Finnian Burnett

Author, Educator, Cat Person

Welcome to the 5 Minutes Series. Each week, I’ll ask five questions of some of my favorite authors, editors, publishers, and other industry professionals. This week I’m talking with Marion Lougheed, the head of Off Topic Publishing.

You run a publishing company, Off Topic Publishing. What’s the origin story on that?

Well, I wanted to start a cooperative publisher, but I had no idea how to do that. So I started an online magazine that published one short story a month. I also didn’t know how to do that, so it was hard to get good quality submissions every month. But I did learn a lot. I ran it for about a year and then stopped. Then during the Covid lockdowns, I joined a writers’ group on Facebook (Canada Writes, run by the wonderful CBC Books). We got chatting about starting our own contest just within the group. So I launched one and people seemed into it. The winner was published on the site and got half the entry fees. Off Topic grew from there and I started publishing books and running workshops and now this year we’re even holding a writing retreat and conference in Banff, Alberta, Canada, in August.

You are getting your PhD, you’re a writer, you run workshops, and you are a publisher. How do you make time for all the many shifts you have to do?

Honestly it gets overwhelming sometimes. I’m not an advocate of busy. I don’t wear that as a badge of honour. The writing has taken a backseat recently, except for my PhD. I’m also a freelance editor, so that is my “day job,” so to speak. But they do feed into each other. Like I’m planning to write a layperson version of my PhD thesis and my Masters thesis, and the publishing connects with other writers who then create awesome workshops. It’s a lot, but it keeps it interesting. I do like the variety. And then I can feel like I’m procrastinating on one thing while working on something else.

What’s the most daring thing you’ve ever done?

Skydiving? That’s certainly the most traditionally daring thing. I mean, every time you ride in a car in a busy city, you’re being kind of daring… I think entering a long-term relationship with real commitment is kind of daring in a quieter, more mundane way. I don’t know. This is a hard question. I don’t think of myself as particularly daring.

As a publisher and as someone who publishes anthologies and runs contests, you read a lot of submissions. What advice would you give someone to increase their chances of shortlisting for contests or getting accepted into an anthology?

It’s probably cliché but read the guidelines and follow them. Check seven times. Or more. For the monthly Poetry Box, I get so many poems that are just way too long. I don’t read them because they simply will not fit on a postcard. So now that person has wasted their time and mine.

On a writing level though, I think trying to come up with a fresh take. When I had the call out for pieces for my forthcoming Home anthology, I received dozens of pieces called “Home.” Be fresh. Be weird, even, if you can pull that off in an enjoyable way. Often our first or second or third idea is something others are thinking of too. When you get an idea, ask yourself how you can make it shine. So, this also means you should be reading a lot, so that you actually know what is common.

Speaking of anthologies, you have several coming out this year including a charity anthology for Ukraine. What inspired you to do that and what was the process to get it out?

My friend Bruce Lilly is a Canadian of Ukrainian descent. We were chatting one day about the war there and what we might do. I thought we could do a charity anthology and he jumped on the idea. The process took longer than I expected, partly because – surprise, surprise – we received a lot of submissions that did not follow the guidelines. The anthology is not about Ukraine. It’s about Standing Up (which is the title) in some nonfictional real-life situation. We got a lot of… not that. So we had to dig through, and of course putting together any big project is tons of work. I even had to recruit some buddies to help me sort through the stuff that was irrelevant or unsuitable in some other way. Bruce had to step back from the project for personal reasons, so I also ended up with a bunch of unanticipated additional work. I managed to carry it to fruition myself, although the print version is still pending. But that meant putting Home and Exhaustion and other projects on the back burner for a while, so now those have been delayed. It’s hard to juggle it all. But I’m glad to have created Standing Up and I hope that people will support it. All the profits from that book will go to the Canada-Ukraine Foundation. (Ed. Note. Standing Up can be purchased here.)

Bonus question:

Have you ever taken a photo of a weird bird?


Marion can be found at her website here, or for information on her editing services click here.

Off Topic Publishing is running a one-day writing conference (online or in person!) and a weeklong writing retreat in August in Banff. Information about that can be found here.

If you’re interesting in purchasing the monthly poetry box subscription with tea, chocolate, and a poem, check it out here.

2 thoughts on “5 Questions with Marion Lougheed

  1. Karen D'Angio Steinson says:

    Thank you Finnian and Marion! Love the bird!

  2. Angela Joynes says:

    Great Job Finnian and Marion! I really enjoyed this, and I love the format!

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