Thursday, March 25, 2010

June Caldwell's Notes from Publishing Day

The book publishing industry is changing rapidly and unless you’re directly involved, it's hard to gauge the impact of these changes on both the author and the reader. From interactive and illustrated Ebooks to the effect that social networking is having on our creativity, through to declining sales, a shifting business model and a slow economy. Some would say the industry is in turmoil, but one vital component remains deliciously static: the essence of books - the connection between author and reader.

The IWC Publishing Day was a great opportunity to scrutinise the links between the author, agent, publisher, publicist and reader. Author John Boyne (Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, etc.) spoke from the heart about the slow hard work of writing. “Make no mistake; it’s a difficult, slow process, requiring lots of deliberate effort,” he said. He also spoke about the importance of ‘intuition’ in the author’s life when it comes to “dreaming up ideas” and sticking by them if they demand to be written. “If you have that burning sensation that says ‘this is not going to let me go until I write it’...then just write it,” he urged.

A word of caution too about ‘large advances’ that can turn out to be a poisoned chalice of sorts for newbie novelists...if the book doesn’t sell, the author can be blacklisted. “Their careers are effectively over,” he said. John has had a prolific career with seven novels to date and over 70 short stories published. It was fascinating to hear how it all came about and the day to day continuation of his success story. “I write the first draft of a novel in six months,” he explained. “Then usually spend up to a year and a half re-writing as needs be.”

Why are agents so important nowadays and what exactly do they do? According to Jonathan Williams whose literary agency currently represents 160 authors, “An agent is someone who minds someone else’s business.” He received in excess of 2,800 manuscripts within Ireland last year. “Cascades of manuscripts and I’m afraid that the writing is getting worse!” he quipped. His main message was that authors should only submit a manuscript when it is “entirely ready”, meaning after it’s been worked on, re-written, edited, re-written again, etc. “Make it as near perfect as it can possibly get, then you are more likely to be taken seriously,” he said.

Jonathan was a joy to listen to and came loaded down with practical information. “Double space your text, for God's sake include page numbers! Also, get the manuscript flexi-bound so it stays in one piece when the agent is reading it." The industry is such a challenge these days that he works “day and night and weekends too, just to keep up with the lava flow.” For fiction; send two or three chapters to the agent. DO NOT submit by email as your beautifully carved novel will end its life in an electronic recycle bin. Keep the cover letter short. Don’t go overboard on a synopsis. “These can be terribly boring in fiction, but terribly necessary for non-fiction,” he said.

Two thirds of submissions he receives are from fiction writers, but Jonathan stressed that in the current market, non-fiction is easier to sell. “Out of 120,000 books sold in the UK and Ireland last year, around ten turned out to be successful novels,” he said. “With fiction writing there needs to be a unique texture to the prose...variety just isn’t there anymore as the mid-market writer gets squeezed out." A lot of publishers are choosing to concentrate on their biggest names now that the market in general is suffering. “Around 20% of books bought now are sold in supermarkets. If they sell, well and good, if they don’t, the leftovers get pulped which can mean your book is very quickly out of print.”

Thrillers are doing very well at the moment but the overall winner in the buying and selling stakes is the historical novel. “In the future there may not be any need for agents. The author and reader both work alone and increasingly the links in-between are blurring and changing. Self publishing is also on the increase as is online publication, so in future you may not have someone like me standing here telling you these marvellous facts!” he concluded.

Publisher Ciara Considine, Editor with Hachette Book Group Ireland, explained the editorial process and outlined the publishing opportunities for fiction and non-fiction writers. Like John Boyne, Ciara stressed the importance of hard work and 'strict routine' if you want to succeed as a writer. Writer’s groups are also good for ‘feedback’ and staying focussed on your goal. “The biggest mistake most writers make is sending a manuscript to a publisher in an embryonic state,” she warned. “This could ruin your one and only chance of being taken seriously”.

While Hachette accept unsolicited manuscripts, as do other publishers like Penguin Ireland, for instance, it is becoming rarer. “A lot of publishers only have time to filter through an agent due to the sheer volumes out there.” Graduates of MA’s in Creative Writing are at an advantage. “This already shows commitment and can be a good foot up on the ladder,” she explained. “You have to stick at it regardless and the people who do so, generally get there. I also believe a good novel WILL find its publisher, no matter how long it takes. It is a regular occurrence that authors don’t publish their first novel or sometimes the first one penned is not published but subsequent ones are. Keep going and you will hit the Zeitgeist.”
Ciara explained that ‘two book deals’ are now the norm. “A publisher usually commits to a second book if they are excited enough to go with a first,” she said. “But like everything in life, there are no sure-fire equations. It’s important to write what you want to write, not to try out a particular genre just because you think it will sell. If it’s good enough, it will get published. Cream always rises.”

Eoin Purcell gave a fascinating talk on digital publishing and how he feels it will impact in the near future. He believes the digital world is “utterly transforming the models that business is based on, particularly in Ireland where buying and selling is so insulated.” He cited how various blogs and online projects led to publishing deals and impressive book sales. “The phenomena of Overheard in Dublin, which started out as a type of ‘send in snippets you overhear when you’re out and about’ on the internet, ended up as a series of books and other merchandise.” The wry and often comedic blogger Twenty Major also had his blogosphere transformed into a novel, as did – an online beauty tips site.

“Booksellers are finding it increasingly difficult to make ends meet,” he explained. “Hughes and Hughes Bookstore cited the revolutionary wave of competition from the digital world as part of the reason for closure recently.” The linear model of author to agent to publisher to distributor to book seller is now being challenged by the internet. “Amazon for instance is already selling a range of Ebooks from well-known authors that they approached directly,” he said. “This often means bigger profit for the author and seller...anyone in-between is getting squeezed out.”

So how should aspiring writers use the internet to increase their author advantage? “It’s vital that you start a blog and at the very least follow other writers in the same genre you’re interested in. Chart your journey so prospective readers can get a feel for what makes you tick,” he said. Wordpress or BlogSpot are both good for this, as is Twitter for getting your message across and probably less so, is Facebook. “The latter is a kind of AOL for the modern world,” he said. “Virtual book tours are now starting to take place on the internet as a more efficient way of meeting up with a larger audience.”

Purcell believes that writers are not ‘exploiting’ the internet for profit as much as they could. “Even incorporating a PayPal button on your blog or website to sell chapters or extracts of your book is a real option and many US writers are taking the bull by the horns and selling direct to their readers,” he said. "This can even be done with books already published conventionally via a publisher, by buying off remaining copies at a discount and selling them on."

Sites such as; a portal for Ebooks from independent authors and publishers, is huge in the US with 250,000 books on sale but it has barely said "hi" in Ireland as yet. “Irish authors Sheila O’Kelly and Mary Malone are both selling their work this way." To emphasise fully how much the electronic world is impacting on reading markets in other jurisdictions, Purcell finished up with an astonishing fact: the top four novels in Japan last year were all ‘text novels’ reaching vast numbers of readers that the traditional book selling world couldn't muster.

Finally, what happens when a writer’s work is done and the publicist steps in? Literary Publicist, Cormac Kinsella discussed ‘Marketing a Book from Manuscript to Paperback’ using his work on Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín as a case study. While Tóibín is already a core ingredient in the Irish literary diet, Kinsella nonetheless stressed the importance of timing. “It is a vital component and can often mean the difference between success and failure,” he said. Into this ‘timing’ mix he organised TV and radio slots that would complement one another while allowing print media various ‘exclusive' snippets and interviews with the author that didn't clash with other forms of publicity. “A writer’s work is never done, but the publicist's work is endless,” he said.

Free Course for One Lucky Person!

We have an amazing free course to give away to one lucky person. This Saturday, Sean Hardie, the writer, producer and director of Not the Nine O'Clock News, is teaching a one-day workshop entitled Storytelling for Film and TV. Here's the course information and a brief description:

Storytelling for Film and TV with Sean Hardie

Saturday 27th March: 10.30am-4.30pm
There are three things, according to Sam Goldwyn, that go to make up a great film. The problem, he added, is that no-one knows what they are. Nonetheless there are resources which anyone setting out to write a screenplay or a TV script would do well to have in his or her paint box. It’s not enough to have a story –you need to know how to tell it; how to hold the attention of an audience and keep them interested and involved as the plot unfolds.
This one-day hands-on workshop explores the art and craft of screenplay storytelling for film and television; ways to create and maintain dramatic tension through the interplay of plot and character; how to play games with your characters’ – and your audience’s - emotions, assumptions and expectations. This course is suitable for anyone trying to write for film or television, but particularly for those who’ve tried and would like to do better next time.

This prize is valued at €70. For your chance to win all you have to do is tell us why you deserve to this prize. Submissions can be sent to: We'll be contacting the winner Friday March 26 so make sure to include your telephone number.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Slides from Eoin Purcell's Talk on Publishing Day

A lot of the Publishing Day participants were eager to feast their eyes on Eoin Purcell's slides. After all, Eoin gave some great tips on how to market your writing by using tools off the internet. The good news is that he has sent them in and I can now share them with you.

To get a copy, visit Eoin's blog at Make sure to click on the link that mentions the Irish Writers' Centre.

Monday, March 15, 2010

March Winners of the Lonely Voice

Our esteemed judge Anthony Glavin has chosen four readers to participate in this month's Lonely Voice competition. Here are the winning stories and short bios on the selected readers:

'That Day' by Brian Kirk. Brian is an accomplished poet and prose writer from Clondalkin. He was shortlisted for a Hennessy Award for fiction in 2007, placed third in the Peoples College short story Competition 2009 and shortlisted for the Over The Edge New Writer of the Year Award in 2008 and 2009. He was commended in 2009 Sean O’Faolain Competition. He recently won the inaugural Writing Spirit Award for his story Perpetuity. His stories have appeared in the Sunday Tribune and Crannog.

'Coronary Care' by Tony Devlin. From Dublin, Tony writes poetry and short fiction. He told us that he gets published occasionally and that only encourages him to write more.

'Alterations' by Mark Kilroy. Mark has written the screenplays for and directed two fiction films, “Hard Shoulder” (C4/RTE) and “Double Carpet” (IFB/RTE) which were screened at the IFI and broadcast on RTE and Channel 4. He has also written several short stories, with “Bog People” published in the Sunday Tribune (and shortlisted for a Hennessey Award in 2008), and “How Big is the Sea?” published in Southword 5. He told us that he has never read in public and wants to learn from the experience.

'Sex for the Organism' by Pat O'Connor. Pat O’Connor grew up in Limerick where he lives with his wife and two teenagers. He has been writing short stories for many years and hopes to have one published soon.

The Irish Writers' Centre looks forward to their reading which will take place on Wednesday, March 31st at 7pm. This event is free and open to everyone.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Shortlisted readers for March's Lonely Voice

We are delighted to announce the eight readers who have been shortlisted for March's short story competition The Lonely Voice:

Mark Kilroy, Alterations
Stephen Wade, In the Teeth of freedom
Shauna Busto Gilligan, Raised Pink Wallpaper
Tony Devlin, Coronary Care
Pat O'Connor, Sex for the Organism
Brian Kirk, That Day
Cathal McDermott, The Homecoming
Maureen Gallagher, Troubles Come

Out of these writers, a select few will be chosen to read at the event which is on Wednesday March 31st from 7pm. Our esteemed judge Anthony Glavin make this selection.

Anthony Glavin served as editor of ‘New Irish Writing’ in the Irish Press and as a Commissioning Editor for New Island Books. Author of an acclaimed first novel Nighthawk Alley and two short-story collections, One for Sorrow and The Draughtsman and The Unicorn, his stories have been anthologised in numerous Irish publications. Anthony will be teaching Writing the Short Story April 24th at the Irish Writers' Centre.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The new website of Irish Pages: A Journal of Contemporary Writing is now online

The new website of Irish Pages: A Journal of Contemporary Writing is now online at

On the website, you can:

  • Subscribe or renew online, or print off an order form to order by post
  • Read our submission guidelines for writing and photography
  • Browse the contents of previous issues
  • Browse samples from our current selection of photographs, Portfolio
  • Find out about our latest news and events

Note from the Editors:

Each issue assembles a carefully edited mix of English and Irish, prose and poetry, fiction and non-fiction, style and subject matter, in an overall fit aimed at a wide range of reading tastes. 

In addition, IRISH PAGES includes a number of regular features: The View from the Linen Hall, an editorial commenting on cultural or political issues in Ireland or overseas; From the Irish Archive, an extract of writing from a non-contemporary Irish writer, accompanied by a brief biographical note; In Other Words, a selection of translated work from a particular country; and The Publishing Scene, a commissioned piece taking a critical look at some aspect of the literary world in Ireland, Britain or the United States.

Each issue also contains a portfolio of photographs from a leading photographer; an article on Belfast or Northern Ireland; work from at least one emergent or new writer; writing on the natural world; and a major essay of literary distinction on an ethical, historical, religious, social or scientific topic. There are no standard reviews or narrowly academic articles.  Irish Language and Ulster Scots writing are published in the original, with English translations or glosses.

Although Irish Pages is mainly a prose journal, poetry is, of course, a major component of the journal’s mix of genres. On average, about a third of contributors and about a quarter of each issue have been given over to poetry, in both Irish and English, and including translations from other languages. There are also substantial essays on the poetic art by noted practitioners. This distinct but circumscribed space for poetry reflects the view of both poet-editors that in the context of a general-readership journal such as Irish Pages, a lean selection of poetry is likely to be read more attentively within the overall mix.

The sole criteria for inclusion in the journal are the distinction of the writing and the integrity of the individual voice. There are no favoured styles, themes, schools, publishers, critical hierarchies, and so on. Equal editorial attention will be given to established, emergent and new writers. Submissions are especially encouraged from younger writers, or writers at an early stage in their careers.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Listowel Writers' Week

This year's Listowel Writers's Week is taking place from 2nd-6th June. Since it's inception in 1970 the event has been recognised as the primary event in Ireland's literary calendar. Writers' Week festival celebrates established writers and seeks to provide an opportunity for Irish writers in general to develop their talents and meet new audiences.

This year's festival programme will feature the usual range of workshops and competitions, with a €30, 000 prize fund for over sixteen competitions and workshop directors like Éilís Ní Dhuibhne, Roddy Doyle, Sheila O'Flanagan, Paddy Breathnach, and Terry Prone.

More information is available from

DLR Poetry Now International Poetry Festival


Ireland’s biggest and best-loved festival of poetry, dlr Poetry Now, reaches its fifteenth year in 2010. As always, the readings, discussions and events will have an excitingly international flavour, with poets set to visit from countries including the US, Mexico, Spain, and Albania, and the festival will also present a bounty of superb Irish poets.

The festival will consist of a weekend of readings, workshops, talks and events, as well as The Irish Times and the Rupert and Eithne Strong Award presentations at the Pavilion Theatre, Dun Laoghaire.

Full programme is available at and festival tickets are available from the Pavilion Theatre, Dun Laoghaire, 01 231 2929

Dates Showing: Thu 25 March - Sun 28 March

The Landscape in Literature Lecture Series

The School of English, Trinity College Dublin, presents a lectures series, The Landscape in Literature, focussing on the function and necessity of landscape.

The series will examine texts across a range of genre inlcuding myth and legend, epic, the realist novel, plays, poetry, fairy tales, the adventure story, colonial and postcolonial writing whilest exploring a wide array of themes including displacement and alienation, futuristic and apocalyptic landscapes, landscape and memory and disputed territories.

Timetable as follows:

02.03.2010: Joycean Landshapes, presented by Sam Slote.

09.03.2010: Cloudscapes: Shakespeare, Yeats, Beckett, Mahon, presented by Nicholas Grene.

16.03.2010: Burned Countryside: Reading Irish poetry of war from W B Yeats to Eavan Boland, presented by Gerald Dawe.

23.03.2010: Seeing New Englandly: Writing a Region, presented by Philip Coleman.

30.03.2010: Intertextual Landscapes in Irish Children's Literature: Lynch, Dillon, Thompson and Dowd, presented by Amanda Piesse.

Admission: The cost for the full series will be €45 or €6 for individual lectures. Concessionary rates are €30 for the full series or €4 for individual lectures.

Venue: Uí Chadhain Theatre, Arts Building, Trinity College, D2

Time: 7.30pm, every Tuesday.

T: 01-8962885

International Women's Day at the Irish Writers' Centre, March 10th at 7.30pm

In celebration of female prose writing, the Irish Writers' Centre is pleased to host an evening of prose readings in honour of International Women's Day, highlighting the work of un-published women writers.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Are contemporary Irish writers fixated with Ireland's past?

Journalist John Burns wrote an interesting article that was published in The Sunday Times this past weekend. Entitled "Can Irish authors turn the page?", Burns wonders if contemporary Irish writers are fixated with Ireland's past. He asks readers where are the stories about the Celtic Tiger and the years after the boom?

His questions stem from an online debate posted on Julian Gough's blog where the blogger states: "I hardly read Irish writers any more, I’ve been disappointed so often. I mean [what]are writers in their 20s and 30s doing, copying the very great John McGahern, his style, his subject matter, in the 21st century?"

Burns questions the veracity of this statement by examing Ireland's leading authors and their recent works.

To read the article in full go to:

To read Julian Gough's blog go to: