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Publish And Be Damned

by Sean Hillen Columbia and I want to personally thank you those who either took the time to enter our WAWA competition and attended (or considered attending) one of our writing retreats, the most recent being in the Donegal Gaeltacht this past week. CHECK We will soon announce our new series of writing retreats for 2022, including a brand new one located in one of the most beautiful regions of France, with details on how one can be accepted to participate. We have placed various photos and videos from events throughout our recent Donegal retreat week on our social media outlets - Facebook, Instagram - should you wish to access them to gauge the level of quality and diversity of our activities. While we are called ‘Ireland Writing Retreat,’ we are delighted to have expanded well beyond the shores of the Emerald Isle and now host week-long writing retreats combined with mind-opening cultural excursions in a number of other countries, including Paris and at a beach location on the Black Sea.

In addition, using the combined skills of published authors, tutors and editors we collaborate with, we offer a range of editing and book design and publication services, under the umbrella of the ‘Center for the Imagination,’ our publishing branch. Over the last eight years since we established ‘Ireland Writing Retreat,’ we have noticed a sharp rise in the level of frustration experienced by writers in trying to have their books published, whether those works be in the form of novels, memoir, poetry or any other form of writing. We’re now taking a firm stand here in disagreeing with the traditional publishing industry and certain specific companies and agents in hindering the development of book publishing not just by overly focusing on established writers and giving very little attention to new, up-and-coming, unpublished ones, but in offering poor return, including marketing support and financial compensation, to most writers for their efforts.

In one way, this is understandable. Publishing is a business after all and such companies need to pay salaries and the electricity bill to keep the lights on.


But greed, as well as mere survival, has entered the arena in a far greater manner than ever before and many publishing houses are increasingly ignoring new voices wanting to be heard under the belief there is not enough profit for them in publishing new writers, especially if they are over a certain age, including those considered ‘seniors.’ We at ‘Ireland Writing Retreat’ are not afraid to call the publishing industry out on this and cry ’Shame.’ We consider this to be narrow-minded thinking of the worst kind.

We also shout ‘Shame’ about the rising habit of publishing houses and agents who take advantage of the enthusiasm and passion of new writers, wishing, often desperately, to be published, and wringing money from them with no real return of service.

If we had a penny for every time we’ve listened to an unfortunate unpublished writer talk about paying a fee (often a hefty one) to an agent, usually via a literary festival or online, for listening to a five-minute pitch or read a short excerpt, then respond in such a pithy and disinterested way that provides very little help whatsoever to the person wanting to improve their work and become a published author, we’d be quite rich.

I will be the first to admit that I was victim to what some call ‘sophisticated scams.’ See below.

In the throes of excitement, I myself paid around 100 American dollars for what I consider, in my humble opinion, a rather pathetic review of a pitch for my contemporary novel ‘Pretty Ugly.' Maybe I’m wrong, maybe I’m naive, maybe, as they say in Ireland, ‘I don’t know my arse from my elbow.’


Firstly, ignore the opening preface, which I wrote to Jim McCarthy, vice-president of Dystel & Goderich Literary Management, and to which - as many of you readers may also have experienced - I received not a single line of response.


Secondly, in the scribbled, so-called 'critique,' as you can see, I received a mere two (2) sentences of what can best be described as 'fluff' for my 100 dollar payment. Do you consider this value for money?


I would go further and take issue with Writer’s Digest, a well known and established international group, one that boasts modestly in its Internet blurb that ‘it is the No.1 Resource for Writers, Celebrating the Writing Life and What it Means to be a Writer in Today's Publishing Environment.’ It was the organisation that facilitated, and benefited, from organising this so-called ‘advice,’ advice that was so short, general and non-specific you and I could probably have written it while cutting our fingernails.

As such, disheartened by this increasingly common practice, ‘Ireland Writing Retreat’ hereby vows never to indulge in such scurrilous money-making activities. You can be assured, dear reader, when we do introduce literary agents or representatives of publishing houses as speakers or advisers at our retreats which will probably happen as an inevitable expansion of our outreach program, we will wean out those agents that return very little value for the money they are paid in their so-called ‘advisory capacity.’

We have developed a database of such agents and publishing houses, a ‘black list’ if you will, from our wide-ranging conversations with participants to our retreat, and, believe me, we will keep well away from them.

We also here, officially and for the record, urge you as a writer not to disregard the self-publishing route, replete as it can be with obstacles and frustrations, but instead to seriously consider it. The benefits can be immense, including - as has happened to many writers - eventual publication by a major international house and an enviable place on The New York Times best-selling list.

In this regard, please read carefully through the details of new and expanded services ‘Ireland Writing Retreat’ offers you in terms of bespoke copy editing, book design and publication on best-publishing platforms.

The key decision facing many writers we have met either at literary conferences or at our own writing retreats is whether to wait until a so-called ‘reputable’ publishing house decides to publish your book, which usually takes years, if ever, especially if you are a new author or well into your ‘wisdom years.’ Or as one prominent historical figure once said, ‘Publish and be damned.’ It’s entirely you choice.

Personally, I prefer to have my hard work - into which I have poured both reason and emotion, not mention many hours, days, nights and months of my life - see the light of day and my books be enjoyed by readers of all kinds, including people I have never met, as well as friends and family, than to see well-worn manuscripts ‘gather dust’ sitting in a drawer, ignored and unused or frozen forever on a computer screen.


Self-publishing your book(s) also opens literary doors, including exciting opportunities to speak at festivals and conferences. Manuscripts sitting in drawers or on computer screens don’t. I am a living example of this, having self-published two books, a memoir ‘Digging For Dracula’ and a contemporary novel ‘Pretty Ugly.’ Having worked with words all my life, as journalist, editor and publisher in several countries over the last 40 years, I felt that sharing my writing with few readers is better than not sharing it with anyone.


Aside from enabling me to become a longtime tutor at ‘Ireland Writing Retreat’ where I have had the pleasure of meeting and teaching a wide range of wonderfully talented people, passionate like me about writing and reading, I have also been invited as guest speaker to events worldwide, in cities and countries, ranging from Berlin to Belfast, the United States to the United Kingdom, including such sacred literary sites as the Seamus Heaney HomePlace, erected in honour of the Nobel Prize winning Irish poet, where I have been both a guest speaker, writing tutor and organiser of a major international conference.

After eight years of organising week-long retreats in various countries, we at ‘Ireland Writing Retreat’ are proud of the circle of high-quality authors, tutors and editors who have collaborated with us and whom we now call friends. Let us share their combined skills to help you realise your dream of becoming a published author, open up the very same doors that have been opened to me and cherish the same kind of rich experiences I am enjoying immensely.

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