BOOKS

Capacious shows for the filling

MARK CZARNECKI March 29 1982
BOOKS

Capacious shows for the filling

MARK CZARNECKI March 29 1982

Capacious shows for the filling

BOOKS

The motto on the letterhead says it all: "McClelland & Stewart-The Canadian Publishers," and for 29

years the company has been the fiefdom of Jack McClelland, who inherited the presidency from his father in 1953. McClelland’s publishing philosophy— “Do a good job with authors and all the rest will follow”—lured the country’s best-known writers, including Margaret Atwood, Pierre Berton, Peter Newman and Mordecai Richler, into the M&S fold. But the philosophy has run aground on two shoals: a limited Canadian market and McClelland’s self-confessed boredom with the day-to-day details of running a publishing company. Despite sales in 1981 of more than $13 million, cash flow at M&S has been a persistent problem duly noted by the grant-givers in the ledger-oriented cultural industries’ offices of the Ontario and federal governments.

Last week, after a decade of rumored takeovers, McClelland, 59, elevated himself to board chairman and handed over the positions of president and publisher to his former vice-president of publishing, Linda McKnight, confining himself in future to “the most pleasant aspects of publishing.” These include continuing to play publisher to a select coterie of M&S authors, including Richler, who views the change as cosmetic:

“Jack’s still my publisher. It just means he won’t be distributing the morning mail anymore.” He will also pursue several special projects, among them a $25,000 book coauthored by Harold Town and a copublishing venture with an Italian firm.

His successor’s mandate is clear. Highly respected for her managerial skills, McKnight, 39, sees her job as “having to stand up and justify the bottom line to the board of directors.” The company’s policy of commitment to new authors and serious literature will remain, but more commercially viable books will be published as well to raise the M&S profile in the eyes of hardnosed bankers and bureaucrats. Also planned is a major update of internal operations with the expanded use of word processors and computerization.

McClelland’s partial withdrawal has saddened the industry. “No one has even come close to him in range, productivity, quality and, above all, generosity,” says May Cutler of Montreal’s Tundra Books. Recently, McClelland gambled a $10,000 advance in the hope that Graeme Gibson’s long-awaited next novel will enlarge his underground reputation. His flamboyant promotional stunts—dressing up as Santa Claus and giving away books—and his legendary forbearance with tardy booksellers will no longer be the informal trademarks of M&S. Some presidents aspire to fill shoes; Linda McKnight has been dealt seven-league boots. —MARK CZARNECKI