Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Local publishing house makes splash online

Company uses Web to attract authors, illustrators


Michael Kane
Vancouver Sun
Tuesday, July 03, 2007

The staff have a blast at innovative Vancouver publisher Gumboot Books. Above is Tsugumi Kibe (from left), Izabela Bzymek, and co-owners Jared Hunt and Crystal Stranaghan.

Once upon a time there was a little girl who delighted in splashing around in the mud wearing brightly coloured gumboots, a frilly pink party dress and a baseball cap over her pigtails. She was almost never without a book in hand.

Fast-forward a couple of decades and Crystal Stranaghan has a double major in English and psychology from Simon Fraser University, has worked as a behavioural therapist with autistic kids, as a pre-school teacher and a fundraiser for a variety of non-profits, and is the author of Then it Rained, a book for four-to nine-year-olds that reminds us all about the joy of running free when the skies open.

She's also the founder of Gumboot Books, an innovative Vancouver publishing house that uses the Internet to attract authors and illustrators from around the world, as well as stretch the limits of traditional marketing.

Rather than pay for conventional promotion, Gumboot invites non-profits, charities and community groups to sign up on its website and receive 10 per cent of every sale they generate. The more buyers the groups send to the Gumboot website, the more books are sold and the more money they raise. Book buyers choose which cause will benefit.

While nobody associated with Gumboot is rolling in the dough, and most have day jobs, Stranaghan says that's in line with the Gumboot credo of going out and actually experiencing life, not sitting around waiting for the perfect conditions.

"Sometimes that means getting a little muddy," said Stranaghan, 28, who pays the bills by serving tables at Steamworks Pub in Gastown. Here she met Jen Loffree, Gumboot's 34-year-old distribution manager, and bartender Nick Gladding, a 26-year-old graphic designer from New Zealand, who dreamed up Gumboot's distinctive logo showing the silhouette of a young girl in red gumboots reading a book under an umbrella. Stranaghan's stepdaughter Mikayla was the model for the logo.

Pub connections led to Vancouver illustrator and animator Izabela Bzymek, 27, and Carrie Loffree, a 37-year-old mom living in Hungary who doubles as a translator and editor.

A friend also referred Stranaghan to North Vancouver's Eleanor Rosenberg, a 26-year-old graphic designer currently living in Germany. Rosenberg did the quirky illustrations for Stranaghan's second children's book, Vernon and the Snake.

Other members of the team include co-owner and accounts manager Jared Hunt, 31, a server at the Fairmont Waterfront; Tsugumi Kibe, 27, a Japanese student interning as a translator; and Rosa Espadaler, 24, an illustrator in Spain.

Stranaghan says Gumboot is free to operate internationally because it is not dependent on government grants. Instead, the Internet holds the operation together. In fact, Stranaghan met Espadaler, the illustrator of Then it Rained, online.

"We both had blogs on the same site -- hers was all artwork and mine was all writing -- and as soon as I saw her artwork, I knew it was what I wanted for my story," Stranaghan said.

"I sent her an e-mail asking if she might be interested in illustrating a book, and she said sure. We didn't know each other at all when we started the project, but her English is great, and we corresponded almost every day by e-mail for the nine months it took to put the book together."
When the book was done, Espadaler flew to Vancouver for the launch party in March.

Editor Chandra Wohleber, 33, who works as resource development coordinator for the United Church, contacted Stranaghan after seeing her first two books in her office in Toronto.

More than 20 titles are posted at gumbootbooks.ca, and Stranaghan says the company is seeking new talent.

"While many publishers focus on experience, we're looking to help people get a start in the industry: fresh voices, talented young people. Generally, doing things a little differently are what we're all about."

© The Vancouver Sun 2007