Dundurn Press, based in Toronto, Ontario, is the largest independent publisher in Canada, publishing award-winning fiction, mysteries, biographies, and books for young adults, as well as business, history, and current affairs titles.
According to Beth Bruder, vice president of Dundurn, the publisher’s 45th anniversary this year coincides with Canada’s sesquicentennial, or 150th, anniversary. Canadian Kirk Howard founded Dundurn in 1972 while completing his master’s degree at the University of Vermont; he later went on to become the first person in Canada to teach Canadian studies at the community college level.
“Kirk said it was at university that he began to realize that there was not enough information for Canadians about their history, and how were we going to know about our country if we didn’t have that history in books?” said Bruder. Howard started Dundurn at a time when most other Canadian publishers were focused on publishing literary work.
Dundurn’s publishing program started out with fewer than five employees, and has since expanded to 24. The publisher now has more than 2,500 books in print and 1,800 e-books available; Bruder said Dundurn was one of the first Canadian publishers to offer e-books, beginning about 15 years ago.
Since its founding, Dundurn has expanded in an organic way, acquiring small presses such as Hounslow Press, Simon & Pierre, Boardwalk Books, Natural Heritage Books, XYZ Publishing, Napoleon and Company, Blue Butterfly Books, and Thomas Allen Publishers. In 2012 and 2014, Dundurn was nominated for the Libris Award for Publisher of the Year, presented by the Retail Council of Canada. In addition, Howard has received the 2010 Wilson History Prize, the 2015 OMDC Janice Handford award, and the 2017 Association of Canadian Publishers President’s award.
“Today, we do about 90 to 100 books a year,” Bruder said. “We still focus on Canadian history or important books that help define Canada, but we’ve also expanded into fiction and nonfiction, including mystery and teen fiction. So we are a good, strong general publisher.”
Still, some of the publisher’s more successful books and series have been on the historical side, including two political biographies that came out last November — Bill Davis: Nation Builder and Not So Bland After All by Steve Paikin, about the former premier of Ontario, and Notley Nation: How Alberta’s Political Upheaval Swept the Country by Don Braid and Sydney Sharpe, about Rachel Notley, the premier of Alberta.
“We tend to do books like that, that have some gravitas, that are really important volumes for history and that document these important people and their eras in Canadian life, but we also do much lighter fare,” said Bruder, such as Now You Know Canada: 150 Years of Fascinating Facts by late actor and author Doug Lennox. The book, which has been on the bestseller list for about three weeks, since its publication on the occasion of Canada’s 150th, features a collection of Canada-centric trivia on history, sports, famous Canadians, and word origins.
Another book Dundurn released in celebration of Canada’s 150th anniversary is With Faith and Goodwill: 150 Years of Canada-U.S. Friendship, edited by Arthur Milnes, a historian and speechwriter for former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. This coffee table book, published in collaboration with the Canadian American Business Council, showcases the history of the relationship through the words and images of prime ministers, presidents, and other dignitaries in speeches at the Canadian Parliament. With the international popularity of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the growing populist movements throughout the West, Bruder said she believes there are many more books to come on the changing political dynamic.
When it comes to Dundurn’s publicity strategy, Dundurn marketing manager Kate Condon-Moriarty said the publisher has a robust newsletter program for both independent bookstores and libraries that is available in the U.S. and Canada. Each newsletter includes recent reviews of Dundurn books, links to NetGalley, information about upcoming trade shows, and a link to the publisher’s blog. Dundurn, which uses Ingram to distribute its titles in the U.S., also reaches out to U.S. indies in other ways, including participating in ABA’s Winter Institute and sending out special ARCs and ARC packages to indie booksellers in the States.
“We’re trying to build a community for indie booksellers, so we have sales programs for launching new books; we have a special influencer mailing, where bookstores tell us who the real reader is in the store, [whether it is] one of the staff or the owner, and we send out special packages of material for them,” said Bruder. “We also do regular outreach to our independents in Canada and try to maintain a regional presence by supporting them through activities that are happening locally.”
In addition, Dundurn is an enthusiastic participant in the successful Canadian program that celebrates independent bookstores, “Authors for Indies,” said Bruder, and Dundurn staff attends international and domestic book fairs, like London, Frankfurt, and the Atlantic Book Fair in Canada, where the publisher hosts a special coffee hour for Dundurn authors and indie booksellers in the region.
“Our motto has always been ‘Defining Canada for Canadians’; that’s what we really believe, that’s our core business, but our other business is to be a viable and vibrant publisher,” said Bruder. “To do that, you have to reach out to the world, because our market is very small. We’re producing very good books and many of them are certainly available in many different countries and languages, so we just need to continue to reach out to ensure that we remain a strong, viable company.”
In the U.S., Dundurn’s non-historical books are more popular with readers than the historical ones, according to Bruder. Popular titles and series includes Brenda Chapman’s Stonechild and Rouleau mystery series, about two detectives, Kala Stonechild and Jacques Rouleau. The first Stonechild novel, Cold Mourning, was nominated for the Arthur Ellis Award for Best Crime Novel in 2015, and the next installment in the series, Bleeding Darkness, comes out May 5, 2018.
Another top seller is Barbara Fradkin’s Amanda Doucette mysteries. Fradkin’s Fire in the Stars, which came out in September 2016 and received a starred review in Publishers Weekly, is set in Newfoundland and tells the story of a Canadian foreign aid worker with PTSD who finds a ship with imprisoned workers from Syria onboard. The series’ next installment, The Trickster’s Lullaby, which was reviewed recently by Booklist, Bruder said. This new title, coming out September 2, follows Doucette as she takes a group of traumatized refugee teenagers on a healing journey into the wilderness.
Another bestselling title in the States, released in the U.S. this June, is The Man Who Carried Cash: Saul Holiff, Johnny Cash, and the Making of an American Icon by Julie Chadwick, who wrote the book using extensive records and tapes of conversations between the Canadian Holiff and the American Cash, discovered by Holiff’s son upon his death.
In September, Dundurn will release the highly anticipated Deer Life, the first novel by Ron Sexsmith, a well-known Canadian musician and composer; Deer Life is a fairy tale of witchcraft, bullying, revenge, and a mysterious bowler hat, accompanied by Sexsmith’s whimsical illustrations.
“Deer Life was our lead title at BookExpo, where we gave away ARCs and pitched Ron Sexsmith as a touring author,” said Condon-Moriarty. “We’re very excited about this book, and all of the booksellers I’ve spoken to showed keen interest.”
In the coming months, new installments can be expected in two of Dundurn’s popular children’s series: The Great Mistake Mysteries series by Sylvia McNicoll (The Artsy Mistake Mystery, August 29) and Philippa Dowding’s Weird Stories Gone Wrong (Alex and the Other, April 2018). Another anticipated title, publishing September 16, is Green Mama-to-Be: Creating a Happy, Healthy, and Toxin-Free Pregnancy by blogger Manda Aufochs Gillespie, which teaches pregnant mothers how to get ready for their baby in an environmentally friendly way. Gillespie’s first book with Dundurn was Green Mama: Give Your Child a Healthy Start and a Greener Future.