For the second interview in our Publisher Interview Series we talk to Mary Feehan, MD of Mercier Press, Ireland’s oldest independent publishing house.
Q: As a publishing house, 2014 marks your 70th anniversary: as well as being a remarkable achievement, this offers you a unique insight into the publishing industry within Ireland. What changes have you noticed during that time? What changes would you like to see in the future?
There have been huge changes in production methods from metal typesetting which is how we set all of our books when I first began to work at Mercier. Printing was a highly skilled craft and typesetters had to learn that craft through a long apprenticeship. Now people can publish their own books online with the press of a button. It’s wonderful that the market has opened up so much but it was sad to see such a craft disappear. There are also many more bookshops and publishers in Ireland now which contributes to a diverse and interesting publishing industry. Thankfully the Irish love to read Irish books so we continue to have a wide audience.
Q: What are the challenges of being an Irish publisher? What kind of supports do you think the publishing industry in Ireland could be offered / is in need of?
Only about 20% of books sold in Ireland are published by Irish publishers so we face stiff competition from foreign publishers, and in particular from Britain, with larger PR and marketing budgets. I think there is a lot of support for the Arts and for literary publishing in Ireland but I would like to see more support for non fiction publishing which is also of huge cultural importance to Ireland and I believe is sometimes forgotten. I’m also very concerned at present about the National Library Procurement Plans, which could lead to businesses closing within Ireland and have a severe impact on availability of Irish published books in libraries in the future.
Q: Which book by an Irish writer do you wish you could’ve published, and why? Who are the current writers who excite you about the present and future of Irish publishing.
I would love to have published an edition of The Book of Kells as it such a beautiful work of art and of such cultural value to Ireland. Also An Evil Cradling by Brian Keenan – a beautifully written powerful emotional book, full of humanity.
Q: You publish books in categories ranging from Children’s Fiction to Politics – besides paying close attention to your submissions guidelines, what advice would you offer an author who is thinking of submitting their manuscript?
The vital piece of advice for all writers to save on disappointment is to realise that many manuscripts are rejected because they are sent to publishers who do not publish their type of material. They need to check the competition in the marketplace and figure out which publishers publish books in their manuscript’s category. They should look for publishers that may want their book, as randomly submitting to publishers will ensure rejection. They should go to the library and check out the publishers who publish books like theirs. Read some of them to make certain they are selecting the right publisher.
Q: Finally, have you any plans currently in the works, which you can reveal to us, for new books?
I’m very excited about a biography of Jonathan Irwin founder of The Jack and Jill Foundation that we are publishing in October and a photo book on Women of the Irish Revolution in November.