to the bookstore instead of heading straight to the Hot and New department, maybe they’ll go to the Local Interest section,” she said.

Hart Macneill has found instead of just telling people to support publishing, the launch and its speakers were able to clearly identify why publishing should be important to all Nova Scotians.

“I think it was an opportunity to get a number of people in the room who are already committed to the cause whether they are publishers, authors or readers,” she said. “We’re saying here’s the situation we are currently in; you need to speak with your vote, call your MLA, call everyone related to government and say book publishing is important to me, fund it.”

After all, as is stated on the Books Start Here website “a community is only a strong as its ability to tell its own stories.”

Along with Steven Kimber, speakers at the Books Start Here launch included Sheree Fitch, Sylvia Hamilton, Lesley Crewe, Frank Macdonald, Janice Landry, Michael De Adder and Emma FitzGerald.

For more information on Books Start Here visit: http://atlanticpublishers.ca/nsbooksstarthere/


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