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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