Last Saturday, I joined up with Sarah Webb, along with writer and performer, Mia Gallagher, to speak at the ‘Stand and Deliver’ seminar, organized by Tom, Mags and the gang at Children’s Books Ireland. This is aimed at newly published authors (although some veterans showed up as well) who want to pick up some tips on running a children’s session.
For most of us who’ve been doing it for a while, it’s been a case of trying different things – and learning from our mistakes – as we went along. But at CBI, we figured some people might find it a big help if there was a course to learn the basics. Judging by the demand for places, we weren’t far wrong. The day went really well – I learned a few new things myself – and I’d say it’s something we’ll be doing again soon.
For any writers who haven’t been getting themselves out there, I’d say to you that the days when you could be a reclusive author are over. If you want to make a living – unless you expect to benefit from some stunningly unlikely piece of good luck – you need to get out there and start pushing your books. It’s a painful fact that nobody else will do it for you – and that includes your publisher. These companies, particularly in Ireland, do not have the budgets or resources for promoting all their books, so what little they do have is spent on the books they are sure they can sell. And as anyone can see, they still get it wrong on plenty of occasions.
So not only will you have to do it all yourself, but how you go about promoting your books will be one of the things your publisher judges you on, even after you’re published.
It means doing tiny schools in the middle of nowhere and public library sessions where you might get three people showing up, but it all adds up in the end. It’s a hard slog, but it’s worth it. And given the culture of events we have in Ireland, you have better chance of getting sessions in schools and libraries here than in any other country I know of.
Unfortunately, last Saturday wasn’t an entirely positive day.
Talking to David Maybury and a few others at the seminar, I learned that Mercier Press have had to make major cuts to their list due to a 40% cut in their grant from the Arts Council. This includes effecting people who, like David, had just got their first publishing contract.
These grants are vital for Irish publishers, who are trying to compete in a market dominated by much bigger UK publishers (who, because of the scale of their market, still can’t afford to promote most of their books properly). Without these grants, most Irish firms could not survive. And without those publishers, Ireland would be reading whatever Britain chose to send our way.
These cuts are a painful blow for anyone, but particularly for new writers at a time like this, when publishers are freezing up, afraid to try anything – or anyone – new in a tough market.
I can only imagine what’s like for these authors at the moment. As a writer, you get used to having your work turned down at the start, but once you’re published, it’s easy to forget the ache of having one rejection after another. And then, when you do get turned down again (and it has happened to me more than once), at least you have a track record. You’ve done it before, you can do it again.
To get your first publishing contract and then have it fold on you after you’d got used to the idea? That must be gutting. And it’s not just first-time writers that Mercier is having to let down.
There was a blossoming of hope in Irish children’s publishing over the last few years, which had long been served in a proper commercial sense only by the O’Brien Press. They were the only ones giving the UK publishers a run for their money in the Irish market. And even they were glad to see Mercier pitching new blood into the mix.
My advice to anyone faced with the loss of their contract, the loss of their dream of being published, is this: Things in the market are tough right now, and it may seem hard to start going through it all again. But don’t quit. Keep writing, keep trying. Don’t quit. Publishing will always need new blood. Like anyone else, publishers need the hope of finding that next big thing, but more importantly, just about everyone in this business is in it for the love of it. They want to produce good stuff. Only a complete eejit would get into it for the money. So don’t quit.
For anybody looking for information on the children’s book industry in Ireland, including tips for budding writers and illustrators, you should check out cb-info on the CBI website. And we’re constantly looking for other ways to improve the environment for creating children’s books in this country. Keep writing. Don’t quit.