independent publishers

The Scotiabank Giller Prize is one of the most well-loved and also heavily criticized literary awards in Canada. Started in 1994 by Jack Rabinovich in memorial of his late wife Doris Giller, the award has been described as “refreshing” by publisher Patrick Crean (Carter 2013), compared to the “very stuffy” Governor General’s Literary Awards. This sentiment has been echoed across the Canadian literary landscape, however over the years the award has also garnered a fair amount of criticism for favouring authors published by houses belonging to major media conglomerates (Nurwisah 2007, Jones 2007). Indeed, historically, small and independent publishers have been underrepresented on the Giller nominee list.

With this criticism in mind, this paper will examine the last ten years of Giller Prize nominees and winners. It will speculate reasons as to why the Giller Prize is seemingly incompatible with independent publishers and consider the role that submission guidelines may play. Finally, it will explore two case studies of small presses that have won the Giller Prize in the last 10 years.

A note about publishing house consolidation and mergers: During the ten years (2008-2017) under consideration in this paper, a number of relevant publishing houses merged or were absorbed by larger conglomerates, including Random House acquiring McClelland & Stewart in 2011, and Random House merging with Penguin Group to form Penguin Random House in 2013. Therefore, each party is represented separately and jointly in the data where appropriate.

The Scotiabank Giller Prize 2008-2017

In the ten years spanning 2008 to 2017, 131 books have been nominated by juries of three (this number was increased to five, starting in 2015 (Keeler 2015)) readers. Of these 131, seventy-six were published by only four publishing houses (Random House, Penguin Group, Penguin Random House, and HarperCollins.) The other most-represented publishing houses were House of Anansi (at fifteen titles), Biblioasis (nine titles) and McClelland & Stewart (prior to acquisition by Random House, five titles.) The remaining titles were published by seventeen other publishing houses.

In these ten years, Penguin Random House produced three of the winning titles (with Penguin Group and Random House producing one and two winners prior to the merger, respectively.) Winning titles were also produced by Gaspereau Press, Thomas Allen Publishers, House of Anansi, and Coach House Books.

The Scotiabank Giller Prize began publicizing the number of submitted entries as well as the number of publishing imprints who submitted in 2014. Between 2014 and 2017, an average of 67 publishing imprints submitted titles for consideration each year. Therefore, another way to look at this data is that 58% of books that made it to the longlist and beyond were published by (roughly, on average) only 5.9% of publishing houses who submitted titles. Clearly, regardless of how you interpret the data, larger publishing companies are overrepresented in these lists, but why is that the case?

Submission Guidelines

The submission criteria for the Scotiabank Giller Prize have been constantly evolving over the course of the prize’s lifetime. Relevant to the topic at hand, in 2016 it was announced that the number of submissions per publisher would now be capped (Medley 2017); imprints who historically had longlisted/shortlisted titles could submit two titles each year, and imprints who had yet to achieve this could submit only one title. Furthermore, new imprints created after 2016 would now count toward the parent publisher’s quota. It’s important to note that imprints acquired or created prior to 2016 do not count toward the parent publisher’s quota. A quick glance at the 2017 longlist proves this fact: five of the titles belong to Penguin Random House, under the imprints Alfred A. Knopf (acquired in 1960), Doubleday (acquired by Knopf in 2009 and Random House in 1960), McClelland & Stewart (acquired in 2011), and Hamish Hamilton (acquired by Penguin Group in 1986).

The implication of this sort of rule is that historically large publishing conglomerates who have always been powerful forces in the market because of their size now also get “bonus entries”, one could say, because they have been so big for so long. Furthermore, publishers are able to submit new work by past Giller Prize winners outside of their total quota. This was not what happened in the case in the 2017 longlist, but one can see how this rule also compounds the advantage bestowed upon large publishing conglomerates; as demonstrated above, the companies that today form the mega-power Penguin Random House was responsible for six out of ten Scotiabank Giller Prize-winning titles between 2008 and 2017.

In addition to the submission caps which indirectly give larger publishing conglomerates an advantage, there are a number of conditions that potentially constitute a direct disadvantage or unreasonable burden for presses of smaller means. Among these are a $1,500 contribution to “shortlist advertising and promotion” for shortlisted titles (Scotiabank Giller Prize 2018); a commitment that the shorlisted author will attend a number of national and international promotional events as well as the awards gala; and that all copies and subsequent reprints of the shortlisted and winning title will be stickered with the Scotiabank Giller Prize seal. These requirements on part of the publisher constitute significant financial commitments as well as demands in terms of manpower, and could perhaps be real obstacles for smaller publishing houses. When contacted regarding the impact that these requirements—specifically the promotional tours—could have on small publishing houses, Michelle Kadarusman (Submissions and Marketing Manager for the Scotiabank Giller Prize) commented that they do “all possible to assist in these circumstances,” but that because of confidentiality agreements she was unable to provide details.

While there is nothing that explicitly bars smaller publishing houses from winning the Scotiabank Giller Prize, it is hard to believe that they have an equal chance at winning, given the submission caps and grandfathered imprint exceptions. Furthermore, the subsequent commitments that are expected of publishers seem out of reach for smaller companies, although it appears possible that assistance might be available to publishing houses unable to meet these demands. Given all of these obstacles, however, independent publishers do still manage to win the Scotiabank Giller Prize. Below are brief case studies of two such publishers.

Case Study: Gaspereau Press

In 2010 the Gaspereau Press title The Sentimentalists won the Scotiabank Giller Prize, which prompted what has now become a legendary production and distribution crisis. Gaspereau Press, located in Nova Scotia, defines a core part of its mandate as “(reinstating) the importance of the book as a physical object, (and) reuniting publishing and the book arts” (Gaspereau Press 2018). What this means in practice is that their books are printed using a letterpress, the binding is often hand-sewn, and they use high-quality (and sometimes even handmade) artisan paper.

This is all well and good, except when one considers the production demands that occur when a book is shortlisted for—and wins—the Giller Prize. For instance, BookNet Canada reported sales for the 2012 winner 419 (Viking/Penguin Group) as having increased by 900% following the award announcement (Carter 2013), inspiring the term “the Giller effect.” In an article for The National, journalist Mark Medley recorded the sales of the 2009 Giller winner, The Bishop’s Man, at 75,000 in hardcover alone (Medley 2010). Contrast this with an initial print run at Gasperau of 600-1,500 (Taylor 2010) and a weekly maximum weekly output of 1,000 (Medley 2010), and it’s unsurprising that The Sentimentalists sold out everywhere. Eventually Gaspereau Press capitulated and enlisted the help of Douglas & McIntyre to meet printing demands, but not before shelves across the country sat empty for two weeks after the Scotiabank Giller Prize win.

The example of Gaspereau Press and The Sentimentalists brings into clear focus the challenges that a Scotiabank Giller Prize win poses for publishers and distributors. While it is every author’s dream to be awarded such a highly regarded prize—and to have their book so widely read, it also puts the publisher in “great peril”, in the words of Andrew Steeves, publisher at Gaspereau Press. For a larger publishing house, however, where the economies of scale are established and high-volume production is the norm, these challenges would pose a much smaller—indeed likely negligible–hurdle.

Case Study: Coach House Books

When Coach House Books won the Scotiabank Giller Prize for their title Fifteen Dogs, Heidi Waechtler says that they were determined not to “Gaspereau it”. Employed by Coach House at the time, Waechtler says they were a shoestring staff of four-and-a-half, and that the Giller effort for Coach House amounted to every staff member spending time every day sorting out inventory issues, or handling publicity, or solving distribution problems, in addition to countless hours stickering books—and in addition to the daily tasks associated with their other titles and general operation.

According to Waechtler, like Gasperau, Coach House’s central issue was that their entire supply chain had to scale up almost overnight to properly respond to the Giller demand. Because of the Gaspereau debacle, and because Coach House also prints all of their own titles in house, they were asked to make arrangements with other printers ahead of time to ensure that they could keep Fifteen Dogs stocked through the award season. Indeed, according to BookNet Canada, the sales of Fifteen Dogs grew more than six times over following the Scotiabank Giller Prize announcement (Yau 2016), proving that the Giller effect is as real as ever. With the printing problem solved, however, Waechtler said they still had to contend with scaling up their warehousing, inventory, and distribution. In essence, they were a small publishing house with a modest output that suddenly had to act like a big publishing house capable of producing and coordinating a massive number of books.


There is no simple answer as to why major publishing conglomerates have historically dominated the Scotiabank Giller Prize. Likely, it comes down to a numbers game—large publishing houses control more imprints and as a result are often able to submit more titles on the whole than a small publisher. Furthermore, this advantage begets more advantages, as publishers with past longlisted titles are allowed extra submissions, and new work by past prize winners get a “free” entry. Additionally, the submission criteria that require publishers to contribute financially to the prize promotion, tour their authors internationally, and sticker thousands of books would be much more easily met by large publishing companies with extensive financial and manpower resources at their disposal.

Even given all of this, however, small presses like Gaspereau and Coach House do manage to have winning titles, and with greater or lesser degrees of ease, they do find a way to rise to the occasion.


Reference List

Carter, Sue. 2013. “The Giller Prize Story: An Oral History, Part One.” Quill & Quire, October 8,



——. “The Giller Prize Story: An Oral History, Part Four.” Quill & Quire, November 4, 2013.


Gaspereau Press Ltd. 2018. “Meet the Press.” Last updated November 8, 2018.


Jones, Alison. 2007. “Secrets of the Canadian Literary Cabal.” Quill & Quire, January 23, 2007.


Keeler, Emily M. 2015. “André Alexis’s Giller-Winning Novel Throws Philosophy to the Dogs.”

National Post, November 13, 2015.


Medley, Mark. 2010. “Gaspereau Press Teams up With Douglas & McIntyre for The

Sentimentalists.” National Post, November 15, 2010.


——. “Giller Prize’s Reduced Submissions May Be the Most Controversial Change in Award’s

History.” The Globe and Mail, September 15, 2017.


Nurwisah, Ron. 2007. “Are The Gillers Rigged?” Torontoist, January 23, 2007.


Scotiabank Giller Prize. 2018. “Submissions.” About. Accessed November 5, 2018.


Taylor, Kate. 2010. “Gaspereau Press and the Peril of the Giller.” The Globe and Mail, October

25, 2018. Last updated April 28, 2018.


Yau, Kitty. 2016. “The Giller: Alive and Kicking.” BookNet Canada. September 22, 2016.

The Symbiosis of Audio Publishing:

Why Small Publishers Should Look to Podcasts as a Predictor for Audiobook Success

By: Taylor McGrath

Every time someone invents a new technology, the harbingers of death come out to announce the end of media as we know it. The video killed the radio star. The iPhone killed the MP3 player. The death of the print book has been announced every few years, like a copy-paste obituary. With the advent of the audiobook, the death knell sounded again. Perhaps, however, it is time to shift the perspective on what innovative digital text formats really mean for the publishing industry. Unlike the AM radio and the Zune, the book has a staying power and—against all oddshas avoided all forewarned obsolescence. Is digital media actually killing the book? Or is it paving unexplored avenues that can bring books to new audiences and even make them more accessible to consumers with low visual literacy?  Rather than think of books in their many incarnations as separate, opposing entities, it is beneficial to think of their forms as coexistent and their relationships to one another even symbiotic in nature. The growth of the audiobook industry is a worthy investment, even from independent publishers. Starting out, however, is always a difficult financial endeavor. One place that publishers looking to take on the audiobook industry can look is podcasting. Large publishers have recently noticed and capitalized on the relationship between the podcasting and audiobook platforms. The success of podcasts transfer well to the form of an audiobook, and as the popularity of spoken media climbs, that connection is a good place to start. Looking forward, independent presses can and should take cues from the podcasting industry in order to produce successful audiobooks and expand the opportunities of their press.

Of course, the audiobook is by no means a completely new technology. Early versions of the audiobook were being produced in the 1800s, and in the early 1930s there was a concerted effort made to produce audio versions of popular texts so that the stories would be accessible to the blind (“Audiobook”). One could even say that the existence of the audiobook propelled the idea of podcasts into being as some audiobook-radio hybrid. As the popularity of the mobile smart device has risen, however, the podcast has become an independent success with the ability to predict the popularities of other markets. For instance, there are now several success stories of serial podcasts being adapted into book form and doing far better than expected. As the Chicago Tribune explains, Hachette had unanticipated success with a non-fiction podcast series about history entitled “The History of Rome” being adapted into book form. Quoting Jamie Leifer, an associate publisher at Hachette, Jenni Laidman notes: “Two months before the book’s Oct. 24 release date, PublicAffairs had ‘racked up the kinds of pre-orders in hardcover, e-book and downloadable audio that Hachette usually sees for anticipated franchise fiction releases, not serious history titles’” (Laidman). Hachette is now exploring the idea of skipping print production altogether and going straight to publishing in audio form. Another example of how podcasting lends itself to audiobook popularity is the well-known podcast “S-Town.” As Ed Nawotka found, “The seven-part podcast S-town was downloaded 40 million times, making it the most popular podcast of all time,” but, as Tom Webster of Edison Research noted, S-Town is actually formatted like an audiobook split into several different parts (Nawotka). The line between podcasts and audiobooks are being blurred.

Podcasts can be seen as a “gateway” to the audiobook, with many users who start with the typically short audio episode platform quickly adapting to the audiobook market. As Nawotka explains, “The growth in the popularity of audiobooks has been accelerated by the popularity of podcasts, which serve as a “gateway drug” to audiobooks.[P]odcast listeners generally consumer twice as many audiobooks per year as non-podcast listeners” (Nawotka). Rebecca Hussey, a frequent contributor at Book Riot, the blogging community dedicated to books, has become aware of the crossover in her own reading experiences: “I’m realizing that I’m drawn to a particular kind of audiobook: the kind that reminds me of a podcast. There’s a certain type of book that replicates some of what I like best about podcasts: it’s written in relatively self-contained chapters that I can listen to in short bursts” (Hussey). There’s also an opportunity in the sector of genre fiction, which publishers recognize as exceptionally adaptable to new forms of media. As Lynn Neary of NPR finds, “[G]enre fans are not only avid readers, but also early adapters, willing and open to experiments with new technology” (Neary). Genre publisher Tor is capitalizing on the adaptability of genre fiction by releasing a romance in a 14-part podcast series and then afterward releasing it as a full audiobook (Neary). As we can extrapolate, the transferability of success from podcast form to audiobook form isn’t dependent on genre but rather on format.

Corporate behemoth Amazon has already caught on to the strong correlation between podcasts and audiobooks. In September of 2016 Amazon announced a new perk for its Amazon Prime users: “free access to Audible’s short-form digital programming called Audible Channels, as well as a selection of free audiobooks” (Perez). Audible, the most well-known producers of audiobooks, is an Amazon-owned company, so Amazon’s strategies when it comes to audiobook trends are fairly transparent. Audible Channels is Amazon’s foray into podcast hosting. By offering free access Audible Channels for Prime users, Amazon intends to increase the popularity of their own audio productions. As Perez states, the move “aims to tap into consumers’ growing interest in podcasts and other audio programming.” Another move that Amazon has made to forge the connection between podcasting and audiobooks is advertising. Specifically:

Audible […] frequently advertises on some of the best known podcasts. And Audible isn’t only the largest retailer of audiobooks — it also produces original audio content.The company believes it has made long form listening a habit for millions of people and that, in turn, has helped the podcast boom. Andy Gaies, Audible’s chief content officer, says there is a synergy between podcasts and audiobooks that benefits both (Neary).

Amazon is already known for its smart use of consumer data, and that is clearly what the company is going after, with the intention to create new habits among book buyers. Tom Webster chimes in: “Cross-promotion is the secret sauce” (qtd in Nawotka).

Another place where publishers can look to see the climb in audiobooks and the relationship between short-form audio podcasts and the audiobook is transformative works. Transformative works are fan-created works of media already held in copyright and which fall under the umbrella of fair use. This often includes fan-written content of fictional novels. One website that specializes in transformative works is Archive of Our Own (AO3). AO3’s extensive tagging system allows users to select for “podfic and podficced works.” The AO3 community uses the term “podfic” as a catch all for all lengths of fanwork that have been adapted to audio form. Currently, the AO3 database has more than 16,000 individual titles tagged as “podfic and podficced works” with the most popular sitting at 216,176 hits (AO3). AO3 also tags for the podfic length, with designated tags reading “10 – 20 minutes” all the way to “10 – 15 hours.” This reveals a few things about the nature of audible prose. First and foremost, the demand for it is such that there is a structure already in place in transformative work communities for its existence. In addition, dedicated fans will contribute an immense amount of time to creating these audio versions of their written transformative works. Lastly, these communities have seen no reason to place a distinction between a “podfic” that is 15 minutes long and one that is 15 hours long. In commercial terms, the former would be considered a podcast and the latter an audiobook, but perhaps the difference is only in the words that we are using to label them.

Though we’ve seen evidence of the popularity of non-fiction, genre fiction, and even fanfiction bridging the gap between podcasting and audiobook format, it is clear that scholarly communication too can benefit from the relationship. Scholarly podcasts are currently on the rise as people in the field search for ways to make scholarly communication relevant beyond the academic sphere. In Brock Peoples and Carol Tilley’s “Podcasts as an Emerging Information Resource,” the authors go so far as to classify audiobooks in the scholarly sphere as a subgenre of the podcast umbrella:

[A]udiobooks are commercially available in podcast form and offered for sale to

consumers or on loan through special library collections. Once acquired, discovery and access methods should be consistent whether the podcast itself resides within an institutional repository, a digital library collection, or exists within the library only as a link to an outside source. (Peoples & Tilley 55; italics added)

Though the words audiobook and podcast aren’t used here in a way that is interchangeable, their use does emphasize the interdependence of the two digital formats. The “synergy between podcasts and audiobooks,” as Gaies put it, may be beneficial in growing the readership of scholarly texts.

If a publisher chooses to take cues from the bigger names in the industry, the time to jump into the audiobook market is now. With Hachette, Amazon, and others already adapting their business models to sell audiobooks in ways different from before, small independent publishers must take whatever advantage they can to stay ahead of the curve. The beautiful thing about the popularity of podcasting is that it is in many ways a much more organic entertainment industry than most others. Podcasts are intentionally made to be free. They’re often available for download so that listeners do not have to be online to have access to the content, and they are typically in a format that can be listened to from any computer or mobile device. With such low barriers to entry, consumers choose content based entirely on what they desire to engage with rather than be swayed by price or availability. This is an undeniable asset to those looking to the podcasting industry as a precursor for audiobooks; podcast consumers are telling publishers exactly what they want to hear. It’s up to publishers to listen in.


Works Cited

“Audiobook.” Wikipedia, 17 Nov. 2017. Accessed 26 Nov. 2017.

Hussey, Rebecca. “10 Audiobooks for Podcast Listeners.” Book Riot, 15 Dec. 2016, Accessed 26 Nov. 2017.

Laidman, Jenni. “Publishers experiment with audiobook-only productions.” Chicago Tribune, 8

Nov. 2017, Accessed 26 Nov. 2017.

Nawotka, Ed. “BookExpo 2017: Audiobooks Evolve in the Age of Podcasts.” Publishers Weekly,

31 May 2017, Accessed 26 Nov. 2017.

Neary, Lynn. “A Publisher Tries Podcasts as a Gateway to Audiobooks.” NPR, 17 May, 2017,

udiobooks. Accessed 26 Nov. 2017.

Peoples, Brock & Carol Tilley. “Podcasts as an Emerging Information Resource.” College &

Undergraduate Libraries, 11 March 2011. Accessed 26 Nov. 2017.

Perez, Sarah. “Amazon adds another Prime benefit: free podcasts from Audible Channels and

free audiobooks.” TechCrunch, 13 Sept. 2016, Accessed 26 Nov. 2017.

“Podfic & Podficced Works.” Archive of Our Own,*a*+Podficced+Works. Accessed 26 Nov. 2017.