Many years ago I had the privilege of being invited, with Alf MacLochlain, then the Librarian at NUI Galway, to contribute to a Radio One programme on the state of the Irish publishing industry, which was then flourishing for the first time in the country’s history.
During the programme, Alf talked about the plethora of local histories being published, criticising the lack of structure and bad copyediting, and deploring the abysmal quality of production.
In their defence, I countered that these writers had to start somewhere and that hopefully the standard of both the text and production would improve with time.
Both of us were right. It is important, not to say vital, that the history and culture of each community be recorded and published before it disappears forever. It is equally important that this knowledge be properly and professionally published, ensuring its credibility and posterity.
Since that programme, with the technical advances in the art of printing and the greater facility with which books can be published, the publishing of local histories or indeed of books with historical content, has grown apace.
Some of these books are of excellent quality, adding significantly to the knowledge and understanding of our own history and culture. Too often, though, this is not the case and it is nearly always due to a total ignorance of what it takes to write, produce, and publish a book.
One of the situations we have experienced (and continue to experience ) in 70 years of bookselling is the hopeful author arriving in with a manuscript or the finished, self published book, believing that what they have in their hands will result in fame or fortune or, at the very least, an appearance on The Late Late Show.
In the former instance, there is some hope depending on the personal commitment of the author, in the latter the book is almost certainly doomed to extinction.
On the other side of the coin, there is the brilliant student of history who has written a first class and well-researched thesis for which s/he has rightly been awarded a doctorate.
However, to advance their careers, it is absolutely required (at least in recent years ) that the thesis be published in book form. Unfortunately there is an ocean of difference between what is acceptable as a doctoral thesis and what is palatable to the reading public. The result is almost certainly a publishing disaster.
The catalyst in the whole process of having your local history or thesis published is the publisher and the greatest difficulty would-be authors have is identifying one that will accept to publish the work.
Not only is there great difficulty in identifying a publisher, there is even more confusion as to how the author approaches the publisher and in what way the work should be presented.
Publishing a book is a slow process and often discouraging. It is even tougher when the author has no track record and, because of their apparent inaccessibility, publishers often become the bête noire of the book business.
Yet, the publisher is an essential cog in the wheel in seeing a book come to life. Some authors decide to bypass the publisher by producing the book themselves but that is akin to defendants in court acting in their own defence and rarely, if ever, works.
As part of our 70th birthday celebrations Kenny’s has organised a ‘Historians Round Table’ which takes place this Saturday, beginning at 11.30am in the bookshop at Liosbán.
At this round table the whole question of having a local history or a thesis published will be explored. In attendance will be representatives from three major Irish history publishers - Anthony Tierney (Four Courts Press ), Lisa Hyde (Irish Academic Press ), and Mary Feehan (Mericer Press ).
Also present will be historians Gerard Moran and Raymond Gillespie from Maynooth University.
The aim is to provide an opportunity for would-be authors to meet the publishers face to face and perhaps help that local history or that thesis see the light of day in book form.
The public are invited and admission is free