American and Canadian Publishers—
Myths versus Facts
Copyright 2000; 2012 by Patricia Anderson
The close trade and cultural ties between the United States and Canada, and frequent travel between the two countries, are reminders that the American and Canadian publishing industries might have more in common than many people think. Here are some of the myths—and corresponding facts:
Canadian subject matter will only be of interest to Canadian publishers.
Not necessarily. Providing that it is well-written and contains themes of universal interest, a novel with a Canadian setting and/or Canadian characters could be of interest to an American publisher. Canadian publishers know this and routinely help their authors get American contracts (for a percentage, of course). On the other hand, if you have written a book tightly focused on Canadian interests—local or national politics, community or provincial history, to give a couple of examples—then there is little point in seeking an American publisher.
Canadian publishers are not interested in publishing American authors.
This is often, but not necessarily, true. Certain Canadian publishers specify Canadian authors only. Others, while happy to contribute to their own country's culture by publishing Canadian authors, remain aware of the business aspect of their endeavors. The bottom line for them is whether or not they think a book will sell. If an American author has written a work of wide general interest—whether fiction or nonfiction—they may be able to sell it in Canada, as well as in the United States. See also MYTH #5 below.
It's harder for Canadian writers to break into the American market than it is for American writers.
The brutal truth is that the American market, especially the most lucrative sectors of it, are hard for everyone to break into. Whether you're Canadian or American, you need to be offering polished writing, potentially wide appeal, and an original idea. Like their Canadian counterparts, American publishers want books that will sell. The authors that can write these are going to be in demand—whether they say "zed" or "zee," or put the "u" in color, or not.
You will get a bigger advance from an American publisher than you would from a comparable Canadian publisher.
You might, but don't count on it. Because the American market is so much larger than the Canadian, major American publishers have more money to offer than comparable Canadian houses. If you have a potential international bestseller, and publishers on both sides of the border have recognized this, you will indeed get more money in the States than in Canada. The same is often true for nonbestsellers with backlist (repeated reprint) potential. On the other hand, if what you have is a first novel of literary merit but whose sales expectation is modest, you'll get a few thousand only, regardless of who is publishing it--and while there might be some variation between the two countries, either way it won't secure your retirement. The same holds true if you have a specialized work for a small niche market—there is generally a relatively low ceiling for advances on such work and, in most cases, it will not make a huge difference whether you publish south of the border, or north of it.
An American author who can get an American publisher has no need for a Canadian publisher.
Not true. Until a few years ago, authors typically sold Canadian and American rights together to their American publishers. These days the Author's Guild of America advises writers to attempt to retain Canadian rights. Then they or their agents are free to pursue an additional contract in Canada.
The above myths are based on questions and commentary that I routinely receive from my clients and students, who are mostly either American or Canadian. I hope that the facts provided will help you achieve your publication goals, whatever they might be, on either side—or both sides—of the border.