WILLIAM WARDILL: Historian, Author, Columnist, Poet in His Ninetieth Year
My lily garden, 1995
How to Succeed in Losing Money in the Book Trade
I am an expert. I can honestly say, without fear of contradiction, that I am an expert at losing money. After earning a late in life university degree in 1991 at considerable cost in time and money, I became an unpaid newspaper columnist. By 1996, I was an historian ferreting out fragments of history that recognized historians had not discovered. Then I wrote and self-published, entirely at my own expense, my first book which was called Sand Castles. The product of eight years of intermittent field and documentary research, it traced the early history of southwest Saskatchewan and southeast Alberta, the activities of federal, provincial and local governments and the eventual depopulation of the region. The book sold well, earned a profit and is now out of print. Digitized versions are still available, at miniscule profit to me, from the University of Calgary, Laval University and other institutions.
Then I wrote my first poem. It was accepted by Western People, which was then a section of the Western Producer. The newspaper was delivered by mail. Few people read my poem because the people at Canada Post helped me to be unsuccessful by going on strike.
In 1997, I self-published, entirely at my own expense, A Gold Cuff Link and a Red Dress, the product of forty years of intermittent field and documentary research which tells the intertwined stories of the fur trade, Métis culture and the North West Rebellion. I was overjoyed to receive a telephone call telling me that the book had been short-listed for a Saskatchewan Book Award. Then I was deflated by a letter which told me my book had been withdrawn from the list. I had planned for the book to be sold through Canada Post for Christmas of 1997. Again, the people at Canada Post helped me to succeed in being unsuccessful by going on strike. I still have copies on hand. Recently I sent a copy of the book to The Book Seller in Edmonton which advertises that it buys and re-sells publisher overstocks. I was not given the courtesy of a reply.
My publishing company is called Speargrass Specialties. By December 31 of 2017, my use of this company in an effort to preserve Saskatchewan’s historical and cultural heritage had cost me over $31,000.
I am a very old man. I have no fear of naming names. During my misadventures as a small publisher I wrote a novel and sent a query and sample chapters to Thistledown Press in Saskatoon. My submission was never rejected but my query was kept hanging for two years without either a yea or a nay. Since I wanted to see my novel in print while I was still alive, I withdrew my offer to Thistledown and had the book printed by Benchmark Press.
Last year, Deana Driver brought out Muskrat Ramble, my final book of poetry. She tells me that because of brutal changes made by Creative Saskatchewan in the its grant structure, hybrid publishers will be so seriously impacted that they may not survive. She thinks the novel which I hope to complete before I die might cost me as much as $6,000 to print.
I don’t know any of the creatures at Creative Saskatchewan. I don’t know their vices and virtues, but I smell the odour of bureaucracy, a malady I have tilted against for all of my adult years. Bureaucrats do not create. They make policy, change policy, remake policy. What they are doing to Saskatchewan’s vibrant community of small publishers brings no real benefit to anyone. I see it as a personal affront, a slaughter of the innocents.
If I live to complete my last novel, it will be published, even if I have to deprive my heirs of $6,000 to do it. It will be a part of their personal literary heritage, as well as the larger heritage of the province that I love.
Copyright©William Wardill 2018