A Big Book Bash

All hail the SBA for 25 years shaping and celebrating Sask lit!

Books | by Gregory Beatty

Prairie Dog marked its 25th anniversary in February, so we can relate to what the Saskatchewan Book Awards is going through as it prepares to mark its 25th with a gala at Conexus Arts Centre on April 28.

That’s not just in a general sense, either. As part of the broader print industry, we’ve both endured significant disruption in the time we’ve been around due to the explosive growth of broadcast media and the whole Internet thing. So while there’s a natural desire to celebrate the past, you can’t help but think about the future too, and what it might hold for print’s place in the world.

Looking Back

The Saskatchewan Book Awards were begun by the Saskatchewan Writers’ Guild, Saskatchewan Publishers Group and Saskatchewan Library Association in 1993, says executive director Courtney Bates-Hardy. The guest speaker at the 1993 gala was iconic Canadian broadcaster Peter Gzowski, and Regina writer Dianne Warren won three of the four awards for her short-story collection Bad Luck Dog.

“We started with four awards, and we’ve since grown to 13 or 14 — as the Prix du Livre Français is offered every other year,” says Bates-Hardy.

Best Non-Fiction, Poetry, Young Adult/Children’s Book, Best Regina and Saskatoon Book and Best First Book are some of the categories that have been added. To recognize the fine work they do on their end of the literary industry, publishers have two awards. And there are two awards dedicated to Indigenous writing and publishing.

“We’ve really seen an explosion in Indigenous literature lately,” says Bates-Hardy. “Over the last few years, the awards have recognized a number of books about [Canada’s] colonial history. It’s something all Canadians should know about and understand.”

Indigenous authors and publishers aren’t focused exclusively on history, though. That’s especially true with the 2018 SBA nominees, says Bates-Hardy.

“This year we’re seeing stories from Indigenous authors that are hopeful about the future and that are reclaiming their space, bodies and culture,” she says. “It’s so important to recognize and celebrate that.”

According to SaskBooks — a non-profit organization run by Saskatchewan publishers to promote the industry —  over 100 commercially viable books are published by Saskatchewan businesses every year, generating around $8 million in economic activity. What those numbers would be without the SBAs is anyone’s guess.

“The whole reason the awards were created is to promote and celebrate local authors and publishers,” says Bates-Hardy. “It means the books get more media attention and promotion. And we hear from authors every year that since they won an award, or were even short-listed, they’re getting more opportunities — from festivals across Canada, bigger publishers — so they’re getting recognized for their work.”

That recognition isn’t limited to the SBAs, as Saskatchewan authors and publishers regularly contend for prestigious national honours such as the Governor-General’s Literary Awards and Giller Prize.

Along with the publicity, which starts with short-list announcements in Regina and Saskatoon in mid-February, and continues with a series of short-list readings, culminating in the SBA gala, the winners also get a $2,000 prize. That may not sound like much, but for cash-strapped writers and publishers, it’s nothing to be sneezed at. Trust us.

Future Challenges

Print-based media, it’s no secret, have been severely disrupted by digital technology. It’s cut sharply into revenues and done other dastardly things like weaken copyright protection for creators. That’s put significant stress on traditional publishing models, but it’s also led to innovation in the industry.

That change has been reflected at the SBAs, says Bates-Hardy.

“We’ve been accepting self-published books for awhile now. There’s still some stigma attached to the idea, but that shouldn’t be the case. Every year, I would say anywhere from a quarter to one-third of our submissions are self-published.” [See sidebar.]

E-books are also eligible for consideration, says Bates-Hardy.

“We do require a physical copy of the book when an author submits. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be an e-book, it just means they would have to have a copy printed to submit so the jurors can read it. As long as they have an ISBN [International Standard Book Number], and we can get a print copy, then it’s all good.”

As much good work as the SBAs have done over the years, there’s always more that could be done. One idea that’s been discussed, says Bates-Hardy, is adding another award to recognize the work graphic designers do. To do that, though, they’d have to snag a sponsor.

“The biggest thing for us at this point is just maintaining financial stability, and being able to carry out our mandate of supporting and celebrating authors and publishers,” she says. “Currently, I’m the only staff member and I would love to see us be able to expand. That would translate into bigger and better things for authors and publishers in Saskatchewan.”

Looking ahead to the gala, which features host Zarqa Nawaz and musical guest Kara Golemba, Bates-Hardy expects it to be a special night.

“There are so many people who helped found the organization, and have served on the board over the years, who still support us,” she says. “The awards ceremony is a fantastic time, and a great opportunity for authors and publishers to get together because so much of writing is a solitary activity. The ceremony provides everyone with the space to connect and talk about their shared experience and celebrate their accomplishments together.”


Sidebar

No “Fun” In “Funding”

Creative Saskatchewan’s new guidelines need a re-think

by Gregory Beatty

Just as the Saskatchewan publishing industry was gearing up to celebrate the Saskatchewan Book Awards 25th anniversary, it found itself dealing with a bombshell announcement from Creative Saskatchewan that radically revamped eligibility rules for funding to market and promote their books.

The changes mean that any book an author pays money to have published is ineligible for a Creative Saskatchewan grant.

The April 16 announcement, says SaskBooks executive director Brenda Niskala, hit three sub-groups of publishers. “The first was new and emerging publishers, or publishers that do a small number of volumes a year. The model Creative Saskatchewan set up requires that you have a base number with four books out and two releases every year.

“Smaller publishers don’t do that. Some do print-on-demand within their own small capabilities for carrying inventory, or they have huge print runs and then sell the book over a number of years.”

Self-publishers are the second group hit, says Niskala. “Twenty-three of our 44 members are self-published in some way. That’s where the author says, ‘I’m going to do this myself. I’m going to go through the learning curve, and hire an editor, hire a printer, maybe I’ll do marketing myself, or I’ll contract that out too. But I’m going to keep control.’ That’s the self-publishing model.”

The final group being impacted is a hybrid model that’s a cross between a traditional publisher and self-publishing, says Niskala.

“We have three in Saskatchewan, and they work on an investment basis with authors where the author says ‘I want more control, I want this done on my timeline, but I don’t want to do the learning curve that it takes.’”

Under the new guidelines, says Niskala, only six Saskatchewan publishers will be eligible for funding, four literary presses (including Coteau Books in Regina and Thistledown Press in Saskatoon), and two educational publishers: University of Regina Press and Gabriel Dumont Institute.

“Creative Saskatchewan has not abandoned the publishing industry, but they have made it hard for the industry to address niche publishing and anyone else who operates under an alternative small business model,” says Niskala.

Creative Saskatchewan’s decision seems sadly out of step with the 21st century reality of publishing in Saskatchewan. It’s ironic, too, because in music — another creative industry that’s been disrupted by digital technology — its position is the exact opposite.

“There, Creative Saskatchewan is saying to musicians and producers ‘Go independent!’” says Niskala. “So it’s being a cheerleader, but in book publishing it seems to be saying ‘We don’t want to hear about you guys.’”

Hybrid publishers such as Your Nickel’s Worth Publishing and DriverWorks Ink have been shortlisted numerous times for Saskatchewan Book Awards, says SBA executive director Courtney Bates-Hardy, which speaks to their quality. And she thinks Creative Saskatchewan should reconsider its decision.

“Creative Saskatchewan has the opportunity to support new and emerging publishers by keeping their guidelines inclusive,” she says. “Excluding self and hybrid publishers will only make the Saskatchewan publishing industry smaller and more restrictive in the stories that are told.”

Creative Saskatchewan’s announcement, says Niskala, caught SaskBooks by surprise. And she hopes to meet with the agency soon to clarify its policy shift. “Creative Saskatchewan is our primary funder, so we don’t want to criticize them and say they’re horrible,” she says. “But I think they’ve made a mistake here, and I have complete faith they will find a way to address it.”