In House: BookThug

February 11, 2014

As a national organization, the LPG has members in various towns, cities, and crossroads right across the country. With that being the case, we definitely have not had the opportunity to see "where the magic happens" with most of our publishers. But we are infinitely curious (ie. nosy) and love to check out the offices of our publishers every chance we get. Our first In House featured publisher is BookThug. Located in Toronto, they have been publishing innovative poetry and prose for ten years now.

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As a national organization, the LPG has members in various towns, cities, and crossroads right across the country. With that being the case, we definitely have not had the opportunity to see "where the magic happens" with most of our publishers. But we are infinitely curious (ie. nosy) and love to check out the offices of our publishers every chance we get. Since we figured many CanLit readers would be just as curious as we are to get a few behind-the-scenes glimpses of the publishing process, we thought we'd take you along for the ride!

Our first In House featured publisher is BookThug. Located in Toronto, they have been publishing innovative poetry and prose for ten years now. Publisher Jay MillAr gives us a little tour of BookThug Headquarters below.

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Hi. This is Jay MillAr of BookThug. Here I am on the eve of BookThug's 10th Anniversay Party, and I'd like to take a few minutes away from our preparations to introduce you to the BookThug family and to BookThug Headquarters.

The BookThug family is pretty much my family: Hazel Millar and I are at the centre of things, me as Publisher, Hazel as Managing Editor/Publicist, and we have two boys who are Thugs-in-training who do cool things like wear BookThug t-shirts on stage while rocking out as The Hunch, or making animated BookThug videos to help promote our books. Our extended immediate family includes people like Malcolm Sutton (Fiction Editor), Phil Hall (Poetry Editor), Mark Goldstein (Design Consultant), John Schmidt (Web Media Consultant), Ruth Zuchter (Copy Editor), Jenny Sampirisi (former Managing Editor and current BookThug at Large), a string of eager interns, and our advisory board made up of Iain Newbigin, Lynn McClory and Ray Ellenwood. And of course there are also all the amazing authors and editors that we have worked with over the years.

Two years ago Hazel and I bought a house. We imagined this historic event as front page news: POET & DANCER BUY HOUSE IN TORONTO. So today BookThug Headquarters currently resides, in the words of our youngest Thug Cole, at "the edge of Toronto" (which is his explanation as to why no one trick-or-treats here at Halloween).

The history of the building is short and sweet: it was built by an Italian couple in the late 60s, and they raised their family here until everyone had moved out and it was time to downsize. Hazel and I (and BookThug) are the second owners and occupants of this sturdy home (the previous owners were in the concrete business so it's built like a tank) that sits across the street from Runnymede Park park near "Toronto's oldest ice" in George Bell Arena where the Maple Leafs used to practice back in the day.

BookThug's origins (which go back as early as 1992) have much to do with student life and making small, obscure publications sometimes constructed from materials that others threw away. We always made our books "at home," wherever that happened to be at the time, running texts through through various computer terminals and running sheets of paper on various printers.

By the time we ramped up the publishing program in more "official" ways ten years ago we had settled comfortably into the west end where we have lived for over 15 years. BookThug has always been about family, about our family -- about Hazel and I building the life we wanted to live and sharing it with others. This is the biggest reason that we continue to operate out of our home.

Our house is a space of family and friends and writing and laughter and frustration and all kinds of things that a family experiences, and it's a big part of how BookThug and its extended family of writers and editors and professionals and the books we make work too. We have author and editor and board meetings at the big square rosewood table in our dining room; we host readings and holiday parties throughout the sprawling first floor once we move all the furniture to make room; our back yard is perfect for summer gatherings.

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Most of our publishing activities take place downstairs in what we affectionately refer to as The Lair, which I think is a vague surperhero reference we picked up from the kids. BookThug shares offices with Apollinaire's Bookshoppe, the shelves of which line one wall, and with our kids Reid and Cole who hang out down here with their friends playing music and video games and watching How I Met Your Mother for hours on Netflix. All this activity goes on while Hazel and I are "working:" reading manuscripts, typesetting books, making phone calls and answering emails. It is an eclectic space. The two couches, both of which fold down into beds, have hosted many a sleepover party of teenagers and have also offered overnight comfort to poets and writers who are passing through town for readings or to give workshops at Toronto New School of Writing.

I will end this piece by telling you the story of when our older son Reid participated in his grade nine "take your kids to work day." We received an information package from the school that outlined the purpose of the program and suggested some activities that parents could do with their kids while they are visiting the office, like gathering in the board room at the beginning of the day to play some "get to know you" games with the other kids, or after showing them what you do in the office spending some time in the afternoon "hanging around the water cooler."

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Well, Reid stayed home on take your kid to work day. We made a hearty breakfast to get things going, and as we were eating we asked Reid: "any questions?" He asked: "Um, so do you guys just sit on your computers all day sending emails?" We laughed and admitted it must look like that sometimes. Then we all went downstairs to The Lair. Reid helped out by assisting with a few tasks, we showed him the software that we use to design books and some of the fonts we like, and then he helped pack up subscription orders and review copies.

He essentially spent the morning learning how to use a tape gun (if there is one skill you need to know in publishing it's how to use a tape gun -- we haven't had an intern yet who knew how to use one). While he did that Hazel and I stared into the depths of our computer screens working on a variety of things and answering whatever questions Reid asked us.

Then we took him out for lunch. "So, what do you think?" we asked. "I think it's pretty cool that you made all those weird books I packed up," he said. "I still think you mostly send emails all day long." And a few minutes later he thanked us for teaching him how to use the tape gun.

A few days later I noticed Reid had taken a small stack of BookThug titles up to his room. I even caught him reading them.

Well, that's all the time I have for now. I have to get back to today's task of helping Hazel make 100 cupcakes for our 10th Anniversary Party!

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Thank you to Jay and Hazel for giving us this look inside BookThug Headquarters.

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Edited from the original post, published on the LPG blog


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