At the end of November, Susan Toy is shutting down Alberta Books Canada, her promotional service for Alberta authors, and heading back to the tropical island of Bequia in the Caribbean to focus on her own writing. It’s hard for any author to view this as a gruesome fate, but for the Alberta writers whose books Susan has been passionately promoting for the past three years, this is a sad turn.
Susan was the Alberta sales rep for Oolichan Books (and a list of other publishers) when I met her in the fall of 2009. She turned up at a reading I did at Pages and told me that a mutual friend, one of my UBC colleagues, Vicki Bell, had suggested she meet me. A few days later, Susan called to invite me to coffee to suggest an “idea” she had. And that was the first of the glorious parade of creative ideas to which Susan marches. She asked how I would feel about paying someone to do the promotional work of getting my books known to Alberta libraries, seeking out readings and presentations for me, beating the drum for my new novel, Delivery, that Oolichan was publishing that fall, but also keeping my “backlist” alive. She wanted to go beyond the limited work she could do as a sales rep and beyond the publicity most publishers are stretched to provide and was contemplating leaving her job and venturing out on her own as an author “impresario”. I told her I would gladly pay someone to do the promotion that I found so uncomfortable, and give my own energy to what I loved most, the writing. And so began a working relationship that has become a friendship I value even more. In the three years she has been promoting my work, Susan has taken my name and my books to every library in Alberta and solicited invitations to great gigs all over the province.
Those of us who contracted with Susan to promote our work and our own passion for the written word have had her tireless commitment to finding venues and new audience and for coming up with idea after idea for new ways to address the changes in the industry. Authors who have not been on her roster have benefited too, from the awareness she has brought to librarians and readers about the wealth of writing in this province.
I feel quite sure that Susan is not done with this business, and that she will be lazing in a deck chair with a cat on her lap, an espresso in her hand and catching new ideas that float in on the sea breeze. I’m counting on it. Meanwhile, I’m wishing her the very best with her own writing—surely she deserves to put her energy to her own passion for story—and hoping the next mystery flies onto the page. There are readers waiting for another glimpse into paradise.