25th Trillium Award

Meet the Publisher: "Playfully Old-Fashioned" Walden House Looks to the Future

 
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Walden House

By Erin Knight

There's a ray of light in Canadian publishing, and it comes to us not from Toronto, the traditional hotbed of the industry, but from the snowbelt town of Bracebridge. These days, authors and publishers are accustomed to bad news — mergers, bankruptcies, funding cuts — so you might be both heartened and surprised to hear that a new literary agency and publisher is on the scene. Walden House (Books & Stuff) was co-founded by Muskoka resident Brenda Paterson in April 2011 — and Brenda has all the spark and optimism required for launching herself and her authors into the uncertain waters of publishing today.

Walden House, which bills itself as being "playfully old-fashioned" and "author-centric," is a marketing and publishing company that was born, as they say, of love. "In conversation with an author of an amazing story, we started to examine how one gets published in these times," recalls Brenda. "Do you go ebook, self-published? How do you get on the radar of large publishing houses when it was becoming so difficult to get any attention from existing literary agencies? There had to be a better way." The goal of Walden House is "to bring excellent writing and inspiring messages to the widest audience possible." They began by focussing on young adult manuscripts, and have since expanded to self-help books and adult fiction.

It didn't take long for word about Walden House to spread. Though they've been on the scene for less than two years, Walden House receives manuscripts from across North America and internationally. (And they really do read everything.) One of their pre-published children's titles sold over 1,000 copies in Muskoka alone, which will go a long way in convincing wary publishers that a new author is worth the risk. Contracts are in the works with several other writers. Never one to shy away from a challenge, Brenda is currently working on a pitch for a Harry-Potter style movie deal.

When asked about the dwindling fortunes of the book industry, Brenda replies, "Bad news sells, and stories about the state of Canada?s publishing industry are greatly exaggerated."

She's even willing to take on the mighty ebook. "I don?t think that ebooks are as popular as the media projects and, as many report, the reason for the demise of some outfits. If you look back historically, times of reinvention happen on a cyclical basis in all industries. Did the invention of TV kill radio? Publishing houses will regroup, reorganize and come out stronger than ever. Walden House is on the cutting edge of this process and is working with big houses by providing manuscripts that are well written, well edited and marketable."

It isn't just optimism that sets Walden House apart from others on the publishing scene. As a small organization, they are able to involve their authors in every stage of the publication process, in what they call an author-centric practice. "We?ll check with the authors and work with them closely in all aspects, from building a profile to editing to illustrations to formatting — and we really listen and respect their opinions," Brenda explains. "Walden House also encourages the authors to participate in promoting not just their own work, but [the work] of the others within the company. As a member of the team, we?re all on the same exciting adventure and the success of one will impact the success of the others."

Brenda finds that basing her agency in Muskoka gives her all the benefits of being immersed in an inspiring landscape ("Your soul is refreshed on a daily basis!"), with none of the drawbacks of being located in a remote community. In these days of electronic communication, being two-hours north of the rat-race doesn't keep Walden House isolated as it once might have. "It was only a fluke that the first three authors we signed happen to be from this area. A group of volunteers have been selected to vet proposed manuscripts as our Editorial Selection Committee who, together with our gut feelings, say yes or no to handling a script. These folks are varied in ages and experience and are far-flung geographically. It might also be noted that a woman in Australia edited our first books. Location is not an issue in this day and age."

"There are groups of like-minded people everywhere," says Brenda, although the literary community in Muskoka seems to be especially strong. "The Muskoka Chautauqua group, for example, promotes literacy and other cultural activities but is part of a larger organization boosting 800,000 members across North America. NorthWords Muskoka Literary Festival in Huntsville draws big names and sells out every year."

Brenda could go on describing local points of interest that are inspiring to book-lovers and authors alike — such as the Dorset Lookout Tower, Algonquin Park or the RMS Segwun, the 125-year-old steamship that features in Walden House author Bryan Dearsley's YA novel, Alex Mortimer & the Beast of Wildeor. But when it comes right down to it, "it is really about the peace, the serenity, the fresh air, the clear waters?and the endless trees and rocks!"

No wonder Brenda Paterson and Walden House are a breath of fresh air in the often smog-filled atmosphere of Canadian publishing. And they're only just getting started. What's next for Walden House? We'll be watching closely. "The future looks extremely bright," remarks Brenda. "Forever learning and exploring new ways to get the maximum impact for our authors is fun and exciting while we keep our promise of being playfully old-fashioned."



Walden House (Books & Stuff) is an exciting, first-rate author-centric marketing/publishing company representing and promoting the interests of writers and their work through innovative marketing strategies, publishing and author support and representation. Find out more at waldenhousebooks.com.

Publisher and agent Brenda Paterson has worked in marketing and advertising for close to 30 years, beginning her career at Maclean-Hunter and Southam Business Press divisions. In addition to serving on the Board of Directors of the Advertising and Sales Club of Toronto, she was often quoted by Marketing and Stimulus magazines. After troubleshooting for many publications in the fields of engineering, architecture and electronics, Brenda started her own company, Kayser Communications Group, to determine target audiences and to review media plans for numerous Fortune 500 clients. Her new marketing and communications business, GrovePark Marketing Group, has worked with individual authors and major international profit and not-for-profit groups improving their brand awareness through media/public relations.

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