Monday, 10 March 2014


The IWC, Dublin
The seven writers travelling to Italy in June took part in a panel at the Publishing Day at the Irish Writers' Centre on Saturday. It is always hard to know if you are being frightening or encouraging when you talk at these events, but I think the aspiring writers present got a lot for their money on the day.

The morning session saw MD of Penguin Ireland, Michael McLoughlin, talk about what his company does and about what they like to receive. The good news is: everything! The better news is that the two commissioning editors in the company read EVERY script that comes in. There are no pre-readers at Penguin Ireland. That is pretty wonderful service from a top-notch publisher. In further good news un-agented authors are welcome to submit.

In positive news for literary writers, McLoughlin said publishers are more likely to invest time in a lit author. So, even if your first book doesn't sell brilliantly, they won't drop you. Whereas, commercial books 'have to work first time out'. He also said that commercial fiction 'enables Penguin Irl to publish literary fiction', a fact which some people feel unhappy about but which appears to be the truth of things.

Literary agent Sallyanne Sweeney of Mulcahy Associates, the most Irish of London lit agencies, spoke to the assembled about the dos and don'ts of pitching to an agent.

In good news, she is actively seeking début authors in fiction and non-fiction (including memoir). You can see what genres she is interested in here. She also stated that Mulcahy Assocs want to build long term relationships with their authors. Some of her advice to prospective clients included tips on writing cover letters:

Be polite!
Address the agent by name.
Keep it simple - one page letter only.
Don't mention illnesses or your age - both are irrelevant.
Mention comparative books and your genre.
Don't say your kids love your book - let the work speak for itself.
Don't be apologetic (no info on other rejections).
Proofread your letter carefully!

This session was chaired by Maureen Kennelly of Poetry Ireland, and featured Peter Fallon and Paul Lenehan, both of whom spoke eloquently on the business of poetry editing.

Peter Fallon says he takes on about one writer per year at Gallery Press. And receives enough mss for every day of the year, many of which are clearly not ready to be published. He urged authors to become critics of their own work.

Paul Lenehan gave excellent advice to would-be submitters to Poetry Ireland Review - send up to 6 poems, to give the editor a choice; don't get into a battle of wills if you are rejected; try not to send all 1st person POV poems - make an imaginative leap away from yourself.

Our panel was chaired by writer and editor Anthony Glavin. Each of us spoke for 5 minutes or so about something instructive from our own writing lives. I talked about the importance of finding the right agent for you. And how it took me 10 years after my first book was published to do that. Other topics covered included setting up your own small press; being your own best editor; self-publishing vs publishers; play writing; cultivating patience as a writer; contracts; earnings; using manuscript appraisal services, and much more besides.

The audience, for the whole day, were very forthcoming with questions, which was good and provoked lively discussion. All in all it was a very informative day, with good presenters, and I would recommend to aspiring writers to watch out for similar events coming up at the IWC.


  1. Hi Nuala, I attended the publishing day on Saturday and wanted to say thank-you for your honest advice on writing and finding an agent. I really found it very useful!

  2. Thank you, Caroline. The agent thing is a hard one - a writer can be lucky on day one, or it can take a long time to find the right one. Best of luck!