This week, I’m excited to have the chance to interview Marion Lougheed of Off Topic Publishing. They are currently soliciting stories and poems for different projects and you can find out more about those projects right here.
Off Topic Publishing is also running a Kickstarter campaign for pre-orders of a special music-related anthology. You can find out more about that here.
I was lucky enough to chat with Marion today about her publishing company, the anthology, and things a writer might want to know about submitting.
Marion, tell us a little about your publishing company.
Off Topic started as an online monthly magazine. I already had the idea of growing it into a publishing company, but I overcomplicated things and didn’t really know what I was doing. I wasn’t connected to a solid community of writers, so it was hard to consistently get quality submissions. Some of the work was great, but it was a struggle to find something I wanted to publish every single month. Making it financially viable was another issue. I couldn’t pay writers what they deserved – this is one of my core values. I don’t want to exploit people. After twelve months, I gave up the magazine. Then last year during Covid, I joined the Canada Writes Facebook group, where I met a bunch of brilliant and wonderful writers. With their encouragement, I relaunched Off Topic first as a writing contest and then as a full-fledged, albeit fledgling, publisher. My goal is to build a community of writers and readers, who support one another in producing and disseminating contemporary literature in all genres.
And what inspired the idea for this particular anthology?
The ten tracks on the Wayward & Upward album have such evocative titles! It’s hard to say exactly how I got the idea though. I’d been tossing around anthology ideas and this one felt the most exciting. There’s a lot of ekphrastic writing out there – writing in response to an image – which I find quite challenging as a writer myself. The challenge brings me out of my writerly comfort zone and I often end up with something unexpected. So I thought: why not try the same thing with music? This project challenges people to approach writing from a new angle. Since Spinoza Gambit’s album has no lyrics, the music leaves space for all sorts of interpretations. It’s been fascinating to see how people respond to the same track in such varied ways!
Is the idea of authors getting paid such a radical one?
Unfortunately, yes. Especially the idea of authors getting paid an actual living wage. It takes a few minutes or a few hours to read a writer’s piece, but the work that goes into it exceeds what most non-writers may think. Writers spend years learning, practicing, and improving. A single story or poem might take days, months, or years to get just right. That poem that takes you two minutes to savour might have been crafted over the course of an entire summer. On top of that, writers need “unproductive” downtime to cogitate and invent scenarios and let our minds wander. This downtime is part of the job; it’s vital to the creative process. Toni Morrison famously talked about her early writer days, getting up at 5am to write before her kids needed breakfast. That’s great and amazing and praiseworthy, but why does it have to be so? Writing is hard work. For many people it’s a second or third job that they squeeze in around the things that pay the rent. A lot of people burn out and abandon the craft altogether. How many voices have been lost that way? In my opinion, there are far too many outlets that assume writers are happy to work for free or for a pittance. Unfortunately, many writers go along with it too. But we go along with it because it has become normalized, not because it is right.
What other projects does Off Topic Publishing have coming up?
Right now we have two chapbook calls on the themes of “Home” and “Exhaustion,” respectively. The Poetry Box is ongoing, with a new iteration every month. This is a monthly mail-out of a small care package that contains a poetry postcard, organic tea, and oatmilk chocolate. Our first single-author poetry chapbook is coming out in the next few weeks: All Forgotten Now by Jennifer Mariani. I have so many other ideas! Creative non-fiction about living with disability? A series of poems set to music? Another anthology based on a different album? A queer YA novel? Time will tell!
Last, if you could offer one piece of advice for someone submitting to you, what would it be?
Read and follow the guidelines. It’s funny and surprising to me that it repeatedly needs to be said. I’m constantly amazed at how many people don’t follow the guidelines. I’m not talking about a little mistake or an accidental oversight. We all do that. That’s human. I’m talking about people who have no idea what the project even is. If I ask for poems no longer than 15 lines, because it has to fit on a postcard, don’t send me 40 lines. If a particular slot has been filled, don’t send me something for that slot. These guidelines are there for a reason. Even if the reason isn’t clear to you, trust that I’m not trying to make your life unnecessarily difficult. Also keep in mind that I have to decline a lot of excellent stuff, for a variety of reasons. In terms of what I like to see, I enjoy all kinds of stories and poems in all genres. Maybe romance isn’t so much my thing. But if you make it fresh and draw me in, I will give pretty much anything a chance. As long as it follows the guidelines!