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Children's Book Publishing in Canada

by Bev. Cooke | Most recent update November 2013 | Style Guides added May 2009

Briefly, the Canadian children's book publishing scene is quite different from that in the U.S. Most Canadian children's publishers are small and rely heavily on federal grants in order to stay in business. As in the US, but more so, publishing is not a money-making operation. Many publishers here rely very literally on each grant for continued operation. For this reason (among others having to do with Canadian culture, content and identity, and getting into really literary politics and international politics, which I'm not going to do), most smaller publishers cannot accept material from outside Canada. Most of the publishers are pretty upfront about saying this in their submission guidelines.

The large ones tend to be subsidiaries from the U.S.--Scholastic Canada, Random House, etc. As far as I can tell, they are semi-independent; that is, their submission policies are their own. If the U.S. parent company only accepts agented material, it doesn't necessarily follow that the same is true of the Canadian branch. If they are wholly Canadian-owned, like McLelland & Stewart (if in fact, it is still Canadian-owned), they are incredibly picky about what they choose.

The best source for publishers and children's publishing in Canada is the Canadian Children's Book Centre and their publishers' sites link page. It's very out of date; I know of at least 2 publishers on that page who are no longer in business. And it's not complete; I know of at least two who accept children's but aren't listed on the page (one of whom is fairly large--Raincoast, the Canadian publisher of the Harry Potter books). However, it's a start, and it is, as far as I know, the closest thing we have to something like Children's Writer's and Illustrator's Market. CCBC is a good all-round resource for Canadian children's writers--they have a lot of resources beyond the publishers page for aspiring writers, including tips on writing and submitting.

There is The Canadian Writer's Market
(2013 edition), but it's a general book. There are children's publishers listed in it, but they aren't separated out, and they aren't categorized at all. 

There are also several publisher association pages which I've listed below. Again, they don't specifically list children's publishers; an author will have to do the leg-work to find out which ones in these lists do kid's stuff:

And here are some other useful resource pages on the web:

www.canadacouncil.ca is for the Canada Council Grants and the Governor General's awards. It's where all the federal money for writing & publishing comes from--it's an arms-length governmental organization to promote art and culture in Canada. The important part here is that they give money away, and not just to publishers. They give it, if you can qualify, to writers as well. Here's what they say on their grants page:

"The Canada Council for the Arts offers a broad range of grants and services to professional Canadian artists and arts organizations in dance, media arts, music, theatre, writing and publishing, interdisciplinary work and performance art, and the visual arts. All programs are accessible to Aboriginal artists or arts organizations, and artists or arts organizations from diverse cultural or regional communities."

If you look at the copyright page of most Canadian kid's books, somewhere on it you'll see the required acknowledgement of Canada Council and whatever other public money the publisher could scare up in order to stay in business.

www.canscaip.org is the Canadian Society of Authors, Illustrators and Performers; takes in all aspects of kid's culture.

www.accesscopyright.ca is the website of The Canadian Copyright Licensing Agency, a "not-for-profit agency established in 1988 by publishers and creators to license public access to copyright works. The agency now represents a vast international repertoire along with more than 5,300 Canadian writers, photographers, illustrators and 490 newspaper, book and magazine publishers."

National Library of Canada's Canadian Children's Literature Service, which offers (it says on their site) "advisory, reference and bibliographic services based on the Can. Children's Literature Service Collection." This is the office which issues the ISBN number for Canadian books. The ISBN is the same as the US and international ISBN, and is arrived at by a mathematical formula, including a standard number for each publishing house which applies for one for every book they publish.

Quill & Quire, which is the Canadian version of Publishers Weekly. They have both a print paper and website. They are good for the general state of publishing in Canada, as well as changes in the Canadian publishing world. From a children's writer's point of view, though, they also take kids lit seriously, and have a regular space for what's coming up in the children's publishing world. Perhaps their best claim to fame, besides their good journalism, is their Canadian Publishers Directory, which comes out twice a year - June and December. Subscribers receive one copy free, and can order additional copies to a maximum of 10 at a cost of $24.95 CDN each. The guide lists every publisher in Canada in alphabetical order. They list name, address, phone, fax, email and webpage addresses. They don't distinguish between kinds of publishers, so the author has to do the legwork on their own.

2012 Update: Publishers Weekly provides some "Notes from the North."

Style Guides for Canadian Writers -- added in May 2009

The Canadian Style: A Guide to Writing and Editing: This is issued by the federal government and is the official style book for the Canadian government - it's also used by universities and colleges in their courses.
Chicago Manual of Style: This is one of the major style books for Canadian publishers, so a lot of Canadian writers use that.
Editing Canadian English, published by McClelland & Stewart. It was prepared for the Editor's Association of Canada.
The Globe and Mail Style Book: Globe and Mail is the national Canadian newspaper. It's been around for forever, and its only competition is The National Post. In Canadian terms, it's as venerable as the NY Times.
A Passion for Narrative is THE Canadian writing book. It's by one of Canada's foremost writers, Jack Hodgins and is wonderful!

Update: Some notes from a panel discussion in October 2004:

I attended an editor's panel that the local Children's Literature Roundtable put on last night. I got to hear Ann Featherstone of Fitzhenry & Whiteside, Maggie de Vries and Andrew Wooldridge from Orca Book Publishers (do not confuse with Orca Books of Seattle: these are entirely separate companies).

The bad news: Don't even bother sending even a query to Fitz. & White. before mid-2006. They're still working through the Stoddard authors and aren't prepared to even consider new material - in any category - until then.

If you're writing picture books, stop. Give some thought to moving it up to a 6,000 word chapter book/easy reader. I know this is old news, but somehow, the way both Maggie and Anne phrased it last night finally got through to me. Both of them have dealt with the slush pile for years, and both of them said that even when they find publishable material in it, most of the short-listed stuff goes back simply because the retail market is so flooded that the concept and the writing both have to stand head and shoulders above what's already in the bookstores, and it's getting harder and harder to do.

The good news: There is a dearth, especially in Canada, of easy reader and chapter books. For Orca, their easy readers (age 7-9) (Echoes) are 5,500 to 6,000 words. Young Readers, age 8-10 (are 13,000 - 18,000 and Juvenile novels (9-13 years old), are 25,000 to 35,000 words. The "historical fiction" for mid-grade is finally on the wane. Maggie is looking for stuff other than historical Canadian fiction to publish for her mid-grades. She'll take it, if it's good, but it's not her first priority.

The really good news is that the easy reader and chapter books really are open for writers - they were actively soliciting last night, even though the Roundtable isn't supposed to be a writer's forum, it's a group who are interested in reading and appreciating kid's lit - mostly teachers and librarians (and a few struggling writers. Last nights "emcee" was Nikki Tate - who is no longer struggling, but kept a good tease going with the editors, on the basis that all three had turned her down multiple times and when she did publish, it wasn't with any of their houses.) But consider it - if they're begging for easy readers, and your pb is longer than the norm, and you've cut & cut and trimmed and trimmed, maybe it's better to add - make it an easy reader.

Teen fiction is 45-50,000 words and is aimed at 13+. High-low. Andrew Wooldridge (Orca) is looking for teen fiction for reluctant readers - literary, edgy and short - check out Orca's site. Orca is also introducing another hi-low line for younger kids, called "Currents" with a less edgy/gritty feel to it - to suit the younger kids. Check out their website or catalogue for what they're looking for.
Orca now accepts US authors - their US address is: PO Box 468, Custer, WA 98240-0468 USA.

Bev. Cooke has been writing for over twenty years and publishing for over ten. A children's biography of St. Macrina the Elder is forthcoming from Conciliar Press in 2005. She feels that seven generations of Canadian ancestors grant her the right to boast about her country, and does so frequently, athough with typical Canadian restraint and politeness.  She lives in Victoria, British Columbia with her family (husband and two teenaged children). Between writing assignments for her church's website, editing newsletters, and free lance writing, she enjoys walking, board games and watching the wildlife that inhabits her neighbourhood (owls, herons, hawks, eagles, seabirds, sea otters, sea lions, whales, raccoons, squirrels, deer & the occasional cougar - yes, in urban Victoria.) And yes, she does thank her ABM (that's ATM, to anyone south of the border) when it operates properly. And her bike and her car.

Copyright 2004 and 2009 by Bev Cooke. All rights reserved.

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