The stories need to be about mountains — and they need to be fiction.
That is the foundation upon which Imaginary Mountain Surveyors publishing company was created and which was validated by its winning the 2014 Banff Mountain Book and Film Festival Mountain Fiction award.
The award was presented to Alaskan writer David Stevenson for his book Letters from Chamonix, an intelligent, engaging, finely crafted collection of short stories and a novella.
Stevenson's book, said IMS co-founder Dustin Lynx, was a perfect fit for North America's only publisher of mountain fiction.
"Right from the start I felt that Letters from Chamonix was a perfect match for IMS and winning the award only confirmed this for me," Lynx said.
And while Stevenson is from Alaska, writers of mountain fiction from anywhere — including the Sea to Sky region — are welcome and invited to contact IMS about their projects, said co-founder Jerry Auld.
"The Surveyors were founded to tell mountain tales in imaginative ways," Auld said. "We are always open to talking with people who have a fictional story to tell, and if it involves the Canadian mountains, then, even better."
Since IMS was officially launched in 2013 in Canmore, where it is based, a handful of writers from Whistler and Squamish have contacted the company. Most of them proposed ideas that are in early stages of development, while one writer proposed an idea that was not fiction.
"We'd love to hear from more folks out there for sure," Auld said.
With no other publisher in North America focused solely on mountain fiction, IMS represents a niche within the mountain literature genre. Stevenson learned about IMS through Alpinist magazine editor Katie Ives, who helped connect him. At the time, IMS was considering a few potential projects, uncertain if they were the right fit.
"For us, mountain fiction has to be irrevocably about mountains," Auld said. "But it also has to be imagined, not a real event just disguised as fiction."
With Auld working in the role of acquiring editor, and Lynx as publisher — roles that vary depending on the project — IMS worked closely with Stevenson to make his book the best publication it could be.
This is the third book published by IMS thanks to the generosity of a benefactor who prefers to remain anonymous. The first was Auld's collection of short stories titled Short Peaks, followed by a children's activity book, Canadian Mountain Mazes.
This award, Auld said, serves as validation that their set goals of only publishing a book when it's as good as it can be, and not to a rigid timeline of scheduled seasonal catalogues, are working.
"For us, quality is absolutely the number one thing," Auld said. "I can see how it's easy for publishers to feel pushed with deadlines and budgets. We spent three times more than we budgeted on editing and review editing. We put a lot into it, we were actually getting a little nervous. But we really couldn't publish something that was half finished, not polished. But it pays off. We did it right."
Instrumental to the book's success was the skill and talent of Canmore editor Helen Rolfe, and the contributions of reviews editors Bonnie Hamilton, Larry Stanier and Mike Lauchlan.
"For a writer, an award is a huge validation of what you're trying to do," Auld said. "For us as publishers, it's a huge validation for our working model. What we're trying to do is to publish books differently from the traditional model. And we wondered, are we really going to be able to do this, or will we crumble under financial pressure? But, it seems to be really working."
Having Stevenson and IMS win the award is beneficial for both Stevenson as a writer, and also for IMS as a publisher. While thus far Auld said he's been uncertain about the benefit of advertising and radio interviews as means of spreading the word about IMS, winning the prestigious BMFF award has yielded immediate, tangible results in terms of bringing IMS to wider attention.
"We're getting a lot more people hearing about us and contacting us," Auld said. "We've done really well with David's book. There's been a huge bump in sales with this award. Festivals and awards are the bomb. That's when you really know that you're going to sell, and get attention."
An added bonus of the exposure is to the benefit of other writers of mountain fiction searching for a suitable publisher — not to mention proof for IMS that such writers exist.
And while winning awards is great for a lot of reasons, Lynx said, in the end the real reward for IMS is building relationships.
"I've learned that publishing is about personal relationships as much as anything," Lynx said. "David has visited the Bow Valley three times over the last year and each time we got out climbing, skiing and even stayed at the Bow Hut which he enjoyed immensely. Of course, (l to r) we did book promotions together but publishing means more to me than just selling books."
To learn more visit www.imaginarymountains.com