Outsourced and mass-produced: The Giller winner

Have you heard author Johanna Skibsrud’s voice travelling across our nation? Awarded the 17th annual Scotiabank Giller Prize on November 9th 2010, Skibsrud’s book The Sentimentalists is hot off the press — from Canada’s east to west.

In light of the Giller awards being the only one of its Canadian kind to broadcast nationally, Patrick Crean, president of Thomas Allen Publishers, said: “We’re the poor cousins to everybody else in the media. The Giller is the one portal we have into the world of celebrity.” And the current bearer of such celebrity is Skibsrud, whose now famous book also won first prize for prose fiction at the 28th annual Alcuin Society Awards for Excellence in Book Design in Canada.

The Sentimentalists was originally printed by Kentville Nova Scotia’s Gaspereau Press. Proud of their limited-edition letterpress projects and Smyth-sewn trade paperbacks with hand printed jackets, co-founders of the Canadian literary press Gary Dunfield and Andrew Steeves prefer the humanist tradition of printing and publishing.

This local and creative mentality had Dunfield and Steeves refusing to outsource the production of the award-winning book last week. Though cozy and ‘independent,’ The Sentimentalists’ popularity swayed Gasperau Press to broaden its horizons, expanding upon its print capacity of 1,000 copies per week. Dunfield and Steeves realized their methods of book production wouldn’t meet the demands of Skibsrud’s fans. According to Steeves, it was “critical to find a partner who shared our values,” and thus Gaspereau Press licensed Canadian trade paperback rights to Vancouver’s Douglas & McIntyre.

The decision to expand had Skibsrud — who issued a statement amid her travels Turkey this week — thrilled: “…I am so glad that a solution has been arrived at that allows the books to be distributed widely without sacrificing any of Gaspereau Press’s practices and ideals, which make them so unique and special to work with…”

After a mass-production change of heart, Steeves suggested that the “media debate over the virtues of idealistic patience versus the ineptitude of squandered sales – might even be good for business.” In further the latter virtue — is your name on a list somewhere, reserving one of the estimated 60,000 to 80,000 books on order? If so, you’re in luck, as the first 30,000 copies of The Sentimentalists were shipped from the bindery on November 19th 2010.

Will this mass-publishing deal be just a one-time thing for the small-town Gaspereau Press, or just the beginning of sometime bigger? The scores of print copy demands for Skibsrud’s book indicate that even in an ever-advancing digital world, there’s always room for ever-advancing print culture. But not so fast — The Sentimentalists is already available in eReader format via Indigo’s Kobo. Moreover, it will soon be available for more eco-friendly and tech-savvy readers via Apple iBookstore, Amazon Kindle, Sony eBook store, eBooks.com and Barnes & Noble’s NOOK Store.

Digitally or traditionally — how will you read Canada’s richest literature of 2010? And for those who have already started reading — printing presses and book formats aside — is Skibsrud’s award-winning work turning out as expected? Is The Sentimentalists indeed worth the $50,000 it prized Skibsrud with? Join the conversation — have your literary say!