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Last Modified: May 9, 2023
Brush Education: A Profile

by Ken Davis

The offices of Brush Education can be found at the top of a long flight of stairs on the second floor of an aging commercial strip tucked away in a quiet, tree-lined residential neighbourhood in south Edmonton. The main floor is occupied by a coffee shop and an ice cream parlour. The upstairs offices are bright and clean, tidy and orderly. This is where owner and publisher Glenn Rollans and his team create the books of higher learning that are the stock-in-trade of Brush Education.

A look at the Brush catalogue reveals that the publisher has developed titles along somewhat unique lines: professional dog obedience training, medicine and health sciences, education and social sciences, Indigenous culture, identity and self-government, and Black history of the West.

Some of the product lines are rooted in the history of Brush’s predecessor Detselig Enterprises. Glenn Rollans and then-partner Fraser Seely bought Detselig from publisher Ted Giles in December 2011. The pair wanted to publish books of higher learning. Detselig already had an established infrastructure and a list of several hundred titles, a number of them in advanced education. The partners changed the name of the company to Brush Education, and pared the Detselig list down to about a hundred higher education titles that they felt were still viable.

“One of them was a medical title and it was not a well reviewed medical title, but the review said even though this isn’t a good book, buy it.” said Rollans. “I was intrigued by that and by the fact that no other independent was doing medical publishing. So, we got our teeth into that line fairly early.”

Headshot: Glenn Rollans
Glenn Rollans of Brush Education

Brush also inherited roughly a dozen books for trainers of professional dogs engaged in such activities as search and rescue, law enforcement, drug detection and personal protection. Initially, the new owners were of a mind to dump the dog training books. A chance meeting, however, between Rollans and Ruud Haak, a Dutch national and one of the primary authors, convinced the partners they should keep and expand the dog training line. After all, the titles were literally the only books of their kind in the world. As developed by Detselig, the books were not consistent in design and were not branded as a series—something Brush quickly changed. The format was standardized and all titles were branded under the banner Dog Training Press. In hindsight, Rollans is very glad they decided to keep and expand the dog training line.

“It’s really been a godsend for a small company. It’s got dedicated buyers all over the world. It’s got licensing deals for us. … [The books have] been really, really successful for us.”

Finding unique niches in advanced learning environments became Brush Education’s special gift. Nonetheless, beginning to develop a line of medical and health science books was more challenging. The design and editorial processes were extremely complex. Contributors to a book could number up to a hundred authors and detailed tracking of book development was essential. According to Rollans, his background in educational publishing helped because he was accustomed to very large, very complicated projects.

“We had done books where the editorial process was about spreadsheeting and tracking thousands of individual elements and bringing those together. To attack a complicated topic you have to have a good work flow, you have to have a good editorial train.”

Rollans was also blessed with outstanding assistance in the persons of his wife, Lynn Zwicky, a highly accomplished editor, and Laurie Seidlitz, former director of Banff Centre Press and a former editor with Weigl Educational Publishers. Most recently, the team at Brush has collaborated with over ninety resident physicians and faculty at the University of British Columbia to produce a comprehensive book entitled Vancouver Notes for Internal Medicine.

Two areas of book development close to Rollans’ heart are the subjects of Indigenous culture, identity and self-government, and Black history of the West. He worked extensively in developing material for Indigenous school systems when Rollans worked with Jean Poulin at Duval House. Rollans says he learned from Poulin that the publisher’s role in working with minority authors and minority subject matter is one of helping them amplify their voice, not replacing that voice.

“That principle of respect I think can operate across all kinds of cultural and social divisions.” Says Rollans. “This was really important in my education. There are many things that are not our story to tell but we do have skills to help them find their audience.”

A significant step forward in Brush Education’s engagement with Indigenous culture was the decision to publish the book Elements of Indigenous Style: A Guide for Writing By and About Indigenous Peoples, written by the late Dr. Greg Younging, managing editor of Canada’s first Indigenous press, Thetis Books. When published in early 2018, the book immediately became an essential reference for anyone writing about Indigeneity or working with Indigenous collaborators. As the CBC’s Duncan McCue said of the book, “Style is fraught with politics, especially when writing about Indigenous Peoples. Now, writers, academics, journalists, publishers, and students can breathe a sigh of relief.”

Brush Education’s involvement in Black history of the West was another case of building on the earlier work of Ted Giles at Detselig. Over three decades ago, Giles published Pouring Down Rain: A Black Woman Claims Her Place in the Canadian West, the first book by acclaimed Calgary writer Cheryl Foggo. Rollans says it has been a wonderful experience to continue working with Foggo, including putting out a 30th anniversary re-edition of Pouring Down Rain in 2000.

“We decided to re-edition Cheryl’s book in the months before the Black Lives Matter movement shot to prominence when George Floyd was murdered, so it was lucky timing. But it (began as) a combination of Ted and Cheryl and her willingness to work with a local publisher.”

Brush Education today has a list of hundreds of books of higher learning, occupying successful niche positions in subjects often dominated by major publishing houses. You can find titles as varied as Pathology Review and Practice Guide, 3rd Ed., Truth and Reconciliation Through Education, or K9 Professional Tracking, 2nd Ed.

Despite the diversity and the complexity of Brush Education’s publishing program, Glenn Rollans stresses that the keys to success are to keep things simple and to commit to quality work.

“We believe attention to quality is rewarded and our willingness to keep it fresh has been rewarded, so re-editioning is important.” As for deciding what books to publish, Rollans calls it a “negotiation with fate.”

“Here’s a person,” he says. “Do they have a book? Is that a book that we know what to do with? Can we steer it slightly different before it gets started? And that’s fun. It’s a social process. It’s a gamble. It’s got all the things that make business risky but also pleasant and exciting.”


About the Author:

Headshot: Ken Davis

Ken Davis has worked in Alberta book publishing for more than 15 years, mostly in sales and marketing. Before that, he enjoyed a career spanning 25 years as a broadcast journalist, talk show host, documentary producer and broadcasting executive. He still frequently reads and talks.