Letter to BCAC- August 1, 2014

BC Arts Council
P.O. Box 9819 Stn Prov Govt
Victoria B.C.
V8V 9W3
 
August 1, 2014
 
Dear Gillian Wood, Sheryl Jones, Sarah Durno, 
 
I am writing in response to the BC Arts Council's Publishing Jury’s decision this spring, 2nd year in a row, to deny Mother Tongue Publishing’s entrance into the Block Publishing Program, after publishing 20 high quality regional and award cited literary and arts titles since 2008.
 
Since at least 2003, (the furthest back I could find on-line reports) there have been no emerging BC publishers admitted into the Block Publishing program of the BC Arts Council. This is deeply concerning. If Title Assistance, with its small grants, is the only measure of support an emerging publisher can expect, then it becomes a vehicle that obstructs growth and stymies sustainability. If emerging publishers are by default blocked indefinitely from entering the Block program, then the council is falsely offering support in the guise of its mandate. This needs to be addressed.
 
Judging by the BC Arts Council Jury's comments on Mother Tongue’s application, I do not believe that sufficient due diligence was done in respect to my application. Here are some specific concerns I have about their comments:

1. The Jury questioned the selling of reprint rights for 
Everything Was Good-bye by Gurjinder Basran to Penguin Canada. This question reveals a lack of knowledge about distribution and promotion by small literary presses, especially regional presses, and assumes I did not retain royalty rights. This is incorrect. Selling reprint rights to Penguin Canada was one of the best business decisions I have made and we benefit annually. This event happened several years ago and has never been questioned in any previous grant applications. It was odd to be remarked upon this year.

2.   The BC Arts Council’s mandate of support for quality of publishing, contribution to Canadian literature and professional excellence is evident in our program. When the Jury expressed concerns 'about the viability of the business' despite saying I have 'high standards for editorial, design and production,' this becomes a contradiction in terms. Translating a successful cultural vision into a bottom line  ‘business’ venture is very difficult in these times and without support from the Block Programs of both the CC and the BC Arts Council. To deny us entrance into Block Funding in effect gives us little chance of viability. Viability depends on stable arts funding.
 
We submitted virtually the same grant application to the BC Arts Council as to the Canada Council Publishing Jury. While the BC Arts Council Jury decided to keep us in Title Assistance with a small grant, we were successful in moving into the Canada Council Block Program and were judged by a peer assessment committee comprised exclusively of publishers. They remarked on 'the evidence of careful financial planning and strong marketing' (contrary to the BCAC Jury) and 'expressed particular enthusiasm for the contribution made through the Unheralded Artists of BC series' and our professional excellence.
 
For my records, and in the spirit of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, I am requesting the list of juror’s who participated this year in the Publishing Program. You released the names to me last year. I hope this will be the last year I am held back in Title Assistance.
 
 
Sincerely,
Mona Fertig
Publisher
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Reply to the BCAC

BC Arts Council
Victoria BC

Oct 28, 2013

Dear Stan Hamilton, Gillian Wood, Katherine Leong and Sarah Durno,

I have decided to address my reply to all, since everyone was copied on my original letter to the Chair of the Board, May 3
rd, 2013.

Stan, on October 18
th I finally received a copy of your original letter dated June 7th. Thanks for your response. I had been waiting a long time. Salt Spring Island is a small place but we have new postal workers, so your letter, which was incorrectly addressed, was unfortunately, never forwarded to me.

Your letter stated that you do not recommend further action on my appeal and that the council had no reason to believe a jury has ignored or misinterpreted the guidelines and weightings applied to each criterion. You congratulate me for the high quality of work we have maintained. (Thank-you.)

I have spent enough time on this issue, but do feel I have a few more points and recommendations to make before I am done. (You can forward them to the advisory panel if you wish) I don’t expect my suggestions to be heeded, as I am only one disappointed voice, but I do feel I have a duty to speak up, as witness, for every emerging publisher who may follow. Please bear with me if I repeat myself.

The BC Arts Council jury’s decision this year was very detrimental to the health of my company, Mother Tongue Publishing. I had high expectations of moving into the Block program this year. I was told that I qualified and anticipated receiving greater funding than last year’s grant of $5,000 in Title Assistance.

There has still been no qualifying reason given, either by the Literary Arts Office or the jury as to why I did not progress. Out of a jury of five, there was only one publisher, and the other publishing related juror was a student who worked at a publishing company. I honestly do not feel the sum of jurors had sufficient professional publishing experience, to expertly judge my application, especially with a view of long-term sustainability. I believe my application was undervalued. In future I suggest that a minimum of three publishers sit on the jury and more importantly, a juror who is seeking funds from the same funding source should not be offered a position as juror. It is a conflict of interest.

First Recommendation: No publisher applying to either Project Assistance or Block Funding for Publishers from the BCAC should be eligible to sit on a Publishing Jury at the same time as their publishing company is an applicant for funding.

There are enough retired publishers in BC, or publishers that do not seek funding from the BCAC to now offer quality jury duty eg: Michelle Benjamin, Karl Seigler, Ron Smith, Mark Stanton, George Fetherling and many others. As well, there are highly qualified literary publishers in other provinces that could be available for jury duty. In Saskatchewan, publishers from other provinces are asked to sit on the regional publishing jury. Conference calls are used to decide which Saskatchewan publishers will be awarded funds and how much. When I sat on this jury I found that it worked very well.

Mother Tongue Publishing produces titles that are equal in quality and design to any of the 18 publishing companies that were awarded Block Funding this year. The only reason I can surmise that I did not move forward this year, (as I had an excellent application), was because of insufficient knowledge/history of our press, the youth of our press, possible protectionism, or unclear guidelines from the BCAC as to procedures into Block. When I asked the Literary Officer for jury comments on my grant application I was informed, …the jury wanted to “protect me” from moving into the Block Program... which makes no sense, except maybe those words really meant that the Block Program needs protecting from new publishers as the funding has not increased and publishers in the Block Program do not want to see their hard-fought funding diminish. The pie is only so big. Another jury comment was, …”$3,000 was worthy” of my program this year. Is a 40% reduction in funding after 5 years of publishing, worthy?

Second Recommendation: Emerging Publishers who are eligible and qualify to move into the Block Publishing Program of the BCAC, should move forward and have their application judged in that program.

As I’ve said before, The Canada Council jury awarded me eight times the grant as the BCAC (with the same grant application) and assured me that once I have the eligible titles this year (16 needed for CC), as an Emerging Publisher, I will automatically move into the Block Program. There is no turning back. The Canada Council offers a supportive and sustainable initiative for new publishers. The BCAC needs to do the same and be clear on its procedure for emerging publishers.

Third Recommendation: There should be a ‘Fair Notice Policy’ for Publishers that says the BCAC recognizes the value of long-range planning and will endeavor to give advance notice of grant reduction of more than 20%.

This year 18 publishers received Block Funding from the BCAC. In 2010 there were 21 publishers in the program. There have been no new publishers moving into Block for many years now. Some publishers have declared bankruptcy and have been bought and sold. The landscape is changing. Publishers are also publishing more books with less money. This year, ten of the annually funded established BC publishers received funding increases from 7% to 40%. The funding for Block was increased by $7,981. Total funding in Block was $457, 993

The funding in Project Assistance last year was $20,376 for four projects. This year there were two publishers (Mother Tongue and Ekstasis) and the funding had decreased by $15,876. Total funding in Project was $4,500.

Fourth Recommendation: Stable funding for regional literary publishers is vital for future sustainability and long-range planning. Funding for regional publishers needs to be increased.

Max Wyman said in his letter of support,
“Mother Tongue will go on going on, of course. The jury decision is not going to kill it. But it will intensify the press's struggles to maintain what modest growth it was enjoying.”

The BC Art’s Council’s dramatic decrease in our funding this year created great hardship. It was a harsh judgment and the largest decrease of any BC publisher. It was an insult to our strong commitment to excellence in Canadian Literature, to high production standards, hard work, sound planning, marketing and to our history and successes.

An invitation was offered by the BCAC for me to meet in Victoria and discuss my concerns. But in all seriousness I do not have the time or money to do this. I also know there will be no new information coming from such a meeting and I will only return home further discouraged.

So we hang on and have managed, like magicians, to publish four exceptional titles this year on the backs of hope and debt. I will apply for funding in the BCAC Block Program again, and if I am not successful, the future of Mother Tongue Publishing remains uncertain.

As Stan wrote in his letter to me, “I want to thank you for setting out the nature of your appeal with such care to detail. Your case received support from a significant number of individuals familiar with the quality of your work. They speak to the quality of your work and your exhibited concern for the writers.”

So many supporters took the time to write in to the BCAC on our behalf, without them we would not be here. We thank them.



Sincerely,

Mona Fertig, Publisher

FOOTNOTE: On November 4th, 2013 I received a reply from the BCAC apologizing for not informing me that last year I needed to submit two applications. One in Title and one in Block.

“ Both of your applications (Block and Title) will be sent to the jury.   If your Block application is successful, your Title Assistance application will not be adjudicated.  However, if your Block application is not successful, you will be assessed in the Title Assistance competition.”



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Letter to the BCAC Board

Chair- Stan Hamilton
BC Arts Council Board
P.O. Box 9819 Stn Prov Govt
Victoria BC
V8V 9W3

May 3, 2013

Dear Stan Hamilton,

Mother Tongue Publishing did not move up into the Block Funding for Book Publishers Program this year, as I had expected, and Mother Tongue’s previous level of funding (Title Assistance) was cut by 40%. I am writing to the Board of the BC Arts Council to propose that BCAC use its discretion to rectify these decisions, which I believe were made in error.

The decision to exclude Mother Tongue from the Block Funding program was made despite the fact that Mother Tongue clearly exceeded the criteria to qualify for this program. This is incompatible with the BCAC Block Publishing mandate of support for quality of publishing, contribution to Canadian Literature and professional excellence.

The $3,000 granted last month is also the lowest amount Mother Tongue has received in five years of operation. The very low size of the grant was completely unanticipated. It is also inconsistent with previous granting decisions to Mother Tongue. It is not a meaningful contribution to the production of four quality titles this year.

In terms of process, I have several concerns, not least of which is my conclusion that the Jury did insufficient due diligence with respect to my application. As noted above, I am therefore writing to set out my concerns and request the BCAC correct the situation by declaring that Mother Tongue is eligible for Block Funding, and by making a one-time special grant available from its discretionary funds.

BACKGROUND:

In 2008 I began my trade publishing company Mother Tongue Publishing on Salt Spring Island and published two literary titles. In 2009 I applied for my first Title Assistance grant from the BCAC and the Jury “reviewed our titles and in an ‘unprecedented’ step provided project assistance” of $6,500 due to our reputation of professional quality and my historic literary and arts commitment in BC over the past four decades.

Now, five years later, Mother Tongue has published thirteen eligible and excellent regional literary titles, according to our mandate and objectives of, “
revisioning and championing the unheralded artists of BC and publishing bold and beautiful books of outstanding BC fiction, poetry, creative non-fiction and art history by emerging, mid-career and established writers, while making a significant contribution to regional and national literature.”

We have published three titles a year for the past three years and four eligible titles have been planned for this year. The first title of 2013,
Force Field 77 Women Poets of British Columbia, edited by Susan Musgrave has just been released. It is the first anthology of BC women’s poetry published in thirty-four years. It is 400 pages and is being launched in five cities and towns in BC and Seattle in the fall. Our summer title is The Life and Art of Edythe Hembroff-Schleicher, a 168 page Unheralded Artists of BC book, the 6th in the series, with over 100 colour and B & W plates obtained with the assistance of the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria and the Royal BC Museum, BC Archives. In the fall we will publish the winner of our 2nd Search for the Great BC Novel Contest. Judges are Caroline Adderson, Gurjinder Basran and David Chariandy. We will also publish a new edition of Edythe Hembroff- Schleicher’s 1969 classic, M.E. A Portrayal of Emily Carr, with an Introduction by Susan Crean, that will be a great companion to the UABC book.

I have been readying our press to move into the Block Program for several years. The statistics show that literary publishers can only survive by moving into the Block Programs of both the Canada Council and the BCAC. The previous BCAC Literary Officer wrote in 2011: “Unfortunately, you have to do one more year of three titles under the Title program.  But next year you can apply under Block, so there is light at the end of the tunnel.” Last fall I was given the green light by the new Literary, Publishing and Outreach Officer and told I was eligible to file my application for Block Funding.

I have worked very hard as a new trade publisher to qualify under the BCAC mandate and criteria for this program. I have done this by publishing quality, as seen in the acclaimed and unprecedented
Unheralded Artists of BC series, our award winning original regional fiction, poetry, photography and literary non-fiction.

Mother Tongue’s contribution to Canadian literature is equal to any literary publishing company in British Columbia. Mother Tongue’s books have won the Ethel Wilson BC Book Prize for Fiction, been short-listed for the Roderick Haig-Brown Regional Prize for Non-Fiction, the City of Vancouver Book Award, the ReLit Poetry Prize; and Mother Tongue has also been a recipient of the Pandora’s Collective Publisher’s Award, the Honour Roll of Publishers by the Pacific Northwest Chapter of American Society of Indexing and was honoured as Publisher at the Galiano Literary Festival. There is no better beginning for a new small literary press.

In terms of professionalism and business planning, I consistently budget and plan ahead, publish titles by excellent emerging writers as well as established, all manuscripts fulfill our design and editing criteria for literary and artistic excellence and no manuscripts are rushed. Our good relationship with each writer is vital. As I am a former BC/Yukon rep for the Writers’ Union of Canada, honouring contracts and paying royalties are important to me.

Promotion and marketing has always been a priority for Mother Tongue and I have consistently organized launches, illustrated talks, lectures, reading tours, exhibitions ( Burnaby Art Gallery, McGill Branch Burnaby Public Library, Nanaimo Museum, Victoria Public Library, Community Arts Council of Greater Victoria, Mahon Hall, Salt Spring Public Library, Heritage Hall, Westbridge Fine Art Gallery, Architectural Institute of BC) and our writers have been invited to read at literary festivals, been interviewed on radio and TV and our books have been well-reviewed. We have used social media, film, book trailers, mail outs and posters etc., to promote and we have a new regional distributor (Heritage Group Distribution) and are confident we will continue to increase our sales and stabilize our customer base through traditional and non-traditional outlets as well as branching into eBooks.

Everything Was Good-bye, our award-winning novel from our 1st search for the Great BC Novel Contest, was voted top 5 Canada Reads Choice (for fiction) in the BC/Yukon in 2012 as well as being three weeks Reader’s Choice for the Scotiabank Giller Prize. I found my author an agent and sold Canadian rights to Penguin Canada and they republished EWG in a trade book and eBook and also released it in the US in January of this year.


CONCERNS WITH DECISIONS AND PROCESS:

It was therefore with disbelief that I read a letter from the BCAC stating that not only had the Jury denied Mother Tongue’s request to enter the Block Publishing Program but also downgraded the grant from $5,000 last year to $3,000. At the Canada Council there is a 'Fair Notice Policy' that says they recognize the value of long-range planning and will endeavor to give advance notice of grant reduction of more than 20%. I received no such notice from BCAC.

There is no good explanation available in the Jury comments that have been made available to me as to why Mother Tongue did not move into the Block Program, nor a clear reason for holding Mother Tongue back in the Title Assistance program and reducing the grant, which at $3,000 offers a committed publisher no future, no encouragement, no supportive hand up and forward. Survival of literary presses depends on stable funding, especially in these difficult and rapidly changing times.

In the decision making process the BCAC guidelines state as follows: Scoring consists of 30% for Quality of Publishing Program, 30% for Contribution to Canadian Literature, 30% for Professional Excellence, 10% for Overall Assessment.

A summary of the Jury’s comments is as follows:
The Committee believes that Mother Tongue Publishing has a high quality publishing program. The committee believes the publisher is making a strong contribution to Canadian Literature, especially through the Unheralded Artists of BC series; however, they questioned whether the series would be profitable over the long term. The editorial, design and production standards are very high and the beautiful covers were noted. In future applications the jury would like to see additional information outlining the company’s long term plan, especially with regards to financial planning, marketing and promotion.

In the grant application I stated Mother Tongue’s long-term goals and its financial plans for the future. Mother Tongue has excelled in marketing and promotion and will continue to do so. Financial stability has been a challenge as our company maneuvers through the newly turbulent waters of publishing and bookselling and the general world market depression, but Mother Tongue will remain steady and financially viable by staying on course and by receiving stable government funding. Mother Tongue’s publishing application to the Canada Council this year received eight times the amount the BCAC awarded us. A much needed and earned sum, even if it is disheartening to have to look to the east for our best support for long range and stable BC publishing.

I am deeply committed to the ongoing vision of producing high quality literary & art books over the coming years. My long term planning is to stay small and focused, publishing four new titles a year. Mother Tongue will continue to pay its authors, editors, designers and printers and make an important contribution to Canadian Literature. The emphasis is on clarity of regional vision, good writing, continual and excellent promotion that is motivated to bring the best to the public and to serve both booklovers and writers in purposeful and exceptional ways.

Literary publishing in Canada is much like a social enterprise. Mother Tongue grows and promotes the abundance of literary talent in this province, improves and maximizes the community’s and national cultural wealth through its beautiful and bold books, especially the
Unheralded Artists of BC series, which is unprecedented in scope and quality; and focuses on sustainability, which includes the owners of Mother Tongue making charitable contributions of time, rather than external profit for the company.

After I received the BCAC letter I contacted the Literature Officer and asked if there were more applicants in Title Assistance this year, as this would make the grant pot smaller. I was told that there were no more applicants for Title Assistance than last year and that there were no other notes available to me. I was also told there is no appeal in the Title Assistant Awards program. So that is why I am writing this letter.

REQUEST TO THE BCAC:

I am asking the BC Arts Council to reconsider its decision and take action to rectify this situation. I am respectfully requesting a one-time special grant of $5,000 from BCAC’s discretionary funds to make up for this inexplicable funding result, which I believe has been made in error and which fails to recognize and respect five years of dedication and hard work to get Mother Tongue Publishing off the ground. It also fails to recognize Mother Tongue’s clear and sustainable literary and financial vision for the future, and a lifetime of dedication, leadership and engagement in the literary community in BC.

Letters of support for Mother Tongue Publishing’s request are forthcoming.

I look forward to hearing from you soon.
Sincerely,

Mona Fertig
Publisher

Mother Tongue Publishing
290 Fulford-Ganges Rd.
Salt Spring Island, B.C.
V8K 2K6
T 250-537-4155
F 250-537-4725
mona@mothertonguepublishing.com
www.mothertonguepublishing.com


CC: Gillian Wood, Executive Director, BCAC
Katherine Leong, Literary, Publishing and Outreach Officer, BCAC
Sarah Durno, Associate Director, BCAC


As of Oct 1/13 there has been no reply.
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