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.


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.”