Many non-fiction writers in Canada are perplexed by the rejections they receive from publishers to whom they have submitted a proposal or a manuscript. They have read the books of advice regarding how to construct and submit a proposal. They have done their research to determine which publishers are in the market for their type of book. Yet they never break through into the ranks of the published.
Let’s dispense with the obvious answers – that their book is not suitable in content or writing style – and look at the main reason: There simply aren’t enough bookstores in Canada to support a large number of new titles every year, because there aren’t enough readers purchasing books from the bookstores.
Yes, the sad fact is that Canada’s small English-language population of twenty million people supports just 200 high-quality English-language trade bookstores, and half of those are part of the Indigo chain (Indigo, Chapters, Coles, et al.).
On the one hand, publishers and bookstores know that they can move huge numbers of copies of a biography of Michael Jackson because of the book’s connection with a celebrity idol and its publication close to his controversial death.
On the other hand, publishers and bookstores know they are unlikely to sell more than a few copies per store of a book on the need for community development to protect at-risk youth.
The small size of the Canadian readership and “buyership” came home to me when I was working as the managing editor of a large publishing house. I was reporting to the publishing board of this house that three hockey books were coming on stream in time for the fall publishing season. The head of sales and marketing surprised me by asking if one of them could be held for a later season. When I asked him why he told me three copies would mean we were competing against ourselves. With two copies we might get an initial order from the book chain for five to ten copies per store. With three, we might get an order for two or three each.