Sometime last summer I decided I wanted to to become my own publisher. Perhaps it’s a strange idea for someone who has been published in the traditional way. For many years I was a published poet with Raven Arts Press and New Island Books, both of them here in Dublin. Then, like a number of my contemporaries in Ireland – writers like Dermot Bolger and Sebastian Barry – without ever abandoning poetry I became a novelist. My first novel was published, again here in Dublin, by The Lilliput Press, while the succeeding two were published by Picador in London. My novels never became best-sellers, but they garnered a sheaf of excellent reviews, so I was pretty happy with that.
Sebastian and Dermot, as well as being poets and novelists, also became dramatists. There are others who refuse to be confined to one area of writing or artistic endeavour. Dermot Healy is a very fine poet as well as novelist. He’s also an screen actor – see the extraordinary I Could Read the Sky. John Banville and Neil Jordan spring to mind. And then of course there’s Brian Lynch, originally and still a poet, then a screenwriter for both TV and film, then a novelist, and a publisher of other people’s work. Not to mention the poets Pat Boran, Jessie Lendennie, and the short story writer and novelist Micheál Ó Conghaile who are also publishers.
Incidentally Brian has published his second novel The Woman Not the Nameunder his own imprint, so I’m not exactly a trailblazer.
And – hot news – I have it on excellent authority that another prominent Irish novelist has been thinking along the same lines as Brian and myself. You’ll know who she is very shortly, but of course there’s no harm in speculating. Have fun!
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You’ll notice I’ve been writing about Irish literary authors. “Literary” is a controversial term, of course. Wikipedia says that “Literary fiction is usually not considered a genre, with associated conventions,” and attempts some kind of definition.
Anyway, I pause here to reflect that so-called “genre” Irish writers, authors of romantic fiction, fantasy, crime, etc, have been Independent Publishers for some time. Take the Cork writer Catherine Ryan Howard, who is not only an Independent Publisher, but writes about her experience to the benefit of us all, not least on the burning issue of being taxed by the US Revenue if you publish ebooks on Amazon unless you acquire a US tax clearance certificate.
But for “literary” authors, it’s a brave new world, especially here in Ireland.[/mks_pullquote]
To get back to my own story, while I tried drama, what really gripped me was non-fiction, or to be more precise, a particular story that is non-fiction.
It flowed on from my most recent novel, The Fisher Child, which is partly set in the Caribbean. I’ll write more about that in the coming months.
There are several reasons why I wanted to try independent publishing. One is that the older I’ve become the more I want to be in control of my work. Another is that I’m a geek – albeit a grey geek. I like knowing how things are done. I like being on a learning curve. After all, I taught myself html and css before crossing over to WordPress and have several websites to my name, including Irish Writers Online and Irish Culture. You might say that in the age of digital publishing, it’s a natural crossover.
I now have my first batch of ISBNs from Nielsen and assigned to eMaker Editions, so let’s see what I can do with them. It has been twenty years since I signed the contract with Lilliput for The Fabulists, so now the rights have reverted to me and I hope to publish it under the eMaker Editions label in June 2014, but first up will be my selected poems, very shortly!
Marion Kelly graciously agreed to edit them for me and she has done a wonderful job. Other friends have helped me proof the book, and gave advice on publishing. They are of course acknowledged in print.
Tried and Sentenced will be published both in ebook and paperback editions in March 2014.
Because I’m a geek, and an open source geek at that, I’m confident the publishing venture can be accomplished with open source tools, and that I can outline the process for others who may want to do the same. I work in Ubuntu Linux, but the publishing tools I have in mind are cross-platform, so that’s no obstacle if you work in Windows or Mac. It’s been a learning curve, and I hope to write about that for the benefit and encouragement of others who might like to become independent publishers. It isn’t for everyone and it’s not a panacea, but it is a serious option.
Here’s to adventure and learning curves.