Last Saturday, Mike Leone sat alone preparing himself in a room on the second floor of the Gladstone Hotel.In front of him sat piles of “Freelance Blues,” a graphic novel he co-wrote and self-published. When a customer entered the room, he gladly explained the origin and premise of his publication. But there were no guarantees.
“We’re trying to build an audience,” Leone said. “So, for us, we come to little shows like this just to meet and talk to people, get people interested, try to make a couple of dollars and just keep plugging away.”
On Saturday, the Gladstone Hotel played host to the 22nd edition of the Small Press of Toronto (SPOT) Book Fair. And for Leone, who publishes his own small-press titles, this event provides an ideal opportunity to raise his profile on Toronto’s literary scene.
Portions of the Gladstone’s first two floors were crammed with exhibitor tables offering everything from novels to magazines to poetry to comics to postcards. Lisa Pasold, one of the event’s co-organizers, said the reality of the Canadian publishing industry makes events such as SPOT so integral to local small presses.
“A couple of people I’ve spoken to, said that these fairs are one of their main ways of getting their work out there,” Pasold said. “They can’t get their work into bookshops because the independents don’t have a lot of space. Distribution’s a huge issue.”
For Fangs’n Hiss, a Toronto writer and publisher promoting her poetry collection “Sonnets,” these issues have her considering a permanent change of address.
“I am eventually going to move to Norway because I see it as a better opportunity for artists,” she said. “I find it difficult in Canada. In Norway it’s so much easier to sell books and crafts. And generally they’re more of a spending crowd than they are here.”
And while most small presses in attendance are in the same boat, some, such as Barry Lynds, have accepted the fact that getting started in Canadian publishing means beginning at the bottom.
“You find out information from people who have been in the business, so instead of trying to buck the system you might as well follow the advice and work up from being small,” Lynds said. “And who knows where it will go, but at least it’s all in your control.”
Lynds is the author of “Chasing Women Without Leaving Your Seat.”
Along with the over 60 presses in attendance, patrons took in readings by various authors, culminating with Giller Prize winner Austin Clarke. Pasold said having Clarke, who began his career in small presses, speaking at the event provides much more than just an endorsement for SPOT.
“(It) remind(s) people that the small press is really essential and that there are fabulous voices here,” Pasold said. “Sometimes people think that the only thing that exists in writing exists in Indigo and Chapters. And that’s not the case.”