This week, poet and publisher Leigh Nash, poet and editor Andrew Faulkner, and veteran literary publicist and communications strategist Debby de Groot announced a new joint venture: a brand new multi-genre publishing house, Assembly Press.
Nash, who formerly served as publisher at both Invisible Publishing and House of Anansi Press, will be Publisher at Assembly, with Faulkner, the former managing editor for Invisible, serving the role of Strategist, and de Groot heading up Communications. Assembly will hit the ground running, with a 2024 publishing season already in place and a call for submissions expected soon. The tagline for the press—independent, inclusive, incisive—points to the trio's publishing philosophy, which will include fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. With their significant combined experience and deep, positive ties to the industry, the Assembly team shared that their perspective on adding a new press to the Canadian literary landscape of is one of "the more, the merrier".
They spoke with Open Book about their new venture, discussing their excitement about the opportunity to "to interrogate every norm" as they build their publishing programme, the thought process behind their name choice, and just what it will mean to be an "Assembly book".
Why a new Canadian press now? What motivated each of you individually to start this new venture?
This is the ultimate question! The inverse question is just as valid too: why not start a Canadian press? The more the merrier—a healthy publishing ecosystem has different players to serve different readers. So many parts of the publishing industry are in flux that it seems like there’s no better time than now to build something from the ground up. Because we’re making every decision for the first time, there’s space to interrogate every norm, every piece of received wisdom, so we can try new directions on for size. We don’t have to go along with the status quo, or do something because it’s always been done that way. And we’re an intentionally lean operation, which means we’re nimble and in a position to pivot quickly if need be.
For Leigh, starting a new company was appealing because it felt like an opportunity to build something that will meet the industry where it is today. How can we as publishers best support authors who work full-time and write on the side? How can we make sure readers find out about books in the face of reduced review space? How can we support adjacent industries we love, like libraries and indie bookstores? She’s excited to get started answering these questions.
Personally, Debby feels very strongly about amplifying underrepresented voices, particularly the feminine. This for her is an opportunity for us to listen, engage and work with all the people that make up the fabric of the true Canada. She also has so much respect and affection for Leigh and Andrew, and our shared set of values.
Andrew, meanwhile, recognizes that there’s no joy quite like bringing an author’s vision to life and ushering a new book into the world. Plus, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for him to work alongside two of the brightest lights in Canadian publishing! And there are so many vibrant voices out there that deserve to find their way onto bookstore shelves, and starting Assembly Press feels like the best way to support the wealth of literary talent out there.
Publishers aren’t traditionally consumer-facing brands, but a publisher’s identity is important when it comes to acquisitions, industry identity, and more. Knowing that, how and why did you choose the press’s name and branding?
We wanted a name that gestured at bringing people together, since that’s what books do best. When Assembly came up in brainstorming, we decided to take the school metaphor and run with it – while our current education system is imperfect, it’s one of the few venues to consistently place different people in proximity to one another. Plus, we’re a start-up, so ‘assembling’ is what we’re doing: we’re building a company, one that fosters a more empathetic society through the written word, and we’re bringing together great people to work with. What can I say – we’re poets and book people. We like an extended metaphor.
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As you shape your list, how would you define an “Assembly Press book”? What are you looking for from agents and writers, and what kinds of stories and genres are you most excited about publishing?
We’re really excited about books that engage with contemporary issues with thoughtfulness and incisiveness in equal measure. We love big-hearted, empathy-expanding narratives with a strong literary bent. Assembly Press will publish a balanced mix of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, with an emphasis on authors and stories that have gone underrepresented elsewhere. In the end, we’re looking for that moment when you read a manuscript and you get that frisson knowing you have discovered some great writing! Something that you can get excited about, and that excitement travels all the way to readers.
The three of you have seriously impressive writing and publishing backgrounds. How will your roles break down in the new press?
Thanks! We’re experimenting here, as much with our roles as with the books we publish. We’ve got our lanes, as evidenced by our job titles, but as with any small press, we’ll all wear multiple hats. Andrew and Leigh will head up editorial, split marketing and operations. Debby’s got serious business acumen underpinning her stellar sales and publicity experience, and she’ll take care of all communications, media, and promotional planning. We’ve got varied skill sets that overlap in complementary ways, and I think between us we’ve done just about every job possible in book publishing.
Can you tell us a bit about the titles that will publish in your first season in 2024?
We have one nonfiction title in progress: County Harvest, a fun celebration of the brewers, winemakers, and distillers of Prince Edward County, based on interviews and photography by the inimitable Natalie Wollenberg. We’ve had exciting conversations about future projects with other writers too, but one of the goals of announcing Assembly Press now is that it lets us start working right away with authors and agents in building a really inclusive and dynamic list for 2024 and beyond. Look for an official call for submissions soon.
For more information, visit the Assembly Press website.