SUCKING UP TO CANADIAN PUBLISHERS
I have been around so long in journalism that I was called a dinosaur by Peterborough Examiner editors who had asked a visiting British editor who he had been talking to here about newspapers.
He reported the snide comment apologetically. I just laughed, saying hatred of Torontonians is one of Canada's unifying forces.
The comment suggested I didn't know what was going on after five decades of working in every facet of the trade. Of course, if they had been literate, like the Examiner in the days of its editorship by the noted author Robertson Davies, they would have used the word troglodyte.
Please, a caveman, not a beast!
Fortunately for them, Paul Godfrey and the Post didn't get their mitts on the Examiner until after I left as Sun Editor because I had told him I wanted to run the Kawarthas newspapers because then I could live at the cottage instead of in the city being hampered by its council.
I confess that I did start only a few centuries after they suggested, but I did learn to set type and run a press and write a lede in the hot metal days when it was so much more difficult to put print on paper.
I did an ink-stained apprenticeship on a Yukon weekly and in the ancient rooms of the grand old lady of Melinda. I did everything from writing obits to proofreading wedding invitations.
Now the wondrous computer days have transformed printing even as bricks-and-mortar bookstores are disappearing. Amazon stepped out of a comic book and became the most potent marketer ever.
Not that everyone has noticed the self-publishing revolution where even your kid can produce a reasonable comic book as a Grade 5 project.
For example, the Toronto Book Awards is stuck in the past. It began in 1974 just as the innovations in printing and everything else allowed the Toronto Sun to flourish only three years after the death of its goliath godfather, the Telegram, poisoned by its hot metal roots.
The competition for the $17,500 in prizes has just closed for publishers and authors who do things the old way which unfortunately often needs our taxes in order to subsist.
The new way of self-publishing, which exploded around 2010, is ignored by Toronto council even though books and their technical twins are pouring out from citizen author/publishers.
It is rare for a book not to have an ebook version. More importantly, there have never been more self-published books, and I'm talking about real books, not the vanity press where printers overcharge ego-drunk writers and also insist they buy mounds of their own product.
To add a bit to the Bard's wonderful lines. "All the world's a stage. And all the men and women merely players. They have their exits"...and many of them have stories they would like to tell you first without running a marathon of hurdles from publishers who crave only bestsellers from people who know the game of promotion.
The publishers are fighting the DIYers in cunning fashion, using every trick in their hard-cover book to cripple the self-publishing upstarts.
Their wet dream, I suppose, is of all the iPads and Kindles etc. going up in flames like a certain smart phone so they can go back to making more than the author on a book.
Even though I have written books and countless columns, blogs, features and editorials, even though I have performed in every form of communication, I can't enter these old-fashioned awards because I am guilty of my latest effort being too modern in production and not sanctioned by a publisher.
Other book awards, all the way up to those given in the name of the Governor General, have contrived restrictions on behalf of publishers against self publishing. Why in the case of the G-G awards, only a publisher can enter.
There are other rules too. There's one blocking any ghost-written book . Oh really? Are we pretending all those famous Canadians dash off books in their spare time from trying to dazzle us.
Straight from the Heart was a bestseller for Jean Chretien before he became PM and he's listed as the author but his ghost writer was not a ghost for thousands.
Jack McClelland, the justifiably famous boss of McClelland and Stewart, hired me to ghost write two books. The one supposedly by Nathan Phillips - only Art Eggleton served longer as Toronto mayor - was called Mayor of all the People. It was published before the awards existed but would not have been eligible even though it was "evocative of Toronto."
McClelland had me and six others audition to write the memoirs of Kelso Roberts, who was almost premier three times. The others were famous names. I won, I suspect, because I charged less.
June Callwood, an icon in this country, made a healthy living as a ghost writer, as do many friends who are not famous.
My book has interesting details about how the Ryerson square was the incubator and nursery for much of the old city's culture as well as being the capital for education which spun off the university and the colleges - the CAATs as we used to call them.
Yet because I didn't persist in the tedious search for a publisher, because I just said to hell with it and brought out a book like hundreds of others are doing, I'm not eligible for book awards run as if computers never happened and we are still printing newspapers and books like we were decades ago.
I hired a book designer, David Moratto, to turn my revived manuscript into a form that could be printed and distributed by an American company. I hired another specialist from Toronto, Peter L'Abbe, to produce the ebook. All of this through computers. I have never spoken to anyone at the printer/distributor but just filled out forms. Same with the nitty-gritty like copyright.
I had an old friend, Robert MacBain, as a great guide since he had used Moratto and L'Abbe for the latest of his two books, one of them the fascinating Their Home And Native Land. (It's about Ojibways and Mohawks and other natives who are great successes. We used to call them natives before indigenous became the in term. In our early days as troglodytes, the natives called themselves Indians when MacBain and I interviewed them.)
MacBain and I and the designers, all of us living in Toronto, are not just a tiny cottage industry because self-publishing has become city-sized in culture. The output of the collaborations of the authors, book designers and printers/distributor may be scorned by award bureaucrats but it has become "ubiquitous" in the words of a busy expert, L'Abbe.
The prize in the brawling is the printed book. It's never been easier and cheaper to produce them (and the ebook twins are a breeze to produce and distribute) so the panicked publishers goad the book judges into banning them even as they demand at least six copies of "real" book entries. (Every little bit helps the bottom line.)
It's symbolic of how unhelpful and hostile publishers can be when media veterans with myriad connections like MacBain and me - he has had national posts and his wife Maria Minna was a veteran Liberal MP and cabinet minister - feel we have to go the self publishing route.
The recent million-dollar donation of thousands of old books to Ryerson University is the latest vivid reminder of the fragility of publishers which don't move with the technological times.
The books were printed by Ryerson Press, named after its first editor in 1829, Egerton Ryerson, the founder of the Ontario system of education after whom the university, and my book, are also named.
There was controversy and consternation in 1970 when the United Church sold Ryerson Press to the damn Yankees. For once this social-movement church made the right move because in just a few years the dawn of the computer age started turning the conventional publishing houses into, well, dinosaurs.
Since it's so easy for everyone to produce books these days, stick-in-the-mud publishers never miss a chance to knee-cap the DIY collaborations.
If your industry can be transformed by technology, it will be, as executives of network TV and AM radio could tell them. At least we will have self-publishers to produce the books about their deaths if publishers persist in the old ways.