We were in an optimistic, or maybe foolhardy, mood at Fermanagh Creative Writing Group’s 2011 AGM. Well, that’s my explanation for our decision to produce our first anthology. The previous summer we had desktop published Stories From Charlie’s, a booklet of members’ writings as they had appeared in our local newspaper, The Impartial Reporter. We had bandied about the idea of publishing a collection of our writings before but at the meeting we decided that the book would happen during the coming year. Once we noted the decision in the minutes it was official – and a bit scary.
Founded in 2009, Fermanagh Creative Writing Group was quite new and we had fewer than twenty members. But we were determined to pull together and do this.
In May 2011 we spent one of our weekly meetings discussing and planning the book: what types of material we would include, whether we should have a theme to the collection, how many pages it would be, who would edit it, what printing options we would explore and how we would finance it. The book began to take shape in our minds.
We depended on our members to volunteer their skills and knowledge as we didn’t have any money put aside for the project and didn’t know how successful our fundraising would be. Several members had been involved in other self-publishing ventures and we utilised their expertise. Gordon Williams, who previously edited anthologies for the Shannon-Erne Writers’ Group, agreed to oversee this project. He collected the submissions, edited and planned the book.
We encouraged – and sometimes nagged – everyone to get writing and submissions began to trickle in. A few keen people had their stories and poems written almost as soon as the AGM concluded but there were also stragglers. We missed our November deadline for submissions and it was after Christmas before the last ones were received. But we didn’t let this worry us as we wanted the book to display our writers’ talent so we preferred to wait for their best material rather than use hurried, substandard work.
The whole group was involved in selecting and critiquing the book’s content. Don’t imagine scenes of chaos though – this approach wasn’t as difficult as you might expect it to be. Before Gordon received material to edit, members read their stories and poems to the group who offered suggestions and comments. This two stage process allowed for dialogue between the writer, the group and the editor.
An editorial team comprising Gordon and three proof-readers prepared the manuscript for publication: editing, proof-reading, laying out and formatting the book. We found that you can never proofread too many times. Although each time we checked the manuscript we found fewer errors, every reader discovered ones that had been previously overlooked. I wonder whether we should run a contest for readers to try to spot any that we’ve missed – the prize is a place on the editorial team for our next book.
While four of us were getting the manuscript into shape, two others were designing the cover. Like the content, the cover design was ultimately a group decision. The design team used suggestions from the group and their own ideas to produce sample covers. Then we randomly pulled one out of a hat – well, no, actually a majority vote decided it.
We discussed the pros and cons of using a local printer versus an online one. Local printers are more expensive but they will work with their client to fine tune a project, guaranteeing a professional result. Choosing an online printer would mean that we were on our own to prepare the manuscript and cover.
We reined in our fears and chose an online printer that offered the best price and produced good quality products. I didn’t manage to squash my anxiety completely though. After I hit send and emailed the project to the printer, I worried about whether we had got it right. Would it really turn out as we wanted it to? I spent a couple restless nights dreaming about boxes filled with books that were printed upside down in an illegible font style. But I needn’t have worried as the printer had given us clear guidelines to follow and it wasn’t difficult to format the book to their specifications. Our book turned out just as we had imagined it. The printer was reliable and quick; we received printed proofs three days after we emailed the pdf files and the completed order arrived less than a week after we had approved the final proof for printing.
When we started the project we were keenly aware that it was the most expensive undertaking we had attempted. There are few grants available for self-publishing ventures so we had to raise the money ourselves. Over nine months we held two pub quizzes and a car boot sale. We also received a donation from Poetry Ireland for being buffeted by an October storm at Old Portora Castle as we participated in National Poetry Day and a small grant towards the printing costs from Fermanagh District Council Arts Advisory Committee. We raised enough money to cover the printing costs and our book launch in Enniskillen’s most prominent and picturesque venue, the Ardhowen Theatre.
The first print run of Tuesdays At Charlie’s was delivered on the day our 2012 AGM was held and members, like unruly students, were reading their contributor copies during the meeting. There was much excitement about how well the book had turned out. For several members it was the first time they had seen any of their work in print. Then the talk turned to our next book. No one asked whether we would produce another book; everyone was talking about what it will be like.
Before the meeting concluded we decided to change the group’s name to Fermanagh Writers – not because our original name was a mouthful to say and write but mainly because it wouldn’t fit onto the spine of our next book.
But, before we start the publishing process over again, we are launching Tuesdays At Charlie’s on 24th May, 7.30pm at a wine and cheese reception in the Ardhowen Theatre in Enniskillen. Keith Baker, author and BBC journalist, will introduce readings from the book and a short set by Together One Voice choir. Everyone is welcome. If you drop by, be sure to tell us you heard about the launch on www.writing.ie.