Sunday, April 04, 2010

Poetry Month Interview: Brick Books

Brick Books is a small publisher located in London, Ontario (Canada) which is celebrating its 35th Anniversary this year. I had a chat with general manager Kitty McKay Lewis, who has been with the press for over 20 years, to find out what it's like running a poetry-only publishing company.

1. Can you tell us a little about how Brick Books got started?

Stan Dragland and Don McKay, co-founders and editors at Brick Books, were teaching at the University of Western Ontario in London back in the 1970's and kept on seeing good poetry from writers in the area. They decided to start a press to publish this work. They started with chapbooks but we now publish full-length books - in the case of poetry, this is any book longer than 49 pages.

2. How did you get involved with Brick Books?

Don McKay is my big brother and asked if I would like to help out. I started by filling the orders and taking care of overdue accounts, then gradually added more duties to my role as general manager.

3. It is the 35th Anniversary of Brick Books this year. What have been some of the best selling books in your history?

Our current bestseller is Night Work: The Sawchuk Poems by Randall Maggs - a book about the great hockey goalie Terry Sawchuk. This book has sold around 3,500 copies - which is quite a feat for a book that was published 2 years ago. Randall has been travelling across the country and into the United States reading from this book - around 60 readings so far. And the book has won the Winterset Award, the E.J. Pratt Poetry Prize and the Kobzar Literary Award and was a Globe 100 book.

A Really Good Brown Girl by Marilyn Dumont was first published in 1996 and we are in our 12th printing of this book. It is adopted for college and university courses in Canada and the United States.

Songs for Relinquishing the Earth (1998) by Jan Zwicky and All Our Wonders Unavenged (2007) by Don Domanski won the Governor General's Award for Poetry and have been reprinted a number of times.

Elimination Dance by Michael Ondaatje has been in print since it was first published as a small chapbook in 1975. The current version is our 'Bilingual Travellers' Edition' which is in English and French and includes many illustrations.

4. How many books does Brick Books publish per year, and how are they selected? Do you have any advice for aspiring poets?

Brick Books publishes 7 books a year. We read submitted manuscripts from January 1 to April 30 every year. The 7 manuscripts are chosen for the excellence of their writing.

Advice for aspiring poets - read, read, read, write, write, write, and read some more. It is important to read other poets' work and be aware of what has already been published. You want to develop your own voice. Most of our authors have had many of the individual poems from their manuscripts published in literary journals or magazines such as the Malahat Review, The Fiddlehead, The Antigonish Review. Having a publishing history shows that the writer is serious, is developing their career, and has some experience with the editorial process. Most of these authors have been working on their manuscripts - writing, editing, revising - for 4 or 5 years before they send them to us for consideration.

5. What is the process of publication with your house? How long is it between acceptance of a manuscript and seeing a finished book?

We read submitted manuscripts from January 1 to April 30 every year. Anyone submitting will hear from us within 2 months - either the manuscript will be returned or it will be considered further. The final decision is made by our selection panel in early fall. The book will be published 2 years later. For example, we are assessing manuscripts for publication in 2012.

6. What kind of things have you done to promote and publicize poetry over the years? Have you noticed a change in the way you do things since social media became so omnipresent?

Brick Books authors are encouraged to travel to do readings to promote their books. We received promotion tour funding from the Canada Council for the Arts to assist with this. We place ads in a number of literary magazines. We also have been quite busy with Facebook and Twitter since these came on the scene. We have a group page and a fan page on Facebook and a presence on Twitter for Brick Books.

We also receive a marketing grant through the Ontario Media Development Corporation and we have used a portion of this grant to send authors to Yellowknife and Whitehorse the past 2 years.

I have been travelling the past 2 weeks with Randall Maggs, author of Night Work: The Sawchuk Poems to Edmonton, Yellowknife, Whitehorse and Vancouver. One of the fun readings on this tour was in the Ice Castle at The SnowKing Winter Festival in Yellowknife preceded by an interpretive dance based on a hockey play with a pond hockey tournament going on outside the castle.

7. I see that to celebrate your 35th Anniversary, you are having a big sale throughout Poetry Month. Can you tell us a little bit about it so we can take advantage of it while it lasts?

We are having a special anniversary sale - $10 books in 2010 – you can buy a maximum of 5 books at $10 each – that’s a savings of up to 50%… From now until April 30th – the end of National Poetry Month.

For example, Night Work: The Sawchuk Poems by Randall Maggs – regular price $20 – now available for $10. Or Short Talks by Anne Carson – regular price $14 – now available for $10. All our books are listed at

Shipping is $3.00 per book. And add 5% GST to the total amount of books.

ORDERS TO THE UNITED STATES – Shipping is $4.00 per book. No GST.

Payment must be received before the books can be mailed.

1. Send a cheque to Brick Books, Box 20081, 431 Boler Road, London, ON N6K 4G6. Please include your name and mailing address. We will take care of the rest……

2. If you would like to pay through PayPal or with a credit card, send a message to Kitty Lewis at and she can guide you through this process on our website.


  1. Almost forgot, don't forget to post your link in Mr. Linky and email it to winabook for Susan to post! Thanks again!

  2. Excellent interview with a well established poetry publisher. I'm happy to see that they publish 7 books of poetry per year. That seems like a lot to me.

    Thanks for being part of the tour. I had no idea that Michael Ondaatje was a poet! I may just have to check that poetry book out.

  3. It was interesting reading this interview and learning behind-the-scenes of how a poetry publishing company works.

    I'm not into sports, but think it's great that there is a sports-based collection of poetry available!

  4. Serena - thanks for setting up this blog tour. It has been wonderfully illuminating so far, and I'm looking forward to everyone's posts all month.

    7 books is quite a lot, and yes, Ondaatje's poetry is great! I actually prefer his poetry over his fiction ;)

  5. Valerie - I'm glad you found it interesting! I'm not really into hockey (blasphemous for a Canadian!) but I enjoyed the poetry collection & hearing Randall Maggs read.

  6. Wonderful post! I love interviews and think this was a great way to highlight a worthwhile publisher.

  7. Serena sent me the link to post at Win a Book and I've got to say what a cool idea it was to interview a publisher.

    It makes me wonder how many of the poets I went to grad school with are doing...

  8. As you know, I had the pleasure of meeting both Randall and Kitty when they came to Yellowknife last month. Truly wonderful, down to Earth people.

  9. I agree with Valerie, this was definitely interesting. Great job!

  10. Lisa - I don't do a lot of interviews but enjoyed doing this one; I admire Brick Books for sticking around so long

    Susan - glad you enjoyed it, and thanks for posting a link!

    John - I was wondering whether you'd had the chance to hang out with them a bit; I agree, wonderful people!

    Estrella - thanks for visiting, and I am glad you enjoyed the interview :)


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