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.


It is almost as though winning a prize is the only truly newsworthy thing a cultural worker can do… in this context it is the prize, above all else, that defines the artist” (English, 2008).


Publishers submit books for consideration to literary award bodies and are thereby responsible for determining which authors are valued in the cultural economy (Bourdieu in Lash, 1993). The issue of diversity in publishing or the lack of it rather has been sung from the mountain tops and it rears its head once more when discussing awards particularly those considered to be the most prestigious. In this paper, I will argue that the Scotiabank Giller Prize also known as the holy grail of awards in Canadian publishing has found its match in the newly created Indigenous Voices Awards (IVA). Regardless of the commercial success the Giller Prize brings to authors and publishers alike, the Indigenous Voices Awards (IVA) have been created at a politically charged time making them impossible to ignore. It is my belief that the IVA will eventually occupy an equal amount of space in the cultural economy.

Because of its ability to command the attention of the nation and the media whilst turning the publishing industry on its head annually, the Scotiabank Giller Prize is what Michael Warner (2002) would label a “dominant public”. The Governor General’s Award and the Roger Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize are both revered but from what I have seen do not command the level of attention and glitz the Giller does. Therefore, using Warner’s theory, I am going to position the Indigenous Voices Awards as the most direct counterpublic to the “dominant” Giller.

  • Firstly, counterpublics are “continually at odds with the ‘dominant’ public” (Alice F, 2016). “Their members are understood to be not merely a subset of the public, but constituted through a conflictual relation to the dominant public” (Warner, 2002). Bearing in mind that it is in its flagship year and winners are yet to be announced, the Indigenous Voices Awards are at ideological war with the very Canadian Giller.  The Giller Prize is focused on the nation-state and finding the “best work” (Scott, 2007) within those borders. As Gillian Roberts (2011) mentions, however, Canadian national literature depends upon nation-state borders overridden by colonial logic. The Indigenous Voices Awards make it explicit that they are searching for emerging talent in “lands claimed by Canada” (ILSA, 2017) disregarding the “national-border”.

Gregory Younging who kindly spoke to the M-Pub cohort a few weeks ago stated in an interview with Quill and Quire that we should not forget that the current times are still colonial albeit not as “intense” as before (Carter, 2017) which explains why in the 23 years that the Giller Prize has existed an Indigenous writer has never won the prize. (Because of the serious questions surrounding his identity, Joseph Boyden who won in 2008 is not representative). Writers like Eden Robinson have been shortlisted but have never made the plunge into victory which brings me back to the quotation used at the start of this paper. Whether we like it or not, literary prizes determine the value and importance of a writer. The fact that an Indigenous writer has never won the most prestigious prize raises questions about whether Indigenous writing is recognised as being of equal merit in Canada. The creation of the Indigenous Voices Awards is, therefore, an act of autonomy where Indigenous cultural workers are saying “you do not need to recognise us, we do not need your validation, we can validate ourselves”.

Earlier this year I argued that the counter prizes which were dedicated to recognising people of colour were in danger of marginalizing/ further segregating the people of colour they wanted to represent. But in the case of Indigenous writers in lands claimed by Canada and based on what I heard from Gregory Younging, this is not the case here. It is not to be directly assumed that Indigenous writers are a part of Canada; they are from their own nations and this prize gives them an opportunity to not be thrown under one umbrella but to be recognised in their own right.

As mentioned previously one of the reasons that the Giller Prize is “the most prestigious literary award” in Canada is because of its monetary value. Since it was founded, it has been “the largest purse for literature” (“Who We Are”, 2017) in the country. The prize wields economic weight and subsequently has become a household name that ensures commercial success for winners, nominees and their publishers alike. The prize is worth $100 000 CAD and its main sponsor is Scotiabank, a corporation.

  • On the other hand, The IVA was created this year as an act of defiance after media executives shamelessly called for the creation of a “cultural appropriation prize” (CBC Radio, 2017). Toronto based lawyer, Robin Parker, set up a crowdfunding campaign which raised over $141 000 CAD to create the prize. Unlike the Giller, the Indigenous Voices Awards (IVA) are currently dependent on the financial support of the public at large. This takes the patronage out of the hands of corporations only and allows the average individual to contribute to the prize. I believe that this model is inclusive and represents another form of diversity, one found in how capital is raised. This also aligns with the IVA’s focus on community. Their mandate states that “the awards [as they are more than one] are intended to support Indigenous artistic communities and to resist the individualism of prize culture” (ILSA, 2017).This instance further shows why the IVA is a direct counterpublic to the Giller.

Looking at the Giller juries since 1994, I noticed that they were almost exclusively white and that when a person of colour was on the panel they were usually a former winner of the prize themselves. Well-known Giller critic Stephen Henighan (2015) argued that the Giller prize was laden with “cozy juries of long-time familiars”, becoming somewhat of a literary Boys Club. Despite the fact that the prize has seen winners of colour such as Esi Edugyan, Madeleine Thien and André Alexis, it is still predominantly Eurocentric and I believe that this is due to the lack of diversity on the judging panel. (I must admit that this year’s prize was an exception).


At the beginning of 2017, I did a dissertation titled “African Diaspora Writers and The Politics of Literary Awards”. My main focus was the Nobel Prize in Literature and the veil of secrecy that shrouds it. I argued that institutional racism was at play in the Swedish Academy, masking itself as “liberal egalitarianism/humanism” (English, 2008) which explains why in the hundred plus years since the prize’s conception, only 3 laureates have been Black. I can argue the same in the case of the Giller Prize with regards to Indigenous writers. Mordecai Richler stated that the organizers of the prize


“don’t give a damn whether a book has been written by a man or a woman, a black, gay, or Native writer, or somebody whose family has been here for 200 years. What [they’ll] be looking for is the best work of fiction published by a Canadian ” (Richler 1994 in Scott 2007).


This statement was made in 1994 and assumed that “Native” people would be placed under the umbrella of Canadianess in assimilation. The Indigenous Voices Awards are turning this on its head by having a jury that is formed of Indigenous academics and writers as well as other people of colour (speaking an array of languages, French and English included).


It would be unjust to scrutinize the prize and not the publishers making the wheels turn. A handful of publishers have been responsible for producing the winning Giller books over the years. These are McClelland and Stewart, Doubleday and Knopf Canada, now all part of the newly formed Penguin Random House. Certain independent presses which contributed to the prize in the past and made the shortlist such as Somerville House and Press Gang, have ceased to exist. A fee of $1500 (“Submissions”, 2017) needs to be paid to submit books for consideration eliminating certain small publishers from the running as this is expensive. I believe that smaller publishers are usually the ones responsible for increasing diversity in the industry.

  • The Indigenous Voices Awards counter this by honouring writers both published and unpublished alike. By doing so they are saying that even work that has not been vetted by a large publisher still deserves to be recognised.
  • Indigenous publisher, Theytus Books, has won numerous awards but none of their titles have been recognised by the Giller. It could be that they do not send their books in for consideration but it is curious that they have won international awards but not the Giller (Theytus Books, 2017). Something I read echoes what Theytus publisher, Gregory Younging implied in his guest lecture to us, “Canadian cultural sovereignty operates at the expense of indigenous sovereignties” (Roberts, 2011). Indigenous literature is viewed as some “other”, inhabiting the periphery of society whilst the Giller adheres to “the dominant construction of Canadianness [which] is still [very] white and Anglophone” (Roberts, 2011). The IVA is therefore crucial in giving Indigenous writers their own agency.



The idea of ranking literature based on the subjective opinions of a handful of people has always been fascinating to me. I know that it is easy to quantify success in sports such as basketball because they are based on point-based systems. But in literature, how can one objectively decide that one piece of work is worth more than another? I ask this but it has been done for centuries and it is not going anywhere. As a raced subject, I recognise my bias in that I almost always side with people of colour and the colonisation of Indigenous people is similar to the colonialism my ancestors and I have faced. It is important for me to point out that I have not resided in Canada for long and that my knowledge of these issues is limited to what I have observed and read in my time here. That being said, I view the strew of Indigenous Voices Awards as the counterpublic to the Giller Prize; they are a platform of cultural autonomy for Indigenous people. I would like to end with a quotation from Sarah Pruys for what we as Indigenous allies can do:


“ Just as the Indigenous community walks in two worlds, so to must publishers. We need to learn how to balance the tangible and intangible; and know both how to help preserve, circulate, and archive culture in a respectful and ethical way, and also know when it is time to take a step back” (Pruys, 2017).


Power to the IVA, I wish them every success.

 Works Cited

Carter, S. (2017). Q&A: Greg Younging on editing indigenous works, story ownership, and Canadian publishing | Quill and Quire. Quill and Quire. Retrieved 28 November 2017, from

F, A. (2016). Michael Warner’s “Publics and Counterpublics”. PUB800. Retrieved 28 November 2017, from

Henighan, S. (2015). How a Giller Prize critic got invited to the party. The Globe and Mail. Retrieved 28 November 2017, from

Inaugural Competition 2017-2018. (2017). Indigenous Literary Studies Association. Retrieved 28 November 2017, from

Lash, S. (1993). Pierre Bourdieu (Bourdieu: Critical Perspectives

Pruys, Sarah. (2017). Engagement and Experience: The Other Side of Archiving, Preserving, and Circulating Indigenous Knowledge…genous-knowledge/ ‎

Roberts, G. (2011). Prizing Literature: The Celebration and Circulation of National Culture (Cultural Spaces). University of Toronto Press.

Scotiabank Giller Prize | Submissions. (2017). Scotiabank Giller Prize. Retrieved 28 November 2017, from

Scotiabank Giller Prize | Who We Are. (2017). Scotiabank Giller Prize. Retrieved 28 November 2017, from

Scott, J., & Tucker-Abramson, M. (2007). Banking on a Prize: Multicultural Capitalism and the Canadian Literary Prize Industry. Retrieved 28 November 2017, from, while seeing the Giller Prize as part of a new “cosmopolitan” and free-trade-oriented Canadian cultural policy.

Theytus Books. (2017). Theytus Books. Retrieved 28 November 2017, from

Warner, M. (2002). Publics and counterpublics (abbreviated version). Quarterly Journal Of Speech, 88(4), 413-425.

‘I invoked cultural appropriation in the context of literature and writing only’: Hal Niedzviecki. (2017). CBC Radio. Retrieved 28 November 2017, from


Works Consulted

Bethune, B. (2016). Who wins Canada’s literary prizes — and why – Retrieved 28 November 2017, from

Andrew-Gee, E. (2016). Coach House Books: Life after winning the Giller PrizeThe Globe and Mail. Retrieved 28 November 2017, from

 New literary prize for Indigenous writers to offer $25K in awards. (2017). CBC News. Retrieved 28 November 2017, from

Ostroff, J. (2017). Emerging Indigenous Voices Literary Award Is The Perfect Response To ‘Appropriation Prize’ ControversyHuffPost Canada. Retrieved 28 November 2017, from

Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC). (2017). Retrieved 28 November 2017, from