From Publisher Tim Inkster

When I was sixteen, my mother exercised her influence and got me a job on an “extra gang”, laying track in Northern Ontario for the Canadian National Railway.

Capreol, actually, was the place I joined the gang.

Later that summer (1967) the gang worked as far west as Hornepayne, and as far south as Burwash where I swapped a package of cigarettes for a standard issue government jacket off the back of an inmate working on the prison farm. Which I wore proudly to French class in my first year at the University of Toronto.

I did not do well, in French, in my first year at the University of Toronto.

I remember one of my first days on the railway, I was dispatched on foot several miles down the track to fetch a “sky hook”, and a “bucket of steam”.

Naive as I was, at sixteen, I do seem to recall that I walked several hundred yards, tripping over railway ties each yard and a quarter, before I realized that I wouldn't know what a “sky hook” was if I found one, and (more troublesome) the notion of a “bucket of steam” was improbable.

You may be wondering what this story has to do with literary publishing.

There is a joke we share with publishing interns starting work at the shop in Erin Village that a good editor can tell if a manuscript is publishable by looking at the OUTside of the manilla envelope in which it arrives. This is, of course, not true.

And most of the publishing interns who would “buy” into the envelope story would also be likely candidates for dispatch to the warehouse in search of “sky hooks” to hang more steel shelving for cases of unsold books.

There is, of course, something to be learned from each of these two anecdotes.

The Porcupine's Quill, like many other small presses, can publish no more than a dozen new titles per year, and these are generally selected at least eighteen months in advance of their release. Most of our authors have published before, although they may not have had their work appear in book form.

There is no magic formula — it is very hard work to get established as a writer. You have to go to readings, read everything in sight, acquaint yourself with what types of things magazines and publishers publish, and edit your work til your fingers bleed. If you don't know what magazines publish what kinds of work, find out. It may be discouraging but it's a fact that, these days, no one gets a book published without having first published stories in literary magazines, attended writing classes, and read their work aloud in coffee houses to crowds of three.

Writing is a competitive business; if you are serious about it you will need to work as hard as you would to prepare for any other profession. Many writers find university writing clubs and authors' associations to be helpful. Even if you prefer to toil alone, make sure you do your homework. Remember: it is not an editor's job to teach you how to write, or how to prepare work for publication.

There are any number of writers' resources on the Internet, which is a good place to start learning about the process. The Association of Canadian Publishers, for example, offers this advice. The Writers' Union of Canada offers a different perspective.

We especially encourage new writers to learn as much as possible about their local writing scene. Go to your public library or nearest bookstore and learn when and where local authors are reading. Go to hear them and meet them. BUY books. Ask the books' authors to SIGN them! Read. Write. Finish what you write and edit it. Ask others to read and critique it. Develop the hide of a rhino.

Greg Gatenby was, for many years, the artistic director of the most prestigious reading series this country has ever seen. Greg's comment to me, on the occasion of the gala Harbourfront Twenty-fifth anniversary of the Porcupine's Quill was “to do this job, you need the hide of a rhino”.

Re-read your work many times and re-write it. Question the worth of every word on every page.

And keep on writing.

—Tim Inkster, Publisher


If you would like to submit your work for consideration, please send a query letter, synopsis, and writing sample to:

Due to the large volume of submissions we receive, please be patient as we consider your manuscript.

The Porcupine's Quill would like to acknowledge the support of the Ontario Arts Council and the Canada Council for the Arts for our publishing program. The financial support of the Government of Canada through the Canada Book Fund (CBF) is also gratefully acknowledged.

“Another press with sensibility and nerve similarly originated outstanding fiction far from the pressures of the city. Initially adopting the Coach House Press model of original publishing combined with job printing, the Porcupine's Quill would ultimately emerge as Canada's pre-eminent literary press.”
—Roy MacSkimming, The Perilous Trade, Publishing Canada's Writers (2003)