Forty years of success for book publisher without bosses

books without bosses


It works so well the collective is one of the most successful small book publishers in Canada. It has managed to stay in business for 40 years to publish over 350 books, many still in print. No small feat in an industry where long life with strong sales are rare.

Between the Lines (BTL) is celebrating their success with a book titled Books Without Bosses. The book is a light-handed, graphic history of the life and times of BTL. The story is presented with thought and speech bubbles floating around caricatures of the main players. The comic-book-like style captures the overall open and audacious approach that seems to be big part of the BTL success.

“We had no business plan. Any accountant or businessperson would have just laughed,” recalls Ken Epps, a founding member of Between the Lines.

From the beginning, BTL was a collective, a workplace where no one —and therefore everyone —was boss. The original collective had nine members—many of whom are still active participants in the whole BTL project.

The BTL goal in 1977 was to “ask uncomfortable questions, challenge the status quo, amplify the voices of marginalized peoples, and help us to rethink Canada’s history and place in the world.” And that’s exactly what they’ve been doing for the last 40 years.

Their first book was The Big Nickel: Inco at Home and Abroad. It was a muckraking attack on Inco. A steady stream of books followed, including books on critical race, culture, history, identity, politics, labour activism and social movements.

The newest BTL books continue to do what they have always done: namely, to call on readers to arm themselves with knowledge and to challenge the powerful.

Political principles more than ‘sixties idealism’

How BTL operates continues to be as important as what they produce. It is a matter of turning what some would likely call “sixties idealism” into political principle and sticking to it—for forty years.

The BTL small office staff and Editorial Committee make decisions—from what to publish to how to run the place—by consensus. The Editorial Committee includes a number of original and longtime members, as well as several younger academics and community activists eager to carry on the publishing work started by the generation before them.

Books and authors published by BTL have found large readerships and won many awards. But how they have managed to do that and stay true to their principles is at least an equal achievement.

“We’ve stuck to our path, recognizing that the route we’ve chosen means foregoing conventional notions of efficiency.” says Jamie Swift, a BTL founder and author.  We’re wary of Progress Without People.” Which, he points out, is the title of one of their books.

Jennifer Tiberio, a BTL staffer captures the essence of it all. She says: “When you accomplish things in that non-hierarchical way you just have this wonderful feeling. And, it’s not just you. It’s everyone you’re working with. Not just the little team in the office. It’s everyone.”

Jennifer Tiberio, BTL staff member

  • Between the Lines Books




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