Three Common Mistakes Writers Make When Looking for a Publisher

They are, in brief, these: rushing, rushing, and rushing.

Rushing 1: getting impatient with the submission process. It’s exciting to have finished your story. You know you have something worthwhile and you strongly suspect there’s a readership for it. But the time-lapse between that heady feeling and the moment you might get that “yes” from a publisher seems intolerable. Many publishers say that it takes six months or longer to review your manuscript and, of course, there is no guarantee that the answer will be what you want it to be.  Waiting is hard, and the suggestion you can do it yourself (by choosing a self-publishing option) can be tempting. But here’s the thing. The six months is going to pass anyway. If you think your book is a good fit with a publisher – and there are ways of checking whether this is the case – then you can start another book project while you wait for an answer. Also, most publishers do not require exclusive submissions anymore, so perhaps there are two or three publishers you’d like to contact.

But avoid the following mistake:

Rushing 2: submitting before your manuscript is ready. Early drafts which survive in the bottom of drawers or shoe boxes tend to cause major embarrassment to their authors when they resurface.  It could be the number of typos. It might be the misuse of words, overwrought descriptions or characters that don’t make sense, but skimming through those old manuscripts can send shivers up and down the spine. A novel draft that today seems to beg you to release it into the world may one day fill you with a desire to cast it into permanent oblivion. So don’t rush to submit your manuscript before you are sure you’ll be proud of it in ten years’ time.

How do you ensure this is the case?

Before any manuscript is seen by an editor at a publishing house, it should have been through several redrafting processes, and it should have been read and commented upon by experienced authors and editors. And sorry if this sounds snobby, but there are no real substitutes. Friends and relatives are not necessarily the best advisors.  A professional whose work is connected to literature but who has never published in your chosen creative sphere is not a good stand-in either, no matter how lofty their title may be.

Most national or regional writing organizations have lists of authors who offer editing and evaluation services. Make sure the designation is an exact fit. If you have written a novel, you need feedback from a professional novelist. If you have written a play, you need feedback from a professional playwright. If you have written a series of poems, you need feedback from a poet. The feedback will be more precise and more insightful and the experienced writer will understand what you have put into it and how high are the stakes. And as they have trodden the road before, they will have the stamina to stay with you while you try to solve your issues.

Rushing 3: forgetting to put the horse before the cart. It’s great to be free and unfettered when you create your masterpiece, but it’s also a good idea to clearly define your goals as you are writing. Even while your project is in its earliest stages, you should take a look around book stores and libraries. Who is your readership? Who publishes books like the one you are working on? Thinking about these questions in advance will prevent you from writing yourself into a hole.

Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with thinking outside the box. But some of your decisions might unconsciously slice off whole swaths of your potential readership for no good creative reason, and others might disqualify you from being considered by certain desirable publishers. This is especially the case with questions of setting. Sometimes there are compelling reasons to place your story in, say, rural Ireland, particularly if you know the culture well and the theme demands this setting. But other times, decisions of place can be more arbitrary than we would like to admit, in which case you might want to think about the most authentic match both for yourself and for the most promising publishers.

Perhaps the most important thing of all is to enjoy the ride even while you’re imagining your final destination.  Savour every character who comes to life and every dramatic event as it transpires. It’s a long haul, but you’re creating a world so it’s worth it!

Upcoming Creative Writing Workshops

November 26 & December 3, Prepare to Publish, (2 live 3-hour sessions), 2:00 pm – 5:00 pm, casa, Lethbridge, Alberta. Build a strategy for matching your work to a publisher and a marketplace. Learn how to look for the right fit, and how to entice a publisher with your blurb and biography. Learn to tell when your manuscript is polished enough for submission.

Guided Online Writing Workshop Series (anywhere) is opening up a limited number of spaces this November. Call 403 915 7685 or email for more details or if you wish to register.

Remember to check out the Instant Hook Writing Contest rules and deadline here.

Trump Embodies Dylan’s Villain

News and the social network have been known to make some odd bedfellows. Never has this been more in evidence than in the recent exposure of Donald J. Trump as a sex predator and the simultaneous naming of Bob Dylan as Nobel Prize recipient. For me, something clicked mentally with Dylan’s prize, spilling a comparison I’d only been vaguely aware of before.

William Zantzinger, the racist antagonist of Dylan’s The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll suddenly revealed himself with astounding clarity in the snarls and threats of the would-be president.

Unlike Zantzinger, the rich landowner who ended the life of Hattie Carroll at a Baltimore social gathering, Trump may not have actually killed anyone. But an alarming number of Zantzinger’s traits have become all too visible in the presidential nominee. Both characters are rich, white, male and entitled. Both reserve their worst treatment for women. Both react to the disempowerment of others not with pity or even guilt — but with anger. Neither knows what it is like to be on the wrong side in socioeconomic terms; neither, apparently, cares. Both are known to have cheated in business. And both have a persistent problem with race.

As Trump spirals more and more out of control, the thread between the politician and the late Mr. Zantzinger becomes increasingly mystical, almost prophetic.

Dylan has always been an artist who deals in our collective unconscious. His talent has been to use words and music to pinpoint a feeling, giving specific name and shape to something that, for most of us, lies just beyond expression. This time, coincidence, and extreme bad luck have made Dylan’s lyrics more prescient than usual.

In the account of the historical Zantzinger’s night of violence, he had already racially abused a young black woman even before turning his attentions to Hattie Carroll. The song tells how Zanzinger (Dylan alters the spelling of the name but little else), struck Carroll hard with his cane and how, when arrested on a charge of manslaughter, he showed no remorse.



Arrogance and privilege: Trump, top, and Zantzinger above.

Trump, likewise, has a history of discriminating against black people, making sure, for instance, his apartments could not be rented to black families. More recently he has made blanket statements calling an end to Muslim immigration into the US and stating that Mexicans are rapists. And witness the second town hall-style debate when he was unable even to engage with a question about anti-Muslim discrimination. To the questioner’s obvious horror, he turned the subject on its head, talking instead about what he as US president would expect from Muslims. The unrehearsed moments reveal most. Trump really does think like that.

Dylan’s details were culled — with some fidelity to the facts — from Maryland newspaper headlines of 1963. For Maryland society, Dylan tells us, the cause of grief is not Hattie Carrol’s death, but Zanzinger’s need for “penalty and repentance.” It’s his tragedy, in other words, not hers. Cue Dylan’s line: “Take the rag away from your face/Now ain’t the time for your tears.”

There will be a second tragedy here, Dylan tells us, but it hasn’t come yet.

That sucker punch arrives at the end of the song: “William Zanzinger with a six month sentence” followed by Dylan’s exhortation: “Bury the rag deep in your face/Now is the time for your tears.”

It’s not just that Zanzinger himself is a narcissist. It’s also that the whole of society has conspired to enable his narcissism. They are all in it together. Judge, newspapers, and every other influential person are invested to believe in a faux tragedy — that of a “respectable” (read, wealthy) young man’s fall from grace.

Zanzinger’s twenty-first mirror image, Donald J. Trump, pumped up on the self-aggrandizement of his reality TV show and on our celebrity addictions, was caught on tape cheerfully describing how famous men, like him, can grab women’s genital areas and get away with it.

Does he withdraw from the race as he should? No. Instead he gives a notably feeble apology to his family and the American people (note the order) for his crass “locker room talk.” Then, of course, he goes on the attack.

Immediately some of his evangelical supporters weigh in with the need to forgive him, even while fresh accusations come to light. Clearly nothing will make this man go away. And nothing will deter the core of his support. He is as beyond “penalty and repentance” as his fans are from clear thinking.

This is the ugliest side of entitlement. Like Dylan’s Zanzinger, the story is about much more than one reprehensible individual. It’s about the shadow side of the American dream, the dangers of unconditionally respecting wealth and status. We’re all responsible for allowing this to happen, Dylan seemed to be saying, and he was right.

The historical William Zantzinger’s life after jail showed remarkable consistency. In 1991 it was found that he had been collecting rents on black families living in shanties that he did not actually own. Once again, he avoided significant jail time in spite of obvious and proven fraud.

One thing is worth quoting for its eerie resonance. When asked in 2001 by author Howard Sounes for a comment on the Dylan song, Zantzinger replied, “I should have sued him and put him in jail.”

Sound familiar? This is the voice of a man who cannot change. Like Trump, Zantzinger’s brutality is brazen, almost boastful. And Trump, like Zantzinger, is morality an infant. Like parents who spoil a difficult child, we collectively back off and let him get away with every sin and misdemeanor.

Why would he change? Trump likely doesn’t have necessary intellectual software for reflection. Let’s just hope that final line of Dylan’s, “now is the time for your tears,” does not yield another awful parallel on November 8.

October Ink Stains

There is a great deal to report with new courses (The Story and Prepare to Publish) beginning to fill up (see below), The Instant Hook Contest submissions coming in (Deadline: December 31, rules and regulations: here) as well as several books by alumni and friends being released in very close succession.

First a recap: several months ago I asked advice from romance writers Kate Robbins, Robin St. Croix, and Victoria Barbour about how to shed my non-romance writer self and plunge into this popular genre.

Well I managed it for about a page and a half before falling off the romance wagon and plummeting into decidedly unromantic themes and scenarios. Setting this aside for a bit as I gird up my loins (so to speak) for another go, I thought I would see what could be gleaned from the hard work and ingenuity of these authors when it comes to marketing their work. Take a look, for example, at this trailer for Robin’s romance, Masquerade — an intriguing way to mix the literary medium with film.

Although they are all based in one Canadian province (Newfoundland and Labrador), these authors have achieved international success through a combination of highly professional writing and innovative marketing techniques. They are also part of a collective Romancing the Rock which has numerous success stories — so numerous in fact I can barely keep up with them. A collective makes such good sense for writers who are, by nature, the shyest of creative artists; each author’s publicity becomes the other authors’ publicity and the result is a win-win situation for everybody.

We could all take a page from their book!


Upcoming HB Creativity Workshops

October 22, The Story, (3 hours, live), 2:00 pm – 5:00 pm, casa, Lethbridge (2 places remaining at time of writing). Learn how to pitch a story, and how to sustain conflict and suspense. We will explore plot, character development, style, sentence structure, the use of different tenses, point of view, and dramatic tension. Call 403 915 7685 or email

November 26 & December 3, Prepare to Publish, (2 live 3-hour sessions), 2:00 pm – 5:00 pm, casa, Lethbridge. (3 places remaining at time of writing). Build a strategy for matching your work to a publisher and a marketplace. Learn how to look for the right fit, and how to entice a publisher with your blurb and biography. Learn to tell when  your manuscript is polished enough for submission.

Guided Online Writing Workshop Series (anywhere) is presently full but a limited number of spaces will open in early November 2016. Call 403 915 7685 or email if you wish to register.


Alumni and Friends News

Tara Nanayakkara‘s Dawning of a New Garden (Inanna, Toronto), a beautiful tale of bereavement and fresh hope is available everywhere.


Glenn Deir‘s The Money Shot, a wickedly funny tale of rivalries among journalists, will be officially launched at the Breakwater Books party on October 25 at the Masonic Temple in St. John’s, Newfoundland.


Bianca Lakoseljac‘s richly lyrical The Stone Woman
has been published by Guernica Editions (Toronto). Bianca has many appearances in Southern Ontario lined up this fall.


John Fleming is working on self-published comics along with Artist Collette Turner. Their first Kickstarter successfully raised $8000, their second one is launching early October. Here is a preview link.

Note: If you have had dealings with HB Creativity let me know of your upcoming publications!

Other news

Broken Earth Productions is presenting The Weir by Conor McPherson at the LSPU Hall in St. John’s, Newfoundland from November 1 to November 5. The production is directed by Leo Furey and the cast includes Mikaela Dyke, Aiden Flynn, Pete Soucy, Steve O’Connell, and Chris Pickard. Tickets can be purchased at 709 753-4531.

Fourth Annual Instant Hook Writing Contest Now Open!

Dear Lethbridge Word on the Street attendees,

Many thanks for coming by on Saturday and for all those who signed up for HB Creativity’s e-bulletin and/or the creative writing workshops below. Congratulations to Rayn Perry who wins a copy of my novel, Hero.

Upcoming Workshops

October 22, The Story, (3 hours, live), 2:00 pm – 5:00 pm, casa, Lethbridge (2 spaces left). This is a relaxed workshop in a mutually supportive atmosphere. During brainstorming sessions and other exercises you will learn how to pitch a story, and how to sustain conflict and suspense. We will explore plot, character development, style, sentence structure, the use of present, past, and future tenses, point of view, use of third or first person, dialogue, and dramatic tension. Call 403 915 7685 or email

November 26 & December 3, Prepare to Publish, (2 live 3-hour sessions), 2:00 pm – 5:00 pm, casa, Lethbridge (3 places left). Through these sessions each participant will build a strategy for matching his or her work to a publisher and a marketplace. Participants will learn how to look for the right fit, how to entice a publisher with their blurb and biography, and how to make sure their manuscript is polished enough for submission.

Guided Online Writing Workshop Series is presently full but a limited number of spaces will open in mid-October 2016. Call 403 915 7685 or email if you wish to register.

Announcing the fourth annual Instant Hook Writing Contest (2016)!

The Instant Hook Writing Contest is a fun (but useful) test to see how effectively you can lure unsuspecting readers from disinterest into engrossed attention.

There are so many different ways to grab a reader’s attention, so many “rules” which end up contradicting each other that I won’t waste space pontificating about what makes a great opening. I’ll leave that to you! There is no entry fee, and no prerequisites other than being over 18, and there is a cash prize ($300, Canadian) for the winner. Please read the regulations carefully. Good luck!


Deadline (postmark date): December 31, 2016

Prize: $300.00 (Canadian)

Entrants are encouraged to submit the first 300 words or less of an unpublished novel. As the competition title suggests, the goal is to create an opening that commands attention, and makes the reader wish for more. For the sake of this competition, though, there will be no more; the word limit will be strictly adhered to, so the aim is to create an opening so intriguing, so compelling that it will promise a wealth of ingenious, absorbing, beautifully-written prose to come on its heels.

Sound like fun? Good. The exercise will make those creative juices run and give you something to work with for many weeks, months, and years afterwards.

Here are the rules; please read carefully!

  • The awards are open to anyone who is over 18 at time of entry.
  • The submission must be sole-authored, in English, from the very beginning of a novel, and no more than 300 words.
  • The novel opening may have been written for the competition or may be part of a manuscript already completed. But it cannot have been published, and cannot have been accepted by a publisher at time of entry.
  • These awards are open to new or established, already-published, authors (it does not have to be a first novel).
  • This is a blind-judged competition. HB Creativity must not have seen any part of this novel prior to entry; it must not be a work for which I personally have provided tutoring or editing services. I cannot absolutely guarantee I will not recognize a writing style, but I must not recognize the writing, the characters, or the plot.
  • Please use 12 Times New Roman font and double space your entry.
  • Send your entry by mail only (no emails please) to Paul Butler, HB Creativity, 8 – 121 Silkstone Road West, Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada, T1J 3Y6 (make sure you have “Paul Butler, HB Creativity” as well as the address) with a postmark date no later than December 31, 2016. Winners will be announced in March 2017.
  • Please do not put your name on your entry! Enclose in a separate envelope your name and contact (email and phone), plus the title of your entry. This envelope will be opened after the winners have been decided. Along with your name and contact please indicate whether you wish to receive our bimonthly INK STAINS news bulletin.
  • There will be a one time email to entrants to announce the competition winner. There will be no advertising of any kind on this email. If you do not wish to receive this email, please indicate this on your entry.
  • Do not send your only copy. Copies without sae cannot be returned. If you do not want your entry returned, it will be shredded and recycled.
  • There is no cost to enter.
  • There is no residency or nationality requirement.
  • Copyright remains with the author. We may ask for permission to publish an extract of the winning works on this website but this will not be done without the author’s express permission. Withholding permission will in no way invalidate the entry or disqualify it from winning a prize. By entering you merely give permission for me to use your name and the (provisional) title of the work.
  • One winner will receive a cash prize of $300.00 (Canadian). Two runners-up will receive a free hour tutorial (depending on location) in-person or over Skype.


News from Alumni and Friends

Congratulations to Tara Nanayakkara. Her beautiful new novel Dawning of a New Garden is about to be published by Inanna Publications (Toronto).

Congratulations to Glenn Deir. His wickedly funny new novel The Money Shot is about to be published by Breakwater Books (St. John’s).

Congratulations to Bianca Lakoseljac. Her richly lyrical The Stone Woman
has just been published by Guernica Editions (Toronto).

(Note: please forward alumni news to

Writing Fiction in a World of Change

Over the past few weeks the two places I have called home longest in my life have both inexplicably given themselves the most serious of self-inflicted wounds. The Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador has introduced an austerity budget which hammers the young, the vulnerable, the old, and the sick and gives no hint at all as to how any of this is to solve any of our long term problems. Indeed, the gloom is so great that even those not immediately affected in any personal sense – those who in fact make up the tax base of the province – are busy planning ways to escape with their children to more optimistic regions of the world.

Meanwhile, the government of the United Kingdom saw its ill-advised promise of a referendum on the emotionally-charged subject of the European Union bear the bitterest of fruit. I arrived in Heathrow on the morning of the vote. Little Britain was about to begin the process of deciding to close its borders to other EU countries and prevent freedom of movement with all the social, commercial, educational, and cultural benefits such freedom brings. Although I was no fan of the UK’s right wing Conservative government and knew there was still a lot wrong with Britain, it was obvious before the vote that the country was slowly evolving as part of Europe, at least culturally if not socially. This, despite Prime Minister David Cameron’s populist mantra that Britain should be wary of too much ‘immigration’ – his way of placating the more extreme among his right wing Euro skeptic colleagues. Of course he hoped, and perhaps assumed, the referendum would see his country stay in Europe. But his xenophobic rhetoric worked too well. The population spoke and Britain decided to return to its insular, paranoid past.

Coincidentally during this tumult, my family and I are preparing to move several thousand miles from Newfoundland to Alberta. It’s one of those times when restlessness of spirit makes it easier to shift than to keep still. I’d have been glad we are going for this reason alone. Work will be the one constant amidst many changes. As a writing coach whose work is 95% online, I will be keeping many of my East Coast clients along with a number of others scattered around North America. The Instant Hook Writing Contest will be opening in early fall as usual (please note the new address when the contest rules are posted in September). I have one novel slated to be published in fall of 2017 and several writing projects in embryo.

I’m not an overtly political writer, at least not in any contemporary sense. But times like these make me wonder whether I should be. For those of us who shy from contemporary political events in our prose, there are still keen feelings bubbling beneath the surface.

Writers, like everyone else, live in the world. The imagination is connected to its environment like a spider’s thread to the bark of a tree. When the environment changes, when the tree falls, the creative urge is affected. Some would say it’s a writer’s duty to make sure this is the case but it is perhaps inevitable anyway.

The two events – Newfoundland’s austerity budget and the UK referendum – are curiously linked at least in my head, perhaps because I traveled from one home to another and back again during this period. But what in essence is the theme that connects them? One phrase comes irresistibly to mind: self-sabotage. Both events stem from the curious urge to create havoc out of order, disarray out of progress.

Cancelling funding for seniors’ dental services or test strips for people with diabetes isn’t going to help pay off Newfoundland and Labrador’s debt. We know this by now, but governments still pull tricks like this all the time – pouncing on the most vulnerable for the sake of “fiscal responsibility.” They pick the weakest lobby group in the hope the protest won’t be too deafening. The sound of a carcass thrown on the ceremonial pyre, that sizzle of sacrifice, obviously soothes some people’s nerves – even if it’s just the advisors who dream such ‘remedies’ up. Similarly stopping immigration into Britain isn’t going to help create jobs for the children and grandchildren of British citizens. History shows immigration, or more accurately, movement between former borders, creates economic activity and opportunity for everyone. But who needs logic when the same tired, discredited myths – “them taking our jobs,” – acts as such a successful conduit for a society’s collective fears?

This desire not to progress or to willfully move backwards, it seems, is a universal one, depressing though that may seem.This same atavistic impulse also lies behind so many novels and dramas that if I tried to write a list it would never end. Individually and collectively humans are a primitive race. We like fear and we like the idea of suffering, just so long as it isn’t too close to us. Like tossing a coin into a fountain we seem to believe someone’s loss will pay our dues in advance. Among those of my writing projects still in embryonic stage, I think this is a theme I may well explore.

There is a lot of frustration and it has to go somewhere.


Note: My email address and phone number will remain unchanged. My online courses are presently full but places will open in September. Click for details of fall courses.




Hero Reading

Many thanks to the Shorefast Foundation and the Fogo Island Inn for organizing and hosting Saturday night’s reading from my novel, Hero, originally published by Vagrant Press (Nimbus) in 2009 but current once more.

About Hero:
When Lieutenant Simon Jenson returns from the war in 1918, his wife Sarah finds him emotionally fragile and prone to violent rages. Not even their young daughter Lucy can cheer him. Worse, their lives are soon overtaken by the shadow of blackmail. Sarah and Elsa, Lucy’s governess, are forced to reconsider everything they once believed about loyalty, valour, and responsibility. “[A] brilliant new novel. Butler uses imaginative, textured language to convey the emotional contradictions of his characters.”  Atlantic Books Today.

Fogo Island Inn


The reading in Fogo Island Inn’s cinema


This has been a wonderful time on Fogo Island. The setting — the island is surrounded by icebergs at this time of year — is spectacular, and the people have been universally kind and friendly.

I was also delighted to be part of an event on May 28 to protest the unconscionable decision by the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador to close Fogo Island’s only public library, along with 53 other rural libraries around the province. So much damage to people’s lives for so little in terms of financial savings. Sad and completely unnecessary.