Far from publishing hubs, Montreal's Anglo writers find their own paths to success

They may live far from the publishing capitals of the English-speaking world, but Montreal's Anglo writers have nevertheless managed to find success by coming up with unique ways to get their work published.

4 English Montreal writers explain how they got their books in print

Montreal writer Alex Manley at a reading in Toronto. His poetry book, We Are All Just Animals & Plants, was published by independent press Metatron. (Arielle Saint-Amour/Facebook)

They may live far from the publishing capitals of the English-speaking world, but Montreal's Anglo writers have nevertheless managed to find success by coming up with unique ways to get their work in print. 

The executive director of the Quebec Writers Federation, Lori Schubert, said while publishing is difficult everywhere, it can be especially hard for local English-language writers.

"It's a little bit of a challenge because you can't go to book launches all the time and meet the movers and shakers," Schubert said.

So some are publishing locally through the small English literary community, or out of Canada's literary hub, Toronto. Others are seeking out major book publishers in the U.S., or skipping the industry entirely to self-publish.

International aspirations

Westmount-based international bestselling novelist Catherine McKenzie has written seven books and practices law in Montreal.

Her debut novel, Spin, was released to positive reviews in 2010, with the Globe and Mail calling it "a compelling, fast-paced read."

She said writing her first manuscript was her version of taking a writing class. She admits it "now lives in a drawer."
Catherine McKenzie lives in NDG. Her novels have been published internationally. (submitted Catherine McKenzie)

She didn't have any connections in the literary industry when she started her writing career a decade ago, but still tried to secure a U.S. agent for her next manuscript by sending out query letters.

"I felt like, if I believed in what I wrote, why not go for the big prize? Why short change myself before I'd even be told 'No,'" she said about sidestepping the Canadian publishing industry and going directly to the U.S.

Within six months she had an agent based out of San Francisco.

The novel was put on submission for 18 months — a process where the agent works to sell the manuscript to an editor. 

In her case, a few editors liked it but weren't able to sell their publishing houses on it.

During the delay she wrote Spin, which was sold in a two-book deal. She has been publishing novels regularly ever since. 

Montreal's young writing community

Concordia creative-writing grad Alex Manley published his poetry collection, We Are All Just Animals & Plants, with local press Metatron in 2016 after following their work for years.

The young, independent publisher was founded by other graduates of the Concordia writing program in 2013.

He submitted his work for a Metatron prize and it led to a publication contract.

"They publish the kind of poetry that me and my peers are reading and writing," Manley said. "It was easy to feel at home there as a result."

Locally, Metatron sells its books at independent bookstores like Drawn & Quarterly, the Word and Argo Bookstore. (submitted Alex Manley)

He regularly participates in readings with other young Montreal writers and says being a part of that network leads to healthy competition and inspiration.

"Being a part of a community of writers is such a great motivating tool to push you to write more, and edit your work harder, submit more places and push yourself to be the writer you want to be," he said.

He added that he hasn't looked at agents for his poetry since the majority of poetry book deals in Canada occur with no agent as go-between.

'Don't get discouraged'

Connie Guzzo-McParland is also a graduate of Concordia's creative writing program, but with a master's degree. In the master's program a creative work is expected as the thesis.

Her thesis ended up being split into two books — The Girls of Piazza d'Amore and her latest, The Women of Saturn. Guzzo-McParland then spent years perfecting those books for publication.

"My book was finished in 2007, and I only published the first part in 2013 and the second part in 2017. But I kept at it, and it's important to persevere and not get discouraged," she said.

Her latest novel was published by Inanna Publications, an independent feminist press in Toronto. 

She lauds the QWF, based out of the Atwater Library, for their grants and workshops, which help writers promote and polish their works.

"We are very lucky to have the QWF. They provide a lot of support to Quebec writers," she said.

Resources for a minority writing community

The QWF has about 650 members, half of which are published writers. It offers writing workshops and writers also use it as a resource to tighten their manuscripts.

Schubert said this support and guidance is essential for all writers, and can be especially beneficial for people seeking to self-publish their work.

"Everyone needs a professional editor," she said.

Skipping the industry to self-publish

Many self-publishing services offer the kind of support a writer would get from a publishing house — editing, cover design and linking to online retailers, like Amazon.

Self-publishing success stories include books that became so wildly popular online that publishers approach their authors with multimillion-dollar contracts for the print rights.

Perhaps the best-known example is Fifty Shades of Grey, which has sold more than 100 million copies since Erika Mitchell (aka E. L. James) had it self-published in 2011.

David Makin (left) at a book signing at the restaurant Brisket Montreal, which is mentioned in his novel Reantasy, Montreal. (Submitted by David Makin)
Rosemont's David Makin has self-published two novels — Reantasy, Montreal and Early Work & Later Works, released this spring.

He said the process cost about $1,500 each, but the price tag wasn't high enough to dissuade him.

"In today's society you always have to invest in yourself," Makin said.

"You're going to spend all this time writing a book that may take a couple of months — it could take two years — so put all the effort in it. Publish it. Take a chance," he said.

He acknowledged that he doesn't expect to become the next Stephen King, or even recuperate the expense of self-publishing — but that isn't the point. 

"We basically do it because we enjoy it," Makin said.