Thursday, 18 December 2014

In preparation of our next reading period

Five Rivers’ reading period opens up again February 1 to 14, 2015. 

With the hope of creating clarity for writers who are considering submitting to us, we strongly recommend you view our guidelines in order to save yourselves and us a lot of angst.

To give you some idea of how our selections went in 2014, Robert and I have put together some semblance of analysis, which may or may not be significant of anything, but is most assuredly an accurate view of what occurred in 2014. Beyond that, well, you might try casting knucklebones, or scrying in a bowl of water in a silver dish, or staring at clouds.

Our acceptance rate

Robert's Acceptance Rate: 53% were rejected outright

Lorina’s Acceptance Rate: 46% were rejected outright

Robert comments: Relatively few of the submissions I rejected were badly written. Most were competent, but generic. A few showed real potential, but would have taken more work to edit than I have time to commit to them; or they had potential, but I was the wrong editor for that manuscript. (A rejection is not always about the manuscript being weak; sometimes it is a perfectly good manuscript, but not right for that publisher. I won't take on a manuscript if I don't love the book, because I'm not going to invest a month of my life in a project I won't enjoy, or to one that's outside my expertise. Indeed, the hardest manuscripts to edit are the ones that are competently written, that have no obvious flaws, but just don't seem to sing. One needs to find the editor that can hear the song that could come from that manuscript. One of the manuscripts from a new author I rejected subsequently sold to another press (so a rejection is not necessarily the end of the world).

Lorina comments: I would have to say of the manuscripts which I rejected outright, most were badly written, with clumsy writing, cardboard characters, cliché phrasing and plot. Given I read for both work and pleasure about nine books a month, my tolerance is likely lower than Robert’s. On the other hand it could simply mean I’m just hard to please and suffer from a dose of hubris. One thing Robert and I do emphatically agree on is the work needs to sing. As I’ve said in previous blog posts, write me a story, tell me a tale, be Shcheherazade and bewitch me.

For Robert, 30% of the manuscripts he received are still under review; for Lorina, 1%. Why the difference? Five Rivers is very lucky to have Robert’s time, in that although semi-retired as a professor at the University of Lethbridge, his time is still very much in demand, and so whatever he affords us we gratefully accept. For Lorina, Five Rivers is her main occupation and so manuscripts tend to flow through her hands faster.

The 'under review' category are solicited manuscripts that came in outside the official Feb review period, usually through personal contacts or pitches at conventions. The longest a manuscript has sat with Robert in 2014 is three months...but those are manuscripts that have already passed through the first screening; they're books he’d like to acquire if he could work them into his editing schedule, but in the end, he’ll have to reject most of them because Five Rivers only have so many slots in our publishing schedule.

Of the manuscripts Lorina received, the longest a manuscript has sat is about eight weeks, and in those cases were also screened through a query process. It is likely those remaining for Lorina to read will be accepted, as if an author makes it through that first vetting, it’s likely a publishing agreement will be reached, but not always guaranteed.

Of the submissions Robert received in 2014, 17% received contracts, while Lorina’s resulted in 23%.

It's hard to resist a brilliant manuscript, but we're developing a backlog, so that figure is likely to go down in 2015, especially in light of the fact we are committed to releasing 29 books.

Identifying what we're looking for in a manuscript is difficult. Great book obviously, but even we don't always know what we will like. For example, Robert opened a submission last month of a genre he doesn’t read, set in a locale he hates, on a topic that bores him, fully expecting it to be a fast reject, something he could get off his desk quickly. He had already started the "thanks for letting us see this, but this really isn't what Five Rivers publishes" letter in his head, but damn if the writer didn't catch his attention on the first page and keep him riveted through the first six chapters. There was this scene about castor oil…. He was forced to move the manuscript into the 'will have to read closely, because am thinking seriously about buying it' stack. Who could have predicted that? Robert says, “How do I ask to see more manuscripts that surprise me with a castor oil scene? I mean, that would solicit entirely the wrong sort of book.”


Of the submissions Robert received, 63% of submissions were by males, and 37% female; for Lorina 58% male versus 42% female.

The acceptance rate, however, was closer to fifty-fifty (exactly 50/50 if you count titles rather than authors, because we negotiated a couple of two and three book contracts in there.) Gender doesn’t really play into the decision at all, including alternate orientations. And frankly we have no idea what is anyone's ethnicity, so as long as the manuscript is in English, none of this is an issue for Five Rivers.

36% of all submissions were from professional writers in Robert’s year, whereas 99% were for Lorina.

16% of submissions were from writers that have already had five or more books published by major presses; of those, Robert rejected 40% outright. The other 20% were from professional writers/editors with short fiction, magazine, or technical writing credits; of those 33% were rejected outright, and 67% remain under review (see above). 7% were submitted through a literary agent. Having an agent probably did force Robert to get around to reviewing the manuscript slightly sooner than he might have otherwise, but since Five Rivers doesn't offer advances, there is not a lot else an agent can negotiate that would be worth their 15%. Since Five Rivers is open to unsolicited manuscripts the first two weeks of every February, one really does not need an agent to submit.

Of the manuscripts we viewed, Lorina received 35% from previously self-published writers, while Robert received 7%.

All of those were rejected, but that's not policy, just what happened in 2014.


7% of submissions were nonfiction.

Of the 93% of submissions that were fiction:
  • 40% YA
  • 28% fantasy
  • 20% mystery/thriller/spy
  • 5% historical
  • 5% Canlit
  • 5% other
  • 2% science fiction
Of the books we bought in 2014:
  • 20% were nonfiction
  • 20% were CanLit
  • 40% were fantasy
  • 10% were science fiction
  • 5% were historical fiction
  • 5% were YA fiction
But that just reflects what happened to come our way in 2014; as long as the manuscript matches our general guidelines (see we'll take a look at whatever you have.

Monday, 1 December 2014

Looking back, looking forward

Michelangelo's Dawn and Dusk sculpture
Medici Chapel
It's December and time for reflection on what we've achieved and where we're going. In the past year, Five Rivers has seen our catalogue expand from 34 books to 46.

The 2014 titles are:


Of the authors published in 2014, two of the nine authors made their debut. And of the many submissions we received this year, only 0.31% resulted in a publishing contract. In a later post, we’ll discuss the problems we frequently encounter with manuscripts, what we look for, what we don’t, and what will often result in a quick acceptance or rejection.

This year there have been setbacks as well as growth. We terminated our agreement with Iambik Audiobooks because of their lack of timely reporting and payment. Not to be daunted, we continue to investigate avenues for audiobook production of our catalogue and hope to have a solution to that in 2015.

We were also pleased to welcome aboard our intern, Jill Cabrera, who oversees some of our social media, as well as maintenance of our metadata.

Looking forward, 2015 will see our catalogue explode with the release of 29 books.

The majority of those are part of the Prime Ministers of Canada series we’re publishing, a project of which we’re very proud. When Nate Hendley came to us in 2012 with the view to finding a home for the orphaned Prime Minister books from now defunct JackFruit Press, we were pleased to undertake breathing new life into the incomplete series.

The original series had been targeted to early primary school students, more of a graphic novel approach. We decided to expand the demographic for the series so the books would be readable by, and appeal to, senior primary through young adults, with more of a journalistic, biographical tone than a graphic novel, thereby giving the Prime Minister’s office the dignity and respect it should command, while still retaining engaging readability. Anyone who thinks Canadian history is boring should read this series. There’s enough triumph and tyranny, subterfuge and noble (or Nobel) enterprise to interest even the most jaded reader.

And so, we are pleased to present to you the lineup for 2015:


Sword and Shadow, Book 6: The Rune Blades of Celi, by Ann Marston
Shakespeare for Slackers: Macbeth, by Aaron Kite


King Kwong: Larry Kwong, the China Clipper who broke the NHL colour barrier, by Paula Johanson
The Tattooed Rose, Book 3, by Susan MacGregor
Shakespeare for Readers’ Theatre, Book 2: Shakespeare’s Greatest Villains: The Merry Wives of Windsor; Othello, the Moor of Venice; Richard III; King Lear, by John Poulsen
The Prime Ministers of Canada: John Diefenbaker, by Lanny Boutin
The Prime Ministers of Canada: Lester B. Pearson, by Gordon Gibb
The Prime Ministers of Canada: Pierre Trudeau, by Paula Johanson
The Prime Ministers of Canada: Robert Borden, by Dorothy Pedersen
The Prime Ministers of Canada: Alexander Mackenzie, by Elle-Andra Warner
Eye of Strife, by Dave Duncan
Hunter's Daughter, by Nowick Gray 


Tower in the Crooked Wood, by Paula Johanson


Chronicles of Ivor, by Dave Duncan


The Prime Ministers of Canada: John S.D. Thompson, by Elle-Andra Warner
The Prime Ministers of Canada: Charles Tupper, by Paula Johanson
Hawk, by Marie Powell


Cat’s Pawn, by Leslie Gadallah


Type2, by Alicia Hendley
Bane’s Choice, Book 7: The Rune Blades of Celi, by Ann Marston
The Prime Ministers of Canada: Arthur Meighen, by Dorothy Pedersen
The Prime Ministers of Canada: William Lyon Mackenzie King, by Nate Hendley
The Prime Ministers of Canada: Joe Clark, by Lanny Boutin
The Prime Ministers of Canada: Jean Chretien, by Nate Hendley
The Prime Ministers of Canada: Paul Martin, by Elle-Andra Warner
Beyond Media Literacy: New Paradigms in Media Education, by Colin Scheyen
The Prime Ministers of Canada: John A. Macdonald, by Mark Shainblum
The Prime Ministers of Canada: Wilfred Laurier, by Mark Shainblum

We hope you will find our 2015 offerings of interest, and continue to journey with us on this never dull, always fascinating voyage on the good ship, Five Rivers.

Friday, 21 November 2014

Why Five Rivers Publishing exists

I don't often intrude with personal paradigm and thought here, have always felt it too personal, too crass to discuss in public these ideals which guide my life and thereby this publishing house. But today, inspired by a voice I've often read and always admired, I break with that self-imposed restriction.

And so first, the muse:

Although Le Guin speaks from an American perspective, the tenets of her address hold true for this very Canadian publishing house, and indeed form the framework upon which we've built, and continue to build, that is, quite simply, a commitment to bring publishing back to uncompromising personal editors where it belongs, rather than focus-group marketing.

Coupled with that we have an environmental strategy that embraces print-on-demand and digital technologies, along with a strict no-returns policy which has more to do with the imperative of printing only the books required for sale, rather than printing books for a marketing display in a large chain which will end up being returned in 90, 180 or 365 days.

Here at Five Rivers we relish the opportunity to work with new authors, new voices, illuminating the unique and varied culture of this diverse and enormous country. We cherish the opportunity to allow known authors the latitude for experimentation discouraged by the Big Five.

We believe in the power of the story-teller, whether that story-teller weaves a fabric of fiction or reality. In a way, we attempt to emulate the story-teller's circle of our First Nations. It is through such narratives we, as a nation, gain perspective about where we've been, where we are, and where we might be going. It opens a discussion, stimulates conjecture. Perhaps, even, allows us to better understand and continue to work toward enlightenment, accommodation, and equitable harmony.

Yes, we believe the power of literature, the power of the story-teller, has the ability to shape nations, and inform and inspire people.

Moreover, we believe this paradigm of publishing can form a solid business foundation. It is possible to marry ideal and art to business and commerce without compromising standards of excellence.

I've always said to my kids, dreams do come true; they just take a lot of work.

And so we at Five Rivers continue to work to showcase Canadian storytellers of both fiction and non-fiction, with the primary criterion of publishing books because of their beauty, importance and relevance, rather than their commercial potential. We feel this is as it should be. And we hope you will join us in this journey, and share your thoughts and your voices with us.

Friday, 14 November 2014

Shakespeare…. You may have heard of him.

In the spirit of Shakespeare dramatics, drum roll please… Shakespeare for Slackers: Hamlet is near.

Five Rivers Publishing is happy to release the second instalment of the outrageously funny Shakespeare for Slackers on December 1, 2014.

Aaron Kite believes Shakespeare wrote for the common people, not for English majors, so in this Slacker version of The Tragedy of Hamlet, all of ye can enjoy.
Aaron Kite, Author of Shakespeare for Slackers

I had the chance to interview Aaron Kite about his thoughts on Shakespeare, Hamlet and the slackers of this generation.

JC: First things first, do you like Shakespeare as a writer? How about Hamlet?

AK: I love Shakespeare, actually... he was 'inflicted' upon me in Jr high school, but I very quickly began to grasp some of the things he was doing, and started appreciating both the prose and the humour. By the time I was in high school I was reading his plays in my free time. And Hamlet, well, I spent the vast majority of my time in high school and college dressed in nothing but black. How could I not appreciate a guy like Hamlet?

JC: What motivated you to write Shakespeare for Slackers?

AK: Quite honestly, I really enjoyed the fact that Shakespeare was a guy who wrote work for the ordinary, 'common' folk back in the day. His plays were popular enough that they ended up being performed for royalty, but that's not the audience he was targeting back then. He wanted the stories he wrote to be accessible, and used the language and humour of the times — not what was in fashion back then, but what regular people understood best.

JC: Describe your regular “Slacker”?

AK: Generally, someone who is considered a 'slacker' is going to do the bare minimum, no matter what. It's a point of personal pride. So, the idea of translating something as timeless as Shakespeare in a way that could not only be readily understood nowadays, but that could actually capture the imagination of someone like that and cause them to grasp the fundamentals of the actual story seemed like a fun challenge.

Plus, I'm almost certain that Shakespeare can't actually sue me for doing it, so that's gravy. Don't quote me though.

JC: What do you want your readers to take away from reading Shakespeare for Slackers?

AK: The approach is actually kind of multi-pronged. I'm quite (very) obviously not translating the text verbatim, so the goal is to tell more or less the same story but from a more modern perspective. At the same time, there are jokes included in the translation that you'll only really get if you know and understand the original Shakespeare, and what he was attempting to say/do. Sometimes the humour is all about subverting what he was attempting to say, or intentionally misunderstanding it via translation. Sometimes it's about putting a completely modern spin on the ideas that he was trying to convey hundreds of years ago. If you don't know Shakespeare, you'll likely be entertained by the translation, and the story it tells. If you do know Shakespeare, you might find humour in some of the tongue-in-cheek absurdities that present themselves through the wildly inaccurate 'translations'.

JC: The Tragedy of Hamlet is a classic. What do you think makes it a classic? Do you think the tragedy genre is still relevant for today’s generation?

AK: Hamlet sort of touched a nerve in people that still resonates to this day. Revenge, remorse, the idea that people living a supposedly 'ideal life' could have to wrestle with the sort of emotions he did, all that. It's a classic because we all tend to think in terms of how things affect us, personally, and his is merely an example of how your position or station does not make you exempt from these particular feelings. I think something like that is relevant no matter what generation you're dealing with.

JC: How difficult was it to write? Did you take any precautions? Were there scenes more difficult to use humour on?

JC: To be completely honest, I do this sort of thing in order to take a break from actually writing, which is hard work. This stuff is so much easier. The humour comes from just trying to think how someone today might express the same sentiment as the character who is currently speaking. That and the fact that I can be particularly random and silly at times. Turning something like "Oh, what a rogue and peasant slave am I," into "Boy, do I ever suck," well, it just kind of writes itself sometimes.

JC: This is the second installment for Shakespeare for Slackers, the first being Romeo and Juliet. Was writing the second harder or easier? Or just about the same? Did you learn anything from Romeo and Juliet that you applied to the writing of the slacker version of Hamlet?

AK: Actually, Hamlet is the third one that I did. I started with Romeo and Juliet, then went on to Macbeth, then Hamlet. All three were a goldmine when it came to this sort of activity, to be honest. Romeo and Juliet were young, love-struck kids... hardly a rarity nowadays. Macbeth clearly had some impulse control issues as a result from his time on the front lines, coming back home and making some rather poor political decisions. And Hamlet, well, he dressed entirely in black and saw ghosts. Heck, I've hung out with guys like that, back in the day.

But each one ends up informing the next in some way, no matter what. You just kind of get into the groove, taking huge chunks of literary genius and turning it into graffiti, more or less. In the end, however, I think that's what Bill would have wanted.

At least, I hope it is. Otherwise, he might end up haunting me.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Presenting Shakespeare for Slackers: Hamlet

The second book in the outrageously funny, and absolutely street series Shakespeare for Slackers: Hamlet,  presented by Aaron Kite and Audrey Evans, is now available for pre-order in both print and eBook formats.
ISBN 9781927400715 $24.99
eISBN 9781927400722 $4.99
Trade Paperback 7 x 10, 198 pages
ePUB format
December 1, 2014

This installment releases December 1, 2014.

You know, back in the day, Shakespeare wasn't considered elite. Oh sure, his plays were performed for royalty, but they were actually written for tradesmen, shopkeepers, average Joes, anybody who could pay a penny for a ticket. Mostly he wrote plays for the common man, using the language of the times.
Times have changed.

In Shakespeare for Slackers: Hamlet, not only do you get the original play written by William Shakespeare, but you also get what a few of us think he probably would have written if he were still around today. (And if he sat around watching a lot of television.)

It's Shakespeare translated, retold, vandalized, brutalized, and outright demolished to suit the language of the times.

Why? Because we can.

The eBook version features a completely threaded version of Slackers and the original, along with just the Slackers version, and just the original in all their glory.

The perfect companion for John Poulsen's: Shakespeare for Readers' Theatre. 


Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Defining the "Canadian" in the Canadian Voice

What is Canadian literature? What is a Canadian novel? I am not going to be so foolhardy as to attempt to define these terms; many have wandered into this wildernessand returned, what else but bewildered if they were honest, or with simplistic or outdated notions if they were naive; this is hardly surprisingthe country is changing around us even as we speak, stirring up a host of conflicting ideas and interests, and to look for an essence, a core, a central notion within that whirlwind is surely an illusion. To define this country or its literature seems like putting a finger on Zenos arrow: no sooner do you think you have done it than it has moved on.
    M. G. Vassanji, "Am I a Canadian Writer?"

Here at Five Rivers Publishing, we publish Canadian voices. This means here at Five Rivers we aspire to amplify the Canadian voice. If your throat is feeling a little scratchy, and you find yourself scratching the back of your head, going but what exactly do you mean by a Canadian voice? here are some thoughts thrown around by our authors to help you find that voice which is definitively Canadian!

Aaron Kite
Aaron Kite, author of A Touch of Poison, believes the Canadian voice is largely framed by our relationship with our neighbours to the south, the USA. Both moulding the English language to their message, the Canadian voice finds its distinction from something quite similar. Aaron further explains the majority of our passion regarding what it is to be Canadian has a great deal to do with attempting to define ourselves as different and distinct from our US counterparts, despite the pervasive influence their culture has had upon both us and the rest of the world.

Aaron also mentions being referred to as the 51st state is often times infuriating, and brings about Canadians sense of place in the world and our pride in our quiet, polite and fierce pride of all our achievements weve managed in our (relatively short) history. In a sense, Aaron regards the Canadian voice as an attempt to have a voice that can compete with our neighbours 10 times our population, and 100 times our global influence. 

Matt Hughes
Matt Hughes, Canadian Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Crime writer, puts forward the comments that the Canadian voice has a good focus on the setting: We're said to be good at a "sense of place," which is supposed to mean we can convey a strong impression of settings. Matt also finds we have a broader point of view, rather than be[ing] limited to our own cultural frame of reference. Perhaps that comes from the success of multiculturalism since the 1970s.

From a personal experience, my intercultural communications class  has demonstrated the very Canadian aim to be multiculturally inclusive rather than strive toward a cultural melting pot of our American counterparts.

Our multicultural nature has the beauty and fragility of a stained glass. Matt believes we have tendency to be less strident, more inclined to seek a balance among competing philosophies. We are less inclined to have a common agenda. Our heroes are do not fit perfectly with the conventionally heroic; instead we value a more nuanced, more prone to self-doubt individual. In turn our endings are not concrete triumphs, but an acceptance of outcomes that are mixed and muted.

John Poulsen
John Poulsen, author of Shakespeare for Readers Theatre, emphasizes the actively changing Canadian voice shaped by the changing Canadian cultural, emotional, and physical landscape. John asserts the Canadian voice, like its culture, cannot be simplified. He points out while Canadians are thoughtful and mostly caring to others, the Canadian game (hockey! How can we not talk about hockey when we are talking about Canada?) is rough and competitive. The Canadian voice is spirited and assertive as well as polite and giving, when appropriate. John also believes the Canadian voice is shaped by our seasons: The Canadian voice is built on summer and the Canadian parks. Finally, we are coloured by Autumn and the long hot days followed by chilly nights.

Mike Plested
Mike Plested, author of the Mik Murdoch series, opens with a quick quip about the discussion: I think pointing out what the characteristics of Canadian voice is almost as difficult as realizing that Canadians have accents. But Mike asserts the Canadian voice is rooted in the real. This realism means the Canadian voice acknowledges the dark places where there are no fairy dusts or happy endings, that not every problem has a good solution. Sometimes our stories give us solutions where we have to choose the least bad option. Mike believes this sentiment is rooted in our early days of exploration of our country including the pioneers who left everything behind to come to Canada to make a new life. It was reinforced by both World War I and World War II and all the other conflicts we have taken part in. The Canadian voice speaks more of what an individual needs to do rather than what we want to happen.

Mike also spoke of the regional differences in the intonations of the Canadian voice. He acknowledges that coming from the west, Alberta specifically, his writing has a more Wild West/Cowboy tone, while he found works from Ontario have a sense of age and political thinking, considering that is where our country really first came to life.

Susan Bohnet
Sally McBride
Susan Bohnet, author of My Life as a Troll, expresses that where you live impacts your literary voice. A succinct way of saying the Canadian voice reflects the Canadian culture. While Sally McBride, author of Indigo Time, emphasizes individualism I read what I read, my voice is my own, and I can appreciate all sorts of different styles and approaches to telling a story. Which reminds us the Canadian voice may emerge from cultural influences, but it has to be our own.

Lorina Stephens, author, and publisher at Five Rivers Publishing, shares her strong belief Canadians have a distinctive voice and experience in the arts. She highlights the geographical influence such a large country has on our voice. She asserts that the enormous country sparsely populated has an effect on our psyche, that translates into a sense of isolation for many of Canadas people, particularly outside the few large urban regions. She also puts focus on the global stage, in that we are part of the G7, but it seems the world pretty much forgets about Canada as any sort of influence. So, that factor feeds into our sense of isolation.

Lorina Stephens
Canadas climate also shapes our voice. According to Lorina, the interesting and extreme weather reminds us that there is a necessity to work together in order to survive and survive well.

Lorina also talks about the Canadian heroic figure who deals with the struggle of the individual, championing the underdog, outrage against injustice, ambiguity in the face of implacable forces. Canadian authors dont deal with ultimate good versus evil. They deal with grey, with uncertainty, with small, ordinary people facing extraordinary challenges, finding simple solutions and then slipping into the mainstream again. The heroics are low key, often unidentifiable. And that is such a very Canadian thing.

The Canadian voice is multicultural and in flux.
The Canadian voice speaks about the grey.

The Canadian voice speaks.

Is the scratchy throat gone, or do you want to let us hear what you think defines the Canadian voice? We love to hear your comments.

Or perhaps you want your Canadian voice to be heard? If so scuttle to this page here for Five Rivers Publishing submission guidelines for a turn on the mic. Submissions are welcome every February 1st to the 14th.

Were very excited to hear from you.