About local Hamilton publishing house Wolsak and Wynn
A behind-the-scenes look into the publisher giving a voice to Canadian writers
Wolsak and Wynn is a publishing house located in downtown Hamilton on James Street North. They have been in business for over forty years, and they are dedicated to publishing Canadian voices.
The publishing house was opened in 1982 by Heather Cadsby and Marja Jacobs, two poets who believed that Canadian poetry was being neglected in the publishing world and decided to take matters into their own hands. Wolsak and Wynn has since expanded to include literary fiction.
Currently, there are three imprints being handled by the publisher. Imprints refer to smaller publishers under the charge of a large one and usually focus on niche genres and areas of writing. These include Buckrider Books, James Street North Books and Poplar Press.
Noelle Allen is the current owner and publisher of Wolsak and Wynn. Sixteen years ago, she purchased the press from Jacobs after Cadsby retired.
Wolsak and Wynn is a unique publisher due to their size and impact.
“To my knowledge, there is no other publisher like us in Hamilton. There are some other smaller publishing companies coming up, but we've been around for a long time… [Now] we are Hamilton’s biggest literary publisher,” said Allen.
With their multiple imprints, Wolsak and Wynn can focus on various subjects such as books about Hamilton, cutting-edge fiction and literary nonfiction. It allows for better variety for readers and maintaining Canandian voices in their products.
According to Allen, Wolsak and Wynn’s writers have been received very positively, and many have won awards for their works. For example, one of their books was longlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize as well as others being awarded multiple Governor General’s Literary Awards. Wolsak and Wynn also published Yardwork, a work of literary nonfiction by McMaster University professor Daniel Coleman, which was shortlisted for the RBC Taylor Prize in 2018.
Allen advised students interested in submitting a manuscript to first have a few writing publications under their belt. She also explained that it's best to research publishing houses to see what they have published and to determine if you have similar tastes. Regardless, Wolsak and Wynn is open to any submissions, and they do not require writers to have a literary agent. They are open from January to March for unsolicited submissions.
For students interested in breaking into the publishing industry, Allen recommended volunteering at literary events, such as the Lit Live Reading Series, to get a sense of authors and their works. Allen also recommended learning editing and copyediting skills.
“I always recommend, if anybody's going to really pursue publishing, to take a copyediting course . . . Taking a copy editing course teaches you to look at words in a different way and gives you a lot of the language for how we look at things in publishing,” said Allen.
Wolsak and Wynn does have internships for students interested in pursuing a career in publishing, though they normally take people from publishing programs, and they only take one person at a time. To see if there is an opening or if there will be one soon, Allen recommended contacting her directly.
Allen also emphasized that students should try to read as many Canadian authors as possible. There are many wonderful works by Canadians out there, with different writing styles than you would find in the US or around the world.
For students who have a passion for books or writing, Wolsak and Wynn could be a great place to find your next favourite read.