Monday 22 October 2018

Meet Irish women behind publishing powerhouses

Industry is thriving despite new technology and recession.

Lisa Coen and Sarah Davis Goff of Tramp Press
Lisa Coen and Sarah Davis Goff of Tramp Press
Vanessa O'Loughlin of The Inkwell Group and Writing.ie
Catherine Ryan Howard

Fiona McBennett

Publishing has undergone many changes in recent years, due to the increasing influence of technology and the effects of the recession.

However, when it comes to the industry's consumer base, the facts remain the same: with research showing time and time again that women make up the majority of the book market.

So who are the women at the forefront of publishing in Ireland and what is it like to work in publishing these days?

Lisa Coen and Sarah Davis-Goff founded their publishing company, Tramp Press, in 2013. The pair previously worked together in Lilliput Press, where Davis-Goff discovered the award-winning writer Donal Ryan.

"Sarah was covering someone's sabbatical at the time and I was doing an internship. Neither of us remember who had the idea first but we kept talking about what we would do if we had our own publishing house. We decided to go for it when we left at the end of 2012. We set up a website and spent a year getting the company running before we launched last April," says Coen.

The pair are now firmly established in the industry and have published a string of successful novels. Their next book - by Sarah Baume, debut author and winner of the Davy Byrne's Short Story Award 2014 - is due out this February.

"People have really embraced us and we feel part of the scene. We have found that there is an encouraging community of women in the industry who are determined not to pull the ladder up behind them. There aren't a lot of all-female publishing houses and we are glad that we bring that diversity."

Coen says that most of the changes in publishing have been beneficial.

"There is a lot more mobility now. We don't have an office and we don't need one. Sarah and I work from our homes and are constantly in contact through email, so that's cut out a huge expense. Publishing has been cleared out after the recession and those who are left are the real die-hards, which can only be a good thing. The days of signing an author for a two-book deal, then dumping them when things don't work out, is a thing of the past."

Although women are the main readers of fiction, Coen has noticed a reluctance within the industry to publish female writers.

"A lot of really good writing by women is overlooked. The first book we published was by a woman and we were told it would be hard to sell. The reality is that we are on our third reprint. The industry is telling people what they want but readers are buying books simply because they are good."

Vanessa O'Loughlin has been part of the literary scene in Ireland since 2006, when she was one of the first people in the country to set up fiction-writing workshops.

"I had previously worked in event management so I decided to set up my own company, Inkwell, and offer writing courses with well-known authors. I based the courses on a corporate model and they were really lovely days out.

"Inkwell changed during the recession, as people weren't doing as many courses as they would have liked to. We evolved into a publishing consultancy, now called The Inkwell Group, and we work on a one-to-one basis with authors."

In 2011, O'Loughlin also launched a free online writing resources website, Writing.ie, which features tips and advice for aspiring writers, as well as details of literary events taking place around the country. She says that technology has helped the industry.

"Publishing is an exciting place to be at the moment, as there are different opportunities opening up every day online. Digital publishing and self-publishing offers a great opportunity for writers to get their work out there, as due to the constraints of running a publishing house, not every good book can be published."

O'Loughlin says that editors' resources have been stretched in recent years and that their expectations and standards have risen as a result.

"Publishing houses have had to trim their cloth due to the recession and the reduction in book sales. So now, when a writer submits a manuscript, it really needs to be publisher-ready. Editors just don't have the time to search for a glimmer of genius."

The demands of the publishing industry mean that O'Loughlin is constantly on the go, however, her desire to help writers fulfil their ambitions keeps her motivated.

"I wear many different hats, so it's non-stop - but I love it. I am a big believer in free information and that's why I set up Writing.ie as it really has everything a writer needs. I think it's tragic if someone has talent but can't develop it because they can't afford services."

One of the biggest developments to shake up the publishing industry in recent years has been self-publishing. Research carried out last year at Kingston University in the UK, showed that 65pc of self-published writers are women.

In 2010, Catherine Ryan Howard decided to self-publish a travel memoir she had written about her time working at the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida. The trials and tribulations she experienced led her to write a self-publishing guide, Self-Printed: The Sane Person's Guide to Self-Publishing.

"I had put my travel memoir away in a drawer, as I was concentrating on writing a novel at the time. When a friend sent me a link to a website that gave me the possibility of making a book, I thought it would be better to do something with it than have it just sit there," says Ryan Howard.

"It was incredibly difficult. Nowadays, there are so many resources out there. At the same time, I found the whole process exhilarating and it was great when it was published to know I had done everything myself."

Having self-published three books in total, Ryan Howard says that adopting a businesslike approach is essential for success.

"When you are self-publishing you are becoming an entrepreneur and your book is your product. You need to move away from the romantic ideal of a writer and put on your business hat.

"I struggle not to laugh in the face of someone who tells me that they don't have money for a cover designer or they don't have the time. If you were going to open a restaurant and you didn't have tables and chairs, you wouldn't open the restaurant.

"It's also hugely important to sit down and write out a business plan," she says. While a lot of hard work and determination is needed to self-publish a book, it can be a financially rewarding option for writers who are struggling to make ends meet.

"What is fabulous about self-publishing is that it gives authors, at any stage of their career, an opportunity to make additional income," says Ryan Howard.

"The traditional author gets about 10pc of the cover price of their book, where as a self-published author can get anything between 30pc and 70pc, depending on the layout of their book. Writing is an industry where you are so often dependent on someone else's yes. The fact that writers can now start to make a living immediately is great."

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