What Jack McClelland HAS DONE TO BOOK PUBLISHING IN CANADA
This year his firm will publish eighty Canadian books. “There arend” — so says a competitor — “that many publishable books in the whole country.” This is how McClelland makes life more interesting for everybody who reads
IN SEPTEMBER, 1962, Jack McClelland, a remarkably boyish - looking forty -one-year-old Toronto book publisher, wired Terence Robertson, author of The Shame and the Glory: Dieppe, that he was holding a press party in Robertson's honor in Montreal. Flattered, Robertson immediately arranged to fly in from Nassau. Then McClelland got in touch with Farley Mowat, the author of several successful books about the Canadian North, and told him he was having a party for him; Mowat was soon on the way from Newfoundland in his
fishing schooner. McClelland next called Pierre Berton, who is the author of seven books published by McClelland, and gave him the same story. Berton was in the midst of a heavy TV schedule in Toronto, but when told by McClelland that the town's leading citizens had been invited especially for his benefit, he rearranged his schedule. Meanwhile, McClelland had been in touch with Irving Layton, one of the few Canadian poets whose books make money, and Diane Giguère, a prize-winning French-Canadian novelist, and told each of them that he was coming to Montreal to promote their new books. With his writers on their way, McClelland telephoned the Montreal newspapers and radio stations and grandly announced his first “authors' soiree,” an event he claimed was unique in Canadian history.
It was only when photographers arrived and began to line up writers like delegates to a sales convention that the authors all realized what had happened. At this point they were having such a good time they didn’t care. (In fact, the only author annoyed by the affair was William Weintraub, a Montrealer whose novel Why Rock the Boat was distributed by Mc-
Clelland. Weintraub wasn’t invited, and he was so insulted that McClelland almost lost him from his stable.) The party drew a mass turnout of retailers who sell books and critics who review books. They reacted almost as warmly as the authors and McClelland himself. In a business long known for its tame social gatherings, McClelland throws some of the best bashes in the country and he invariably enjoys them more than anybody. He considered it only a minor disappointment that the affair inspired but one short news report, and one column by Frank Lowe in the Montreal Star attacking the whole idea of literary cocktail parties.
Partly by such merchandising extravagances, with their attendant hazards, and partly by taking long chances with good books (and some not-so-good books), Jack McClelland has made himself a fresh, even revolutionary influence on Canadian publishing. He will fly half way across the country to secure a book that sounds interesting. He talks authors into writing books they never thought of attempting. In 1962 he published the first bilingual Canadian dictionary and has made money on it, selling
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“We may not be able to sell our books but they look good”
forty-five thousand copies in its first year. He has ambitiously launched not one but several series of books, covering such diverse interests as Canadian history, politics, art and juvenile adventure stories. Although his books are not all financially successful he even makes money publishing poetry, and he publishes a great deal of it. Moreover he has also led a revolution in Canadian book design, and says philosophically. "We may not be able to sell our books but at least they look good." All of this is rapidly making him. in the words of a rival. Ted Browne of Longmans Canada Ltd., "the Canadian publisher.”
In Canadian publishing an extrovert like McClelland was bound to be a disturbing force. Publishing in Canada has always been a parasitic business. All but a handful of Englishlanguage Canadian publishing houses don't publish books at all: they distribute them lor the original publishers who are usually English or American. There are about forty publishing firms in Toronto—the centre of English language publishing—but of these less than a dozen publish original manuscripts and less than half a dozen have editorial departments where manuscripts are processed. Canadian publishers are funnels through which thirty-seven thousand new titles are poured on the market every year.
1 here are more titles offered for sale in Canada than in either England or the United States. It's almost impossible to market them all effectively in a country where there are less than eight million potential English speaking readers, who read on the average less than the English or Scandinavians (though more than Americans) and who spend about as much money on books as they do on household stationery. For most Canadian publishers, therefore, putting out Canadian books is little more than a bow to idealism. "Commercial welfare just isn t identified with Canadian writers,”
says John Gray, president of the Macmillan publishing company.
But for Jack McClelland it has been. “Textbooks are where the easier money is,” he says, “but dealing in them (which we do) is dull. As for agencies, they're necessary but if I’m going to be a distributor, I’d rather distribute liquor. It’s more profitable.” As a result, he publishes more Canadian general trade books — the term used to differentiate fiction and nonfiction books from education texts— than any other publisher. He had fiftytwo on his 1962 fall list—probably twenty more than his closest competitor 2nd he plans seventy-six for 1963.
His list is suicide,” says one competitor. “There aren’t fifty-two publishable books in Canada.” Robert Weaver, book critic for the Toronto Star, says: “McClelland publishes
without any policy. He’ll put out anything — first novels, religious books, sex books, political tracts, anything.” But the complaints don’t bother McClelland. “The more Canadian books we publish,” he says, “the better books we can publish. The better hooks we publish, the more money we make.”
A never-ending search for ideas
McClelland is constantly on the look-out for authors and ideas to keep his list full. His firm, McClelland and Stewart Ltd., receives about a thousand unsolicited manuscripts a year,
J' but no more than ten of them are publishable. It’s perhaps the biggest part of McClelland’s job to find enough manuscripts that are. He mingles socially with librarians, newspaper reporters, television workers, anyone who might give him a lead on a writer or an idea for a new book. If he hears at a cocktail party that someone is preparing a lecture series, he’ll be on the phone next day to see if there’s a book in it. He keeps an eye on every magazine and quarterly printed in Canada in hopes of discovering new talent. And when he takes his annual trip to western Canada, he always lets word out that he’s in town looking for new manuscripts.
One year McClelland received a letter from Saskatchewan's Golden Jubilee Committee asking for suggestions for a book to commemorate the province’s fiftieth anniversary. McClelland hopped a plane to Regina and in no time convinced the committee that it needed four books, not one, outlined all four in detail and returned home with a contract to publish them. McClelland says they sold very well. He had the same kind of inspiration three years ago when Terence Robertson, a writer looking for a job in publishing, walked into his office. McClelland suggested that he write a book instead, and also suggested a subject. The result, The Shame and the Glory: Dieppe, sold nine thousand copies in its first year in Canada, where three thousand sales make a book an authentic bestseller, and this summer it was published in England and the United States.
Sometimes McClelland’s search for material gets out of hand. On a recent boat trip to England fellow passengers offered him three manuscripts.
On the trip back he told passengers he was a shoe manufacturer. Unfor-
innately, a man at his table turned out to be the owner of a British shoe factory and eager for McClelland's advice. When McClelland confessed that he was a publisher, the lady on his right promptly produced the manuscript of her novel. He turned it down.
A book he didn't turn down was the late Patricia Blondal's novel A Candle to Lii>ht the Sun, after Macmillan's had rejected it, and felt he had a major bestseller on his hands. It sold three thousand copies instead of the ten thousand he anticipated, but now McClelland is convinced that another book by Mrs. Blondal, Front Heaven With a Shout, which he will bring out this fall will do much better. (One bestseller that got away was Sheila Bumford's The Incredible Journey. McClelland’s editors didn't feel that a story about animals walking across Canada would sell. It sold to McCall's magazine for thirty-five thousand dollars and to Walt Disney for a hundred and fifty thousand.)
McClelland’s most impressive venture has been the publishing of several series of books each running to several volumes. The most recent is The Canadian Centenary Series, to run seventeen books in ail, the first multi-volume history of Canada produced by professional historians for university use.
His most topical series is Canada Today, comprising political books such as 7 he Conservative in Canada by George Hogan, The New Party by Stanley Knowles, The Liberal Party by J. W. Pickersgill, and The Policy Question by Peyton Lyon. These have made a modest profit so far. “About fifty dollars,” says McClelland. "But we're satisfied. We believe it's a function of a publisher to make available contemporary political thought.”
Aimed at the popular fiction field are two series. The Secret Circle Books are juveniles, written to order after a survey of booksellers, teachers, parents and four thousand children. The titles include The Mystery of the Muffled Man by Max Braithwaite, The Secret 7 ttnnel Treasure by Arthur Hammond and The Clue of the Dead Duck by Scott Young. (Entirely Canadian in origin, these are published in association with a U. S. firm.)
1 he other is a paperback series of ( anadian fiction classics called The New Canadian Library, which is an attempt to bring back into print at attractive prices ($1 to $1.50) otherwise unavailable novels by important C anadian authors. These include They Shall Inherit the Earth by Morlcy Callaghan, Hugh MacLennan’s Barometer Rising and The Tin Flute by Gabriclle Roy. “Nothing has brought us more praise from critics and nothing has brought us less money,” says
McC lelland. “The market isn't large enough to make it a financial success. The reason 1 began the series at all was because so many people recommended it. I told them it wouldn't be good business, but they insisted and I finally published. I was right."
McC lelland has even dared a series of art books at S 1.75 each, devoted to the work of such artists as Cornelius Krieghoff and Alfred Pellan. But his most radical achievement has been in the even rarer field oí poetry—Canadian poetry—into which ' he has plunged with enthusiasm, pride and more remarkably, profit.
The money-making began in typical McClelland fashion when he spotted .1 lettei from Irving Layton in a newspaper complaining that no publisher had the guts to bring out a book of his poems. Mc( lelland immediately wrote to Layton: "You didn't try them all. Send us your manuscript and see what happens. What happened was that A Red Carpel for die .Sim, a collection of Laytons poems, sold eight thousand copies. McClelland has been publishing Layton ever since, though the association hasn't always been smooth. Mc( lelland once criticized something Layton had written so sharply that the poet angrily threatened never to let McClelland publish him again unless McClelland promised not to read I ayton’s manuscripts before printing them. McClelland agteeil and stuck to his promise. “If I d lead Balls for a One-Armed Juppler, I would have tried to delete some of the poems. But a promise is a promise."
McClelland puts the poems of Layion and several other poets into lavish, stunningly designed books. Some readers feel that the books are too glossy and overdone, but most hail them as a new kind of art form. Recently eleven McC lelland books—out of a total of twenty-one C anadian entries were chosen for the International Book Exhibition in London.
Undoubtedly the most lavish book that McC lelland or any other C anadian publisher has ever produced is Love Where die Ni phis Are Lonp, a collection of poems chosen by Irving Layton and illustrated by Harold Town. The hook, with fewer drawings. is available in paperback, but in its hard-cover, limited-edition form, it is a landmark in C anadian publishing a large, lush book offering w hat arc probably the most provocative pictures ever printed in this country. Only a hundred and ninctv-ninc copies were published. Priced aí sixtv-five dollars, they sold like hot cakes. McClelland doesn't own one. “Too expensive. he says. "I couldn't afford it."
McC lelland promotes his books with more verve and originality than any Canadian publisher. When he released Pierre Berton's Klondike, Mc( lelland mailed out to hook reviewers and columnists three hundred gold pokes with instructions on how to pan lor gold. The pokes had been made in Dawson City out of moose hides and were filled with Klondike black sand: every fifth poke had a bonus -a real gold nugget. He shipped copies of Brian Moore s / he Luck ol Clinper ( of fey to bookstores accompanied by little boxes of coffee and candied ginger. Another Berfon book. Jus! Add
Wafer and Stir, was launched with a cooking contest for newspaper columnists at a Toronto restaurant. And he publicized a real cookbook by announcing that readers could trade in their old cookbooks for McClelland's new one.
He has always believed that the best way to promote a book is with a big party, mostly because he enjoys them so much. One of his best, he says, was called “Beauty and the Beast” and was given in Montreal jointly for romantic novelist Katherine Roy and Irving Layton. McClelland liked it because it gave him an excuse to mix Mrs. Roy's dignified socialite friends with Layton's beatnik gang of beards and black stockings.
Despite the promotion campaigns, McClelland can never quite convince himself that his books will really sell. He's a pessimist and usually expects the worst. When he launched his paperback classics, he flatly announced on TV that the series would be a disaster. Before McClelland started publishing the history series, John Gray of Macmillan’s complimented him on the idea and wished him luck. McClelland worried out loud that he'd lose his shirt with the series, but when Gray offered to buy the whole project for ten thousand dollars, McClelland quickly refused. “If it's worth ten thousand to Gray,” he said, “it must be a good idea.”
An interest in girls and hockey
He claims that his fears of disaster are well founded. “It's true.” he says. “Something terrible usually does happen either to the book or the author.” When he published a book on drug addiction in Montreal the author was thrown in jail on several bad cheque charges. One cheque had been used to pay a bill at the Windsor hotel and the name forged was McClelland's. When Art Treasures in the Royal Ontario Museum arrived from Europe where it had been printed, McClelland found that all the illustrations had been glued in the wrong way. “I have a Sadim touch,” he says, which he defines as a reverse Midas touch.
McClelland plainly regrets the fact that he took over an established family business instead of starting it from scratch. He did his best not to be a publisher but took engineering and physics at the University of Toronto w'hcre those who knew him report that he was mainly interested in girls and hockey and never seen near a literary circle. Before he could graduate he joined the navy, becoming a lieutenant commander and captain of a motor torpedo boat. He considers the navy years w'ere the best in his life: everything he loves w'as there— the sea, parties, challenges and a chance to excel. Norn Garriock. a CBC executive who was on the same boat, says there w'as no limit to McClelland's courage and ambition. “We all felt badly he didn’t get a decoration.” Garriock says. “He deserved one and it would have meant a lot to him."
When the war ended his prime aim was to get established as quickly as possible so he could support Elizabeth Matched, a pretty brunette he had
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married while in the navy. So he returned to university but switched to an arts course, and on graduation entered the family business. His father, John McClelland senior, is a very different man from his son—a dignified Victorian gentleman in his eighties. When he heard that Jack intended to distribute Lady Chatterley’s Lover in Canada he demonstrated his anger by tearing up a copy of the book. Fortunately he missed news stories in which McClelland junior described
Lady Chatterley as a fine work of art and no more obscene than the Bible.
McClelland is aggressive, extroverted. charming and colorful. .Sitting in a bar or restaurant—where he conducts a good deal of his business—he looks more like a healthy playboy. He says he prefers watching a hockey game to reading a critical essay and would rather discuss beautiful women or sailboats than the beautiful books he publishes. The story once got around that he had never read a single one of
his own books. Typically, the thought of a publisher who doesn't read manuscripts appealed to him and he likes to encourage the rumor.
In fact, McClelland reads constantly. He may never miss a party, but when it's over he goes home to study manuscripts and dictate letters, sometimes till dawn. He sleeps little, smokes and drinks heavily and works hard. He thinks he may be deliberately killing himself, but seems to enjoy the idea—it fits the reckless pub-
lisher image. And it never interferes with his normal, and genuine, good humor. McClelland can be in the middle of an important conference with an hour of dictation and several appointments in front of him, but he invariably makes any caller feel he is McClelland’s only concern. He respects the views of his employees and they willingly work as hard as he does just to keep up with his fast pace.
He has the same close relationship with his writers. He drinks with them, corresponds with them, and asks their advice on his publishing projects. He once spent two weeks with Farley Mowat on a battered old schooner cruising the south shore of Newfoundland. Layton is another friend. “I’d rather have my daughters learn the beauties of the English language from Irving than from anyone,” McClelland says, “but I’m not sure I’d ever leave him in the same room alone with them.”
One of McClelland’s less enthusiastic writers is Hugh Garner, whose latest novel, 7 he Silence on the Shore, was published by McClelland this year. Garner swears that he will never publish with him again. “He held up my book for a year before he published it. When it finally came out, it was too late for the Christmas business and he sent uncut copies to the reviewers. And he didn’t arrange a single interview for me.”
This is a minority view, however, and McClelland can usually make his authors feel they are doing him a personal favor by writing books. He approached Pierre Berton recently and asked him when he could expect Berton’s next book. Berton said he hadn’t planned on writing a new book for a year or so. “But you must,” McClelland said, genuinely hurt, “I’m counting on it.” When Berton does put together a new book, he wouldn’t think of taking it to anyone but to McClelland. “Other publishers may be just as charming,” he says, “but you can’t get drunk with them.” Mowat feels the same way. “Sometimes I think I might have made more money with someone more stable,” he says, “but I wouldn't have had nearly as much fun.” ★