SUDBURY—It’s been a great ride, but after 20 years operating Northern Ontario’s only English language book publisher, Dr. Laurie Stephen is shuttering the doors and closing down the Scrivener Press.
“I am breathing a little easier these days,” admitted Dr. Stephen, who is retiring from his full time gig as an English professor at Laurentian University and moving south to be closer to his grandchildren.
Dr. Stephen had attempted to sell Scrivener Press, which he started as a true labour of love in 1995, but the business has always been break-even at best, and although there were a few bites, the line always came up empty.
“Once they (a potential buyer) started to get into it, and discovered how much was involved, they always got antsy and begged off,” he said. “In its best years it probably made me about $15,000 and I generally put it back into the business.”
When buyers discovered that there was not enough money to pay a full-time staff member to do the day-to-day work and that they would have to commit to publishing four titles a year to meet cooperative marketing commitments, they quickly scampered out the door.
“It really was a labour of love, it always has been,” admitted Dr. Stephen. “I really only did it because I wanted to. I liked that we were helping to bring the stories of Northern Ontario to a greater audience.”
Dr. Stephen published 66 titles over the run of Scrivener Press. “To someone outside, that might not sound like a lot,” he said, “but at an average of three a year, one year we even published 12 titles, it represents a lot of work, even if some of those were ebook conversions.” Dr. Stephen did the lion’s share of the editing and marketing of the titles, getting the physical books to the distributors and the host of other duties that come with the publishing territory.
“Part of me is sad and part of me is jumping for joy,” laughed Dr. Stephen. “The sad part is for the kind of publishing we do, I am it. But I am glad to be going out on a high note.”
Dr. Stephen said that, at 62, he still has a lot of things on the list of what he wants to see and do in life, and, unfortunately, running a publishing house is much like having an infant child without a live-in babysitter.
One of the many authors Dr. Stephen published is ‘Manhattan Manitoulin’ author Bonnie Kogos. “I was delighted to meet Dr. Laurie Stephen in 1996 walking on the boardwalk at Providence Bay,” she said. “I did not know he was an English professor at Laurentian University since 1983, and since 1995 the publisher of Scrivener Press, a regional publishing house dedicated to Northeastern Ontario writers, which has produced 65 titles across the spectrum from fiction and poetry, to biography and regional history. I ran into him strolling with his beautiful wife, Jan, and their kids on the Providence Bay dock. He was wearing a T-shirt that had the word HERMANEUTICS on it! Hermaneutics! You must be an English professor,” I shouted happily. “I am studying this.” From this typical first time Kogos exchange a friendship blossomed.
“We became friends,” said Ms. Kogos. “I attended evenings in Sudbury to announce new titles. Laurie allowed me to write many Window Seat columns about him through the years. I bought and loved all the books Scrivener published.”
Ms. Kogos said that she will deeply miss joining Dr. Stephen at the Scrivenor Press Manitoulin Trade Fair booth each year.
Northern Ontario’s literary scene will also deeply miss Scrivener Press, but the reading public and authors across the North will be eternally grateful for his service to the industry.
“I have received a lot of thank you messages over the last few days,” said Dr. Stephen. “I has been a great period of my life.”