September 27, 2010
Viva la Torontonians
by Valerie Merians
While there are a lot of book conventions and festivals in the US, there are few to compare to Toronto’s Word on the Street Festival, a massive, sprawling affair that takes over the city’s Queen’s Park near the University of Toronto. It’s open to the public, for one thing (unlike, say, the BEA or even such fabled affairs as the Frankfurt Book Fair or the London Book Fair). Better, tons of great writers show up to read and participate in panels (Yann Martel), but the real attraction is the hundreds of publishers who show up to peddle their wares — most of whom were indies, because publishers aren’t allowed to sell front list books there. The big houses, it seems, don’t put so much into marketing back listers, so little publishers (Coach House, BookThug) are happy to step in.
Of course, they’re all Canadian publishers, but what the heck. The intrepid publishers of Melville House decided to check it out, and invaded the booth of their distributors, Random House Canada, who were happy to have us (remember? they can’t sell their own front list!). What’s more, their booth was being run by one of the country’s most legendary indie booksellers, Ben McNally. We were happy to be reminded how great our distributors are, to get a glimpse of such an impressive learned and passionate bookseller as Ben McNally in action, and to discover what rabid readers Torontonians are. This is what it’s all about for the likes of your faithful publishers. See below.
Valerie Merians is the co-founder and co-publisher of Melville House.