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Guest Post: Caleigh Minshall Talks About Porcupine’s Quill and Its Mission

Caleigh Minshall is our guest today, and she’ll be talking about Porcupine’s Quill, which is nestled in the town of Erin Village, Ontario, Canada.  She’s an intern over there and blogs as Porcupette.

It sounds like this press is really enthusiastic about its mission and helping out writers and poets alike.  I’m sure you can guess which part of that mission makes me happy, especially with National Poetry Month around the corner.

Happy Independent and Small Press Month! My name is Caleigh and I’m your guest blogger for today. I’m the intern at the Porcupine’s Quill, a unique literary publisher based in Erin Village, Ontario. On our website I also blog about my ventures in the publishing world as the Porcupette (which is, in case you didn’t know, a very young porcupine).

The Porcupine’s Quill is proud to be a small press (we have three full-time employees and an output of around 10-12 titles a year), but we consider our authors to have the same national and creative importance as those published by multinationals. Many popular Canadian authors today got their start with us: Jane Urquhart, Steven Heighton, Russell Smith, Gil Adamson, Michael Winter, Elizabeth Hay and Annabel Lyon, to name a few.

Of course, we don’t publish them anymore. In Serena’s call for guest posts, she suggested publishers write about “why the[y] continue to struggle against the mass market producers.” The fact is, at the Quill, we don’t have a choice.

Our fiction editors (once John Metcalf, now Doris Cowan) have always had a good eye for new writers. And this is what inevitably happens: we take a chance on a first-time writer, a chance no other publisher would take, and the book – often a collection of short stories – happily receives a lot of praise. In the early years of the Quill, publisher Tim Inkster thought that this new writer would grow alongside the press, finish a novel or two, and together they could make money. In reality, this almost never happens. Those commercial publishers dangle their large advances in front of our new writers, and the Quill’s budget just can’t compete.

Really, we can’t (and don’t!) blame the writers for jumping at the larger advances. Every good writer deserves the opportunity to make a living off their work, if they can, and their chances of making a living increase when they have the big budgets and distribution power of a major publisher. In another way, too, this constant reshuffling of our author stable forces us to constantly seek out new, exciting, innovative talent. We don’t have the luxury of relying on the growth of an author’s backlist or skills. Perhaps this reshuffling makes us stronger as publishers, as editors, as critical readers. It certainly makes the work more challenging! Regardless, we’ve been operating this way for over thirty-five years – it doesn’t get easier but we have managed to stay afloat, and to publish a lot of great books while we’re at it.

The Porcupine’s Quill isn’t limited to fiction. Our goal is and always has been to publish brilliant fiction by largely unknown Canadian authors, and brilliant poetry by well-known Canadian poets. These days, we’ve also added a cutting-edge wordless novel series, featuring young OCAD University artists and professors, which has received a lot of good press. The most recent is Book of Hours by George A. Walker, a provocative series of wood engravings depicting the lives of regular people in the twenty-four hours before the Twin Towers fell.

The unique thing – well, one of them – about the Quill is that we complete almost all of our production in-house. To us, the beauty of the physical book is as important as the beauty of the content. Publisher Tim Inkster uses twentieth-century offset printing technology – a twenty-five inch Heidelberg KORD – to replicate the quality, look and feel of a nineteenth-century letterpress product. If you’re interested in more details, we’ve uploaded a few videos to YouTube outlining the process. All of our books feature thick, creamy paper and colourful endpapers, and they’re all bound using a 1905 Model Smyth National Book sewing machine (instead of just flimsy glue). The shop is jam-packed with printing paraphernalia, most of which I have no idea how to use (that’s Tim’s job). It’s a very intricate and difficult process, and you’ll only find two other publishers in Canada that do the same sort of work that we do (those two being Coach House Press and Gaspereau).

Small presses are vital to a healthy literary culture. They have the courage and knowledge to take an unknown writer and help them create something great, something that challenges the norm. It might be difficult to make any money, but luckily that’s not what small presses are for – instead we dedicate ourselves, when no one else will, to finding and publishing the most excellent, daring and original literature around.

Risky business, sure, but we consider it an art.

Thanks, Caleigh, for contributing to the Celebration of Indie & Small Press Month.

  • I’m so glad that these small presses stepped up and offered some great guest posts this month. Sorry that I haven’t been on the posts to comment more and interact, I’m now pre-occupied with my newborn daughter.

    I hope everyone is having a great time with my guests!
    Serena´s last blog post ..Interview With Margaret C Sullivan- Author of The Jane Austen Handbook

  • I’m glad there are small presses out there willing to take chances on new authors. I’m also thankful for Serena organizing a month for us to celebrate them!
    Anna´s last blog post ..Review- Captain Wentworth’s Persuasion by Regina Jeffers

  • Oh my goodness. I am SO jealous of your printing/production setup right now, it’s ridiculous.

    • Haha, I know … It’s pretty wicked! 🙂 (A *lot* of hard work, though.)

  • Thanks for having me! It’s been a pleasure following the guest posts.