In the summer of 2013, I purchased a copy of The Little Book of Lancashire. There were many good reasons for doing so; not least because some of my relatives reside within the English county and it seemed a good opportunity to acquaint myself with a few more facts about places as well as the customs and heritage associated with it.
As a regular contributor to ‘Ireland’s Own’ as well as a number of travel magazines over the past decade, it had also been an ambition of mine to write a non-fiction book. In my capacity as a librarian and someone with a range of interests in themes such as heritage, politics, sport and the arts – I was naturally inclined to follow this up by writing about aspects of these. I had forwarded a number of synopses to various Irish publishers during 2010, and despite some heartening responses, none of those whom I approached decided to publish.
I hadn’t submitted any fresh book proposals in recent years; but whilst reading The Little Book of Lancashire it certainly planted a seed in my mind about the potential of writing about my own county, Tyrone. It inspired me to forward a synopsis in December 2013 to The History Press Ireland after researching the viability of this book.
When submitting a non fiction proposal to any publisher, always ensure that you have a concise summary of the book’s content; your writing and/or career experience that is directly relevant to the book; an outline of your marketing and promotion strategy; and the audience – i.e. to whom the book is intended to appeal.
Part of the reason I was confident enough to forward a proposal to the publisher was due to the fact that I had plenty of book sources about the history, geography and heritage of Tyrone. My career background also helped: after I graduated from university, I worked for a year in the Irish World Heritage Company based in Dungannon (which sadly no longer exists). My role as a family history researcher for counties Tyrone and Fermanagh led me to learn more about the parishes and places of interest, relating to our clients’ ancestral links.
A few years later I was commissioned by the Culture Northern Ireland website to write area profiles of these places for their online project. So it is fair to suggest that I had accumulated a mine of information on Tyrone thanks to my previous work. I was also aware of local history works that would be relevant to my proposed book.
Collating the Information
After I received the tremendous news that The History Press Ireland had accepted my proposal to write The Little Book of Tyrone, I set about collating other relevant sources of information – and to acknowledge my many sources I listed these in the bibliography section.
I began with the best source available to any writer/researcher who is writing about a non-fiction topic that is local to them: the local library. With online access 24/7, one doesn’t need to go out on a wet and windy night after work to check the shelves to see if a book is available. The flexibility of the library is vastly underestimated, and I was able to order copies of books relating to rugby legends, poetry, customs and ghost stories relating to Tyrone directly from my local branch library.
Another suggestion I would offer any writer trying to find out whether their title has already been used (although this isn’t always an important concern for some), is to check the information on www.worldcat.org which is a great resource.
After gathering the information sources, the next consideration was what information to select for the book – and what to leave out. As space was limited in order to fit the format of ‘The Little Book’ series, and mindful of the time constraint, (my final work had to be submitted just before the end of June) this was perhaps the most demanding part.
My advice is to be ruthless: discipline is crucial at this stage of the process, and you simply don’t have time weighing up the pros and cons about inserting items of information. As my book was a ‘snapshot’ of Tyrone in terms of a potted history in the Chapter One, I could afford to be more selective in this area, while Chapter Seven focused on sporting successes, I was careful not to overlook any key events or achievements.
The Little Book of Tyrone includes extracts of poetry by Tyrone poets past and present such as W.F. Marshall and John Montague, and I was cognisant that the onus was very much on me to secure permission from their family or agent representatives to use their work in the book. This proved to be time-consuming, and with hindsight it would be one of the first things I would do instead of leaving it until near publication time!
The same could be said about the line drawings in the book, fortunately my daughter helped me with many of these – but again, plan in advance if you intend illustrating your work with images, especially if you are collaborating with someone on a non-fiction work.
Another valuable source are those colleagues, friends and relatives close to you. Never be too proud to ask for advice or information. I was fortunate to have great support from Ronan Colgan and Beth Amphlett in the History Press, and they were always an email or a phonecall away.
After all the hard work, to finally see a copy of the finished article is a wonderful feeling. The last piece of advice I would offer to any aspiring author is: perservere and keep the faith. Outline your non-fiction idea to your publisher confidently and convince them that your work will appeal to an audience.
© Cathal Coyle 2015
The Little Book of Tyrone is in bookshops now or available online here.