Newfoundland publisher Boulder Books celebrates its 20th anniversary and begins a new chapter with expansion

Boulder Books Editor Gavin Will (Ritche Perez)

Twenty years after Gavin Will Boulder Books started as a small regional publisher based in Portugal’s Cove-St. Philip’s, Newfoundland, he wants to expand his operations.

Will – a former journalist – decided to start the publishing company in 2002 after the internet disrupted his freelance career. He had a background in local history and had worked on a volume of the Encyclopedia of Newfoundland and Labrador. Boulder’s first release was a reprint by DW Prowses A History of Newfoundland. First published in 1895, it is considered one of the finest historical books on the province’s colonial era, but has long been out of print and cost up to $600.

In the years since, Boulder has grown from a sole proprietorship funded by Will’s wife, Amanda, to a team of five along with freelancers contracted to do specific work. Next year he plans to break ground on a warehouse and office space in Portugal Cove-St. Philip’s, a community outside of St. John’s.

This is part of a long-term strategy. Finding storage space has been difficult in the St. John’s area, and it has become a bigger problem as Boulder’s track list has grown over the years. That means Will doesn’t have to pay storage fees to another company. “It’s expensive, and there are also logistical issues,” explains Will. SSome areas in the building can be rented to generate additional income, and he can sell directly to customers with a storefront. “I think there is also an opportunity with the location we have chosen in Portugal Cove. It’s on the way to St. John’s and right next to a bakery. So there is an opportunity for direct sales.”

All of this will help “raise the company’s profile in the region,” he adds.

After two decades in the business, Will looks forward to continuing to grow Boulder, including expanding its track list.

Boulder publishes between 10 and 12 books a year and has added books from outside his home province to his roster over the years.

“I’ve always viewed this company as larger than a Newfoundland-focused company. We were interested in publishing books, first from Atlantic Canada and then from the rest of Canada,” he says.

He explains that there has been a regional approach to book acquisitions, exemplified by their field and nature guides. Boulder’s catalog also includes history, gardening and hobby titles such as Edible plants from Atlantic Canadaa series on the geology of the Atlantean provinces, and the Saltwater Knits series, which will include a fourth book, Saltwater Sockspublished in September.

Saltwater Knits co-author Shirley A. Scott knows the value of having Boulder as a publisher: “They accepted our idea for our first book when we were all at a small sale in a church hall. Boulder is definitely convenient and personally sells and delivers books throughout Newfoundland. It helps so much to know your buyers,” she said. “And they understood that we were not writing a simple book of knitting patterns, but a book about the art of living in Newfoundland.”

2019, Saltwater mittens from the island of Newfoundland won the Best Atlantic Published Book Award and the series won the 2021 Atlantic Canada Craft Award for Excellence in Product Design.

Boulder’s books are also attracting attention outside of the province. A regional cookbook published last year, Lori McCarthy and Marsha Tulk’s Food, Culture, Place: Stories, Traditions and Recipes of Newfoundlandwon a 2022 Gourmand World Cookbook Award in the Food Heritage Books category.

Boulder’s list includes many illustrated titles. Although it’s expensive to make and print, Will says it was a worthwhile investment. “There was an opening of the market, that’s for sure. It became obvious that there was a need for these kinds of quality titles.”

Boulder Books is distributed by Gazelle Book Services, Search Press, Fitzhenry and Whiteside/Thomas Allen & Sons, Downhome Publishing and Firefly Books. This distribution network means Boulder’s titles are available throughout Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom and Europe.

Shirley A. Scott adds that smaller publisher doesn’t mean smaller reach, noting that Boulder Books has wide distribution. “My own sister has lost weight Saltwater Mittens just a few weeks after its release at the Strand bookstore in NYC,” she says. “That’s pretty impressive.”

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