Key Porter Books announced Friday that it has temporarily suspended publishing operations, which caused consternation for authors and agents awaiting word on the future of their works.
A statement from the company said a "number of restructuring options" are being considered, including the sale of some titles in its Canadian catalogue.
Key Porter, which has represented authors including Margaret Atwood, Joan Barfoot, Conrad Black and Farley Mowat, has published about 100 titles per year and has over 500 books in print.
The company said it "is supporting its authors through the continued marketing and sale of previously published works and distribution through H.B. Fenn and Company Ltd."
"Key Porter Books has played a leading role in giving a voice to the Canadian story and we will do everything possible to ensure that voice continues to be heard," publisher Jordan Fenn said in the statement.
Still, the uncertainty had many in the literary community concerned.
"It's a really difficult sort of situation now to think about who would be as good of a fit as Key Porter was," said Toronto author Julie Devaney, whose debut book, My Leaky Body, was due to be released by the publisher in April.
"It's a big worry," added Toronto literary agent Rick Broadhead, who represents about 150 authors, including several Key Porter writers.
"There are authors who are already published and Key Porter has those rights right now, and I'm wondering about the status of those books. Then I've got authors who I represent who I'm currently trying to sell and given the state of Key Porter, I can't send any book proposals to them right now."
Word of possible trouble at the beleaguered publishing company emerged online earlier this week.
Ottawa author and historian Mark Bourrie posted an email on his blog from Fenn stating that his new book, The Fog of War, would not be released as scheduled on Jan. 25.
Fenn said "a significant breakdown in communication" resulted in Bourrie not being notified that publication of his book was on hold.
In September, Key Porter had to lay off almost two-thirds of its staff and Harold B. Fenn, chairman of Key Porter's parent company, H.B. Fenn and Co., said they made "no secret of the lack of sales success" it recently had.
But he insisted he didn't see Key Porter closing for good and Tom Best, vice-president of marketing, said reports the company was going bankrupt were "absolutely false."
Only six staffers remained at that point and were moved from a Toronto office to H.B. Fenn headquarters in Bolton, Ont.
Two others have since been laid off, including editor-in-chief Linda Pruessen, who was the sole remaining editorial staffer.
She says she was let go on Dec. 16 but notes that the company hasn't "ceased operations," as was reported this week.
"The books that are in the warehouse are not just sitting there under lock and key," said Pruessen, who is now focusing on freelance work and figuring out what's next.
"They're being distributed, they're being marketed."
Devaney said she found out about Key Porter's troubles in September after her editor there, Jonathan Schmidt, contacted her to say he was laid off.
Since then, she hasn't heard directly from the company about the status of her memoir, which stems from her one-woman play of the same name.
And Broadhead said he hasn't recently "received any official communication from them at all."
"My issue is that the authors are the people who write the books, we're the ones who ultimately create the products that bring value to publishers," said Devaney, 31.
"So to not be in contact with us through that process ... to let people go through the whole process of finishing our books, finishing our edits, talking about marketing, talking to people outside of the publisher about ways that we might be cross-promoting our books, things like that - and then letting us find out from the media ... I think it's totally inappropriate and disrespectful."
Key Porter did not respond to interview requests to address its communication with authors.
Key Porter was founded as a joint venture of Anna Porter and Key Publishers in 1979 and incorporated in 1984. H.B. Fenn acquired controlling interest of Key Porter Books in July 2004.