How we became publishers
POSTED BY Don Purich0 Comments
Phone: (306) 373-5311
“With a law background, why would you choose to become a book publisher,” our summer editorial assistant asked me. She was keen to learn about publishing and was full of questions. Why would my partner, Karen, leave a successful law practice to join me in book publishing? Can you actually make a living publishing books? Pamela had no end of questions. After twenty-one years of book publishing, her questions indeed caused us to consider where we are at our publishing business and what might the future bring.
Entering the publishing business was something we (Karen and I) discussed for some time before taking the plunge. At the time, I was an out-of-scope term appointee at the University of Saskatchewan as Director of the Native Law Centre. As a term appointee one is always looking at what next. The Native Law Centre ran a small publishing program (still does), I had authored 6 published books by then (with various Canadian publishers), was keen to try a business opportunity, and publishing is a creative enterprise, but also a business. And as director of the Native Law Centre I realized that at that time (not so now) there was a dearth of good books of Aboriginal–governmental relations. So in 1992 Purich Publishing took shape.
When I told a friend of mine, the late John Hylton, of my decision, he told me I must be crazy and deserved a good kick in the behind. Nevertheless, he put together a proposal for Aboriginal Self-Government in Canada. That became our fourth book and one of our great publishing successes.
And from the start, Karen contributed on a part-time basis. In 1999 after 19 years practicing law, Karen decided it was time for a career change and joined Purich Publishing full time. This was a momentous decision – being partners in life as well, publishing became our main family income.
Was this a wise decision? First there is the satisfaction in knowing that you have helped create something permanent that will influence other people, will inform them and perhaps even entertain them. As a publisher, there is the pleasure of working with wonderful people. Be it Harold LeRat, the Indian rancher who simply wanted a small book on his community (now the successful Treaty Promises, Indian Reality) or our most recent author, Marie Battiste, a leading scholar and educator, (Decolonizing Education) we have learned much about the human condition and human relations. Especially exciting is working with a first time author who is so excited to see his book in print (we’re trying to keep Ernie Louttit whose book, Indian Ernie: Perspectives on Policing and Leadership, will be out soon, calm). We have worked with several wonderful editors and all have become friends. We had the opportunity to learn about a whole different business – one which neither of us had thought of as a career possibility. And all of this has provided us with a living wage, even while I battled two rounds of cancer over a decade ago.
Would we do it again? Years ago I remember reading memoirs by Jack McClleland and Mel Hurtig, both successful Canadian publishers, who both wrote they didn’t want their children going into publishing. Incidentally, our son is a successful accountant. Nevertheless, the answer is a resounding yes. The satisfaction of producing a permanent product, a book, that may impact on other people is indeed rewarding. Get rich no – satisfaction yes.
Oh yes, how can we forget the early days when printers still used oil based inks – you opened the box and could get a high just from sniffing the ink.
Of course today the challenges in being a niche publisher mount – that’s next.