The Mighty Q
Each month we at Pages Books & Magazines can't wait to get our hot little hands on the new issue of Quill & Quire—the Canadian book industry's organ of choice. How else to better understand the minds behind the products we sell? To better understand the minds behind "The Mighty Q" we talked to the mag's editor, Derek Weiler.
PAGES BOOKS: What’s your role at Quill & Quire and how long have you held that position?
DEREK WEILER: I’ve been the editor of the magazine since the spring of 2004. I started here back in 1999 as staff writer, and have also worked in the review editor and news editor spots.
Q&Q July 2008
PB: Give us a brief history of Quill & Quire.
DW: A company called Current Publications launched Q&Q in 1935. At that time the focus was on stationery retailing as much as on books: one of the early stories was “Selling the best pencil for the need,” which is a frequent source of mirth in the office these days.
Over the following decades, book publishing very gradually began to take up more of Q&Q’s attention. In 1971 Michael de Pencier bought the magazine, and it began to take the basic shape it has today, joining Canadian book-industry news with reviews of new and upcoming titles.
For most of its existence Q&Q has been monthly, though it was published more frequently for a brief period in the late 1960s and early ’70s. Two years ago we reduced the frequency slightly, to 10 issues per year.
For the past several years we’ve also been maintaining a busy online presence, with about half a dozen industry news items per week, as well as listings of award wins, rights deals, and staffing changes. Not to mention a blog that’s updated daily.
PB: What are the driving ideas behind Quill & Quire, in terms of both content and design?
DW: We try to keep several editorial goals in mind at any given time, but two of the biggest are (1) giving people in the book business the information they need to do their jobs better, and (2) providing honest and insightful assessments of the merits and flaws of new Canadian books via our reviews.
We don’t see ourselves as cheerleaders: we don’t think reviews should only be positive, and we don’t think our news coverage should pretend that the future is rosier than it seems to be. We don’t shy away from hard questions or unpopular subjects, but at the same time, we do strive to be fair and judicious, and we don’t believe in snark or gossip for their own sake. (Many readers tell us that there should be more gossip in Q&Q—and the unspoken caveat is invariably “as long as it’s not about my company”.)
Another ever-present priority is to make the magazine a fun read as well as an informative one. We take the writing very seriously and we edit very carefully, making each story as readable and informed as possible.
As for design, I’ll let our art director, Gary Campbell, answer this one: “When we redesigned the magazine in January 2006, changing the size, paper, and format, it was a chance to really rethink the magazine. Our audience is made up of voracious readers, so it's important that every word, title, and page element be clear and legible. This uncluttered aesthetic extends to the whole publication. We're also very committed to fostering Canadian talent; our fonts were designed by a Canadian typographer.”
Q&Q June 2008
Q&Q May 2008
PB: Who are your key staff & collaborators?
DW: Our current editorial lineup includes news editor Tabassum Siddiqui, staff writer Scott MacDonald, review editor Nathan Whitlock, and children’s book review editor and resident kidlit expert Susan Lawrence. Nathan is an author himself—his first novel, A Week of This, was published this spring by ECW Press—as are several of our regular reviewers.
PB: Tell us about your contributors?
DW: Well, we’re always on the lookout for new contributors. Many of our reviewers are authors themselves—including Robert J. Wiersema, Sarah Steinberg, Christine Walde, John Wilson, Sarah Ellis, and Zach Wells—though that’s by no means a requirement. In general, we look for an expertise in books and literature, a way with words, an open mind, and—on the news side—strong journalistic instincts. The quality of the writing is a greater selling point than anything on the resume. Some of our current regular contributors include Dan Rowe (a former news editor and current doctoral student), Steven W. Beattie (who maintains his own litblog), Stuart Woods (a former Q&Q intern), and—ahem—Shaun Smith*.
PB: Who is (or should be!) reading Quill & Quire?
DW: Anyone who works in the Canadian book business, obviously—whether at a publisher, bookstore, agency, distributor, or association. Librarians. Authors. And our reviews, author profiles, and more literary-oriented features are also worthwhile reading for non-industry “civilians” who are interested in Canadian writing.
PB: What makes Quill & Quire unique?
DW: I think our all-Canadian mandate and the sheer breadth of our coverage is one of the most unique and valuable things about us. We review about 40 new titles per issue, all of them by Canadian authors, and we make sure to cover a very wide range of regions, publishers, etc. Especially in this age of dwindling mainstream media coverage of books, the Q&Q review may be the only public attention many books get.
Q&Q April 2008
Q&Q March 2008
PB: What has been your proudest moment during your tenure at Quill & Quire?
DW: I’m reluctant to use the p-word—pride goeth before a fall, or so I hear—but I do fondly recall the 70th anniversary issue we put together in 2005, which gave a sense of the business’s history and its future. (One piece posited an alternate reality in which Chapters never existed.) More recently, I’m pleased at the range of Canadian writing we’ve covered in the past couple years. We’ve done features on up-and-coming authors in the sci-fi, mystery, and graphica categories, hopefully bringing some of them to the attention of new readers. And I do take pride in our ability to jump on a news story and quickly provide readers with details other publications will miss, as well as informed context.
PB: What was the most frustrating moment?
DW: Not a single moment exactly, but getting meaningful, substantive information out of the Indigo/Chapters chain—whose decisions, like it or not, have a huge impact on the entire book business in this country—is a regular and ongoing source of frustration.
PB: What would you like to achieve with Quill & Quire that you’ve yet to do?
DW: Mainly, more of everything. More inside coverage, more breaking news, more analysis. For me a piece of the puzzle that’s still missing, though, is the regular sparking of larger debates. We’d like to help shape the industry’s conversation, and we’d like to see more back-and-forth dialogue coming out of our stories. We’re hoping to upgrade our website soon to allow more comments (currently you can comment on blog posts, but not on news stories); maybe that will help.
PB: What exactly is a quire?
DW: Hah! A quire is a collection of sheets of paper. It usually refers to 25
sheets, and sometimes to folded sheets. When I write my roman a clef, the magazine in the book will be "Feather & Folio". I call dibs now.
DEREK WEILER is not only the editor of Quill & Quire, he has also written for The Toronto Star, Saturday Night, Chatelaine, The Globe & Mail, and other publications. He worked as an editor at Key Porter Books. He lives in the East End of Toronto.
PAGES BOOKS & MAGAZINES ALWAYS CARRIES THE MOST RECENT ISSUE OF Quill & Quire. FOR BACK ISSUES, PLEASE CONTACT THE MAGAZINE THROUGH THEIR WEBSITE: quillandquire.com.
(Photos courtesy of Quill & Quire.)
*Pages note: Shaun Smith is also editor of pagesbooks.ca.