In Praise of the Small Book

Band Councillor Jeremy Paul and Elder John R. Prosper at the Feast of St. Anne, Paqtnkek Mi’kmaw Nation, July 26, 2022, where Mi’kmaw Fiddler Joe Marble Plays to St. Anne was first released.

Our healing arts publishing house—HARP Publishing the People’s Press (www.harppublishing.ca)—has just hit the four-year mark.  As we reflect on what we’ve learned and where we’re headed, we cannot help but notice that two of our top-selling publications are both short in length and small in dimension.  And both feature Indigenous writing and images. This is surely not a coincidence. 

In 2019 we published Singing to the Darkness by Dr. Patricia June Vickers, who was born into the Eagle Clan with Indigenous—Haida, Heiltsuk and Ts’msyen—and British ancestry. Her book is 72 pages long and measures 7.5 inches wide by 5.75 inches high.  In 2022, we published Mi’kmaw Fiddler Joe Marble Plays to St. Anne: A Etuaptmumk Two-Eyed-Seeing Pilgrimage by Elder John R. Prosper and Settler Dorothy A. Lander. It is 74 pages long and measures 7.5 inches wide by 6 inches high.

We think small books have strong appeal in our fast-paced, wired world, where readers base their reading choices, even books their friends insist they must read, on how much time it’s going to take them to get through. One reader picked up Mi’kmaw Fiddler, which was on prominent display in The People’s Place Library in Antigonish, Nova Scotia during Mi’kmaw History Month last October, sat down in a comfy chair and read it straight through.  His email message to Dorothy stated: “What a fantastic (and quick) read!”

The LinkedIn platform clearly acknowledges that readers make choices on the basis of time by posting the time required to read a post.  And we have the evidence from our own LinkedIn postings: the shorter the read, the greater number of both impressions and reactions we receive.

Our two HARP books with an Indigenous focus juxtapose text and images throughout. How does this transform the reading experience? We believe the reader is less likely to “skim” the text when it has artwork to embellish it. They are more likely to take the time to parse the connections between text and image.

Do readers search Patricia Vickers’ painting (p. 18) to expand the meaning in her poem “Pecked Loose” (p. 19), seeking for “morsels of kind affection”?

Do readers search the Shubenacadie Residential School 1940s photo (p. 53) of Elder John R. Prosper’s older sister and brother, seeking deeper meaning of the impact of Centralization that John R. describes in the text?

And might the small book attract younger readers, who access information primarily through the smartphones they carry everywhere in the pocket of their jeans or jacket? Here is Jeremy Paul, the youngest member serving on the Band Council of Paktnkek Mi’kmaw Nation, a community of 600 band members situated in Antigonish County, Nova Scotia.  No sooner did Jeremy buy a copy of Mi’kmaw Fiddler, at the launch of the book at the Feast of St. Anne on July 26, 2022, than he popped it straight into his back pocket.

HARP’s two small books and only books in landscape format are available through the HARP website:

https://www.harppublishing.ca/books/singing-to-the-darkness/

https://www.harppublishing.ca/books/mikmaw-fiddler-joe-marble-plays-to-st-anne/

And herein lies a cautionary tale for publishing with Print on Demand (POD); Amazon/KDP and Ingram Spark are the POD industry leaders. The most common book size in the publishing industry measures 6 inches wide by 9 inches high and most of HARP titles are this size. HARP uses Ingram Spark/Lightning Spark to print and distribute our POD 6 x 9 books for two reasons: Ingram has a much wider global distribution than Amazon/KDP while also distributing to Amazon; Ingram Spark is more costly than Amazon/KDP to set up but comparing the finished product, it also has higher production values.

Our authors and graphic designers chose landscape rather than portrait for both Singing to the Darkness and Mi’kmaw Fiddler in order to position images and text effectively. But… another steep learning curve: Ingram Spark offers only one landscape trim size, 11″ wide x 8.5″ high. This leaves Amazon as the only viable option for offering our smaller landscape books through Print on Demand.

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