Features

WRITING A NEW PREFACE

KATHERINE MACKLEM July 28 2003
Features

WRITING A NEW PREFACE

KATHERINE MACKLEM July 28 2003

WRITING A NEW PREFACE

Publishing

There’s no bulk runs at this Victoria firm—it takes orders first, then prints books

KATHERINE MACKLEM

NEAR THE turn of the last century, a book vendor named Robert Burns Bond travelled the country by rail, lugging trunks of tomes with him. He sold his wares at each stop as the train sat, engine hissing, in the station. As passengers sorted themselves out and baggage was loaded and unloaded, Bond would dash to the local bookstore, leaving a supply of books and picking up orders for

the next voyage. Just before one of his trips, he was asked by his employer at the Methodist Book and Publishing House to take along and read the galleys of a new book of poetry. The publisher was interested in Bond’s opinion of the work. As the train rumbled west from

his home base of Toronto and Bond began to read the proofs, he co uldn’t help but chuckle. The more he chortled, the more he drew the attention of fellow passengers. Before long, Bond, a man blessed with a wonderful speaking voice, was reciting aloud the verse of Robert Service, the fabled author of “The Cremation of Sam McGee.” By the time Bond reached the West Coast, he’d so enthralled

his fellow travellers that he apparently had an astonishing 500 pre-orders for the yet-tobe published collection of poems.

Bruce Batchelor, an unstoppable storyteller himself, likes to tell this tale. A Victoria-based publisher who offers authors a new form of book-making called on-demand publishing, Batchelor sees a likeness between his own business and Bond’s list of preorders. Batchelor only prints books once they’ve been sold—and not before. The likeness doesn’t end there. Service set out to self-publish that first book, Songs of a Sourdough, before it was picked up by Bond’s boss. Batchelor’s company, Trafford Publishing— a cross between a vanity press and a traditional publisher—leaves full creative control, from font size to the cover design, in the hands of the writer. “There’s nothing stopping an author from realizing his or her dream,” Batchelor says. “Service got to decide what was going to happen, how his writing would be organized on the page. I’m very caught up with the idea of letting the author unfold his or her vision.”

With a system made possible by new technology-meaning the Web and high-end photocopiers—Batchelor has found a niche market, albeit one with high demand. He’s just back from Europe, where he opened offices in Ireland and Britain. The company already has a subsidiary in New Bern, N.C. Trafford, established by Batchelor in 1995, has published 4,000 tides from 3,000 authors in a dozen different languages. His writers hail from more than 50 countries. Just this past June, Trafford took on 400 new writers. In January, 25 per cent of all new titles published in Canada were Trafford books.

Trafford’s story is a bright light in the gloomy world of Canadian publishing. Crippled by bookstore wars, many Canadian publishers are struggling just to stay alive. Last April, Macfarlane Walter & Ross, a highly respected McClelland & Stewart imprint, closed shop after 15 years in the business. A publisher who asked not to be named applauded Batchelor’s business: “He’s meeting a demand. It’s good that there’ll always be a place for someone to get something published.”

Unlike a conventional publisher, Batchelor doesn’t select his books. His staff, of roughly 70, doesn’t edit material—or even read it. Like most publishing companies, though, Trafford manages books sales, including issuing royalty cheques and listing

books on both its own Web site and popular on-line vendors such as Amazon.com Inc. and Indigo Books & Music Inc. It handles the mundane tasks, such as getting bar codes, essential to retailers. As with a vanity press, authors, who retain their work’s copyright, pay a set fee for the publishing service. Unlike a typical vanity press, or even a conventional publisher, Trafford doesn’t bulk print its books. Only when an order comes in are books printed. A long print run is 200 copies—most are runs of one. “We

‘THERE’S nothing stopping an author from realizing his or her dream. We’ve taken publishing and turned it into an everyday commodity.’

have a couple of pallets of paper that arrive every morning,” Batchelor says, “and a couple of pallets of books that leave every night.” Batchelor publishes just about anything, as long as it’s not pornographic, libellous or hate literature. His books run the gamut from fiction and how-to manuals to memoirs and books with a specialized audience. “We have an unintended series on lung transplants,” Batchelor says of four books, two of which are promoted on a Web site about the surgical procedure and are now among Trafford’s best-sellers. Last fall, Trafford introduced full colour and is just beginning to promote itself as a publisher of kids’ books. For writers, the deal is not expensive. While prices vary, depending on the

services, size of a book and number of copies, an author will pay less than $2,000 for Trafford’s most expensive “best-seller” package, which includes the first 40 books (each additional book costs roughly $5). “We’ve taken publishing,” Batchelor says, “and turned it into an everyday commodity.” Batchelor, 52, has worked at just about everything related to publishing: graphics, editing, advertising, ghostwriting. In 1979, he was a key member in a collective that published The Lost Whole Moose Catalogue, an oversized book devoted to life in the North that sold 20,000 copies. Entries included “Calculating the length and amount of a pogey claim,” and “Rabbit Raising.” For Batchelor, the project drove home the thrill of self-publishing. But it was almost two decades before he got that rush again. By the early ’90s, he was a consultant to the federal and B.C. governments, work he calls “lucrative, but a little soul-destroying.” He told both they’d save large sums if they printed reports on demand rather than storing bulkprinted documents. Waves of panic coursed through government ranks, Batchelor recalls, because the move could have shut down whole departments. “The idea never did catch on,” he says. But he grabbed it for himself—and launched Trafford.

It hasn’t always been an easy swim, he admits. With the tech boom, many saw Trafford as a dot-com dream, including, for a while, Batchelor himself. But his company was losing money—$40,000 a month. Still, in two months he was able to turn it around. How? “We started paying attention to what we were doing rather than thinking IBM would buy us,” he says. He brought the print shop in-house and wrestled costs under control. Since then, the business has doubled in each of the last three years. Plans include publishing in French in Quebec—“as a Canadian, I’m embarrassed we don’t operate in two languages,” he says. He also wants to expand to countries such as Denmark and Luxembourg, where citizens “devour books, but often not in their own language.” Batchelor sees connections to what he is doing in history that extends much further than Robert Service. While in Europe, he stayed for some time in the walled French town of Carcassonne, near the Spanish border. “This was where monks were making illuminated manuscripts, one at a time,” he says. Like Trafford, in a sense—only much more slowly. fiil