Browse Case Studies (alphabetical by title)


Nellie Letitia McClung (1873-1951) is remembered as a social activist, a leading figure in the first wave of Canadian feminism and the first woman to be elected to the legislative assembly of Manitoba. By profession, however, McClung was an author. There are many parallels between her remarkably successful literary career and that of Lucy Maud Montgomery, so why are her books rarely read today?


From the beginning of his career Robertson Davies (1913-95) was considered a talented and respected author who had written many successful books, including the Salterton trilogy and several works under the pen name of Samuel Marchbanks. It was not until the publication of Fifth Business in 1970 that he achieved true international success. As Judith Skeleton Grant observes in her biography, Robertson Davies: Man of Myth, the novel Fifth Business was “the book that made his reputation,” and had an immense impact on Davies’s writing, his career, and the development of Canadian literature.


Nora Keeling (1933-2008) was a short story writer from London, Ontario. She was affiliated with Oberon Press, which published her three short story collections: The Driver (1982), Chasing Her Own Tail (1985), and A Fine and Quiet Place (1987). As well, she was represented by Jack McClelland for two years (1988-90) during his brief stint as a literary agent and consultant.


Long before radio and television brought entertainment into Canadian homes, E. Pauline Johnson (Tekahionwake) toured the country giving dramatic literary readings before packed halls in cities and in villages. A powerful performer, who both delighted and challenged her audiences, Johnson was very much in demand. She issued two modest volumes of poetry and regularly published in a range of periodicals, but these ephemeral publications paid very little. While Johnson was unable to attract serious interest from a book publisher at home or abroad, regular performance tours allowed her to earn a living. It was during the final year of her life that her friends undertook a unique enterprise which turned Johnson into a best-selling author and ensured her place in Canadian literary history.


How do Canadian publishers entice readers and other potential customers to buy their books? Canadian publishing has always been a risky business. In a country with a large territory and a small population, a vigilant publisher must be cognizant of the economics of the business even when the forces of the marketplace may be beyond an individual publisher’s control. Publishing is much more than putting a text into print (typesetting, printing, design, and binding). It involves distribution and sales of a cultural commodity for profit or at least making it possible for a publisher to recoup the costs of editing, production, and author’s royalties. This case study focuses on Canadian publishers’ catalogues, their form and function, and discusses other publicity stunts and campaigns used in the promotion and marketing of books.


From its beginnings in 1906, McClelland & Stewart (M&S) has been one of Canada’s leading publishers of children’s books. Initially focused on distributing successful foreign titles written by authors such as Rudyard Kipling and Edgar Rice Burroughs, M&S soon promoted homegrown literature that included such classics as works from L.M. Montgomery’s Anne series and Marshall Saunders’s Beautiful Joe. The firm continued this tradition with publications such as The Secret Circle series, numerous hockey books, the Aboriginal stories of Christie Harris, and children’s titles by Farley Mowat, Pierre Berton, and Mordecai Richler. With the acquisition of Tundra Books in the mid 1990s, M&S re-asserted its commitment to publishing quality children’s books in Canada.


While many Canadian periodicals are short-lived, Queen’s Quarterly has endured to become the oldest academic quarterly in Canada. It has built its success on the writings of its Canadian contributors. This study explores the Quarterly’s relationship with authors and the journal’s influence on Canada’s cultural development.


In 1971, a Canadian history book debuted at the top of the Toronto Star’s bestseller list, displacing another that had been listed for much of the previous year. Both were written by the same author and issued by the same publisher, and each remained in the top ten for at least another year. The bestseller list, however, did not fully reflect the books’ success because it only counted hardcover sales in Canada, and excluded paperback, book club, and foreign editions. This case study examines facts related to royalties for the two books based on available evidence in the archives of the author and his publisher at the McMaster University Library.


During his lifetime, Reverend Edward Ahenakew received little or no payment for his writing, and struggled financially. Through family ties, Ruth Buck became the steward of Ahenakew’s manuscripts after his death. Her association with the Ahenakew papers, eventually editing and publishing his Voices of the Plains Cree (McClelland & Stewart, 1973), brought Ahenakew’s writing to the reading public and brought Buck herself considerable literary success.


Founded in 1887 by eccentric editor Edmund E. Sheppard, Saturday Night magazine witnessed and documented many decades of Canadian life until its cessation in 2005. This case study explores the magazine’s early years and reveals the importance of the Saturday Night archives for a later period as both a cultural history source and a literary repository.