New Canadian Start-Up Nonvella Aims to Be an Atavist or Byliner

Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.

Last night marked the official launch of Canadian digital publisher Nonvella. Nonvella publishes non-fiction pieces of 5,000 to 20,000 words, in the areas of literary journalism, memoir, and essays. It was founded by two Vancouver-based freelance writers, Tyee Bridge and Anne

Nonvella publisher Tyee Bridge

Nonvella publisher Tyee Bridge and business partner Anne Casselman launched their company to provide new outlets for writers like them

Casselman, who were inspired by companies such as Atavist and Byliner. (Full disclosure: my company gave some guidance to Nonvella early in their planning process.)

Publisher Tyee Bridge says “creative frustration” motivated the writers to launch the company. “I personally wanted to publish works of a certain length, and there was no place to do that,” he says. “Most traditional book publishers are not going to go for things in the sub-50K-word range. And there’s less time and space now than in previous eras in magazines for long-form journalism.”

Right now the nonvellas are available for sale on a per-title basis, but Bridge says the company will look at other payment models, including subscription. Nonvellas cost $9.99 for print books (available through Amazon as print-on-demand) and $2.99 for ebooks. They are available on iTunes and Amazon. Writers earn 50% of net receipts.

When asked whether he feels digital-only publishing can provide a viable income stream for writers like him and Casselman, Bridge acknowledges: “The question of profitability is not proven. It’s going to require some creativity around how you get eyeballs.” He says there are “comets that blaze across the sky that make money from digital.”

Earlier this month, Laura Hazard Owen reported in Gigaom that the much-lauded publisher Byliner is having financial troubles. The company sent an email to its authors stating: “We’ve struggled to reach the level of growth we’d been hoping for the business, and thus we’ve begun conversations with possible partners about the future of Byliner.”

Nonvella is one of the first standalone digital-only publishers in Canada. The other players tend to have been started by established media firms. For example, the Canadian Writers Group, an agency representing freelance writers, has made forays into ebook publishing. In November 2012, the Toronto Star launched an ebook subscription program called Star Dispatches.

“We’re starting lean, we’re starting with a lot of goodwill…[and we’re] taking a grassroots approach,” says Bridge. Nonvella raised some of its early capital through a Kickstarter campaign.

Nonvella has launched with three titles. The Silicon Rapture by Adam Pez explores the “big, weird questions” of the Singularity movement and where our dabbling with artificial intelligence might take us. Timothy Taylor’s Foodville sticks a fork in our food-obsessed culture. The anthology Far From Home includes essays by J.B. MacKinnon, Deborah Campbell, Scott Russell Sanders, Jake MacDonald, and Susan Olding.

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Trena White

About Trena White

Trena White is co-founder of Page Two, a new form of agency that helps non-fiction authors navigate the full range of publishing options and that consults with organizations about digital publishing. She is the former publisher of Douglas & McIntyre, which was at the time Canada’s largest independent publisher. Before joining D&M, she worked as a non-fiction editor at McClelland & Stewart. She guest lectures regularly at Simon Fraser University and the University of British Columbia and holds a master of publishing from SFU. She blogs about digital publishing in Canada. She can be found on twitter @trenawhite.

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