#TBT – The Happy Yellow House

#TBT to this guest post by author Gail Bowen. We love showing our authors and illustrators around our snug little office!

All of us who gathered at Salt Spring Island the week of June 6th for the Mystery Retreat were book people: writers—published and emerging–an editor and an agent. We talked about books constantly—how to write and edit them; how to market them; the ‘elevator pitch’ or how to pitch your book to an agent in less than 60 seconds. Everything we talked about was pointed towards a single goal:  shepherding the promising manuscript on your desk through the journey that would deliver it, handsomely printed, glossily covered, utterly irresistible, to the “New and Noteworthy” front table of bookstores all over North America.

The six of us who worked in books collectively had at least 120 years of experience in the business. We all loved books. We all believed in writers. Certainly the group of emerging writers who gathered on Saltspring were as good, as hardworking and as determined as any professional writer I’ve ever met. It was a great experience. We learned from one another; we laughed a lot; we formed relationships that we all hope will continue. Much that was valuable came out of our week together; yet the overwhelming message we all came away with was that the book business was in serious trouble and that, contrary to what I had always believed, these days even a fine manuscript may not find a publisher. It was grim news, underscored by the fact that after she returned to her office after our week together, Dinah Forbes, who edits Peter Robinson, Bill Deverell, Maureen Jennings and me (among many others) had been laid off after twenty years at McClelland & Stewart.

It was difficult to find a silver lining in all these clouds and yet when I visited Orca Books in Victoria I found one. From the outside, Orca doesn’t look very corporate. It’s an old house, painted bright yellow. The area out back, now a warehouse for Orca’s books, was once the building where cows were milked. Across the street from the company is an old painted bus that looks as if it might have played a role in Tom Wolfe’s novel the Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. Behind it is a well-run organic farm. All of this is a stone’s throw from downtown Victoria.

Inside Orca, there are people everywhere. It made me think of the story of the Old Woman who lived in the shoe who had so many children she didn’t know what to do. But even if their office is a cubby-hole in the stairwell or a desk cheek by jowl with that of another employee, everyone at Orca knows exactly what they’re doing—more importantly, to my eyes at least, they appeared to be happy with their work.

Orca publishes books for children and young adults. I was there because my new Charlie D series for adults with literacy challenges is one of Orca’s new ventures. Bob Tyrrell and Andrew Wooldridge, who own and run the company are low key, affable, respectful of their writers and of those with whom they work. They are also very, very smart. They move slowly and surely, and they’re successful.

The Happy Yellow House is a good place to be. I wonder if it might provide a useful model for those who care about the future of books.

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