Grayson and Linda Smith’s home was surprisingly quiet for containing three boys under five.
The two eldest were downstairs watching television — a Friday treat — and the youngest was upstairs in a booster seat while Grayson fed him tomatoes and cherries. Linda was sitting at the table across from him, and between them sat the 10 books they had produced with their emerging publishing business.
Grayson and Linda are the people behind Peppermint Toast, a small book publishing company based out of their home in New Westminster.
“The name Peppermint Toast is quite fitting, because there is an experimental nature to peppermint toast,” Linda explained. “Like, is it good? Is it something that you want to try? We’re not quite sure.
“So we feel like our approach to business has been a lot like our name.”
The whimsical moniker also reflects how the business got started — with a Christmas present for a beloved niece.
Grayson, a drug recognition expert in the Delta Police Department’s traffic section, decided that instead of giving his four-year-old niece toys for Christmas, he would write her a story: a rhyming tale of a mite who dreams of flying to the stars.
He wrote Flight of the Mite in 2010, “and it took about five minutes of me trying to illustrate [it] for me to be like, ‘No. This is no good’,” he said.
He partnered with Linda’s cousin to illustrate the book and three years later had a finished product. But Grayson felt he needed something more.
“If I say, ‘Look, I made a book,’ it’s like, ‘Oh yeah, that’s fine’,” he said. “But what if I started a publishing company and said this book was published? It’d just be like a little facade, just a little facade of self-publishing.
“But essentially that’s what we did.”
Peppermint Toast began as simply that: a hobby that allowed the couple to produce a professional-looking “vanity book” for their niece. But it soon evolved into something more.
After a book launch in a New Westminster for Flight of the Mite, Grayson and Linda began hearing from other writers who wanted to publish books with them.
“I was like, ‘Oh man, if only people knew,’” Grayson said, laughing. “Well, not quite like that, but I realized there was a lot of people who have story ideas.”
“There’s a lot of creativity out there, but maybe not the opportunity to bring it to life,” Linda added. “Not that we are the people who can bring everybody’s ideas to life either, but we just realized there was a common desire.”
The second publishing venture by Peppermint Toast was through a partnership with Grayson’s aunt, who worked at the Victoria Native Friendship Centre. She had helped created two book-like PDFs: I was born Precious and Sacred, and I know I am Precious and Sacred.
These books became a sales success for the hobby publishing house, one that neither of them planned.
“Grayson’s marketing plan for that was to look up the addresses of every school district and native friendship centre in B.C., Alberta and Saskatchewan, and mail each of them a book,” Linda said. It cost them around $800 from their own pocket — which is how they fund all their publishing activities — and several hours of their time. But the return was “just amazing,” Linda said.
Sales reached 10 or 15 times the money they had put into the project, and 10 per cent of that went towards the Victoria Native Friendship Centre. (Each copy of a book published by Peppermint Toast sees either $3, $2 or 10 per cent of its proceeds go to a charity or non-profit of the author’s choice.)
“It’s kind of like … are we a distributor, a marketer, a publisher? Are we writers?” Grayson asked, speaking about the success of the Precious and Sacred books. “We’re trying to figure that out.”
“For me, it’s tough to distinguish,” he continued. “Is this a hobby that you enjoy doing — because I do — or is it a business which needs to have business goals?”
For now, Peppermint Toast remains in the hobby category, balanced alongside Grayson’s policing work, Linda’s volunteering and the couple’s children. But as their books continue to see success, the balance may be shifting towards a more business-like model.
Together, the couple have authored four books: two by Grayson, with one set to be published soon, and one by Linda, although she has another in the works.
Flight of the Mite has almost paid for itself, nearly five years after it was first published. But Linda’s first book, One Too Many, managed to make its money back in about three months. The book, which looks at how people need to care for others, was bought in bulk by the Canadian Red Cross for some of their initiatives.
Grayson is also in discussions with First Book Canada about a possible partnership between the non-profit distribution company and Peppermint Toast.
“As that stuff continues to happen, it makes me go, ‘Maybe we could make this into a real business,’” he said.
But for Linda, it’s the kids and the books that will continue to come first.
“I’d like to see our business as an opportunity to continue to raise important issues and important stories for children,” she said. “I would love to continue to tell stories of people that otherwise may not have a voice, or to inspire action for kids.”