DBF Interviews: Mariel Deegan

What do you love most about managing New Island Books?

I love that it’s never boring. Each day brings a new set of excitements and challenges, and as General Manager I have a hand in every part of it, from assessing manuscripts for literary merit and commercial viability, and debating the merits of different paper stocks, to selling our books to retailers and working on the marketing and publicity for new titles. It’s an honour to have the opportunity to work with authors on bringing their books out into the world.


Can you tell us about the Open Door Series?

Open Door was the brainchild of Patricia Scanlan. Before she was a bestselling author, she worked in the public library system and she became aware of a dearth of appropriate material for adults who struggled with literacy. She came to our publisher Edwin Higel with an idea for the series back in the 1990s, and the rest as they say is history. At that stage, Patricia had established herself as a well-known author and had large networks of other successful authors who were keen to participate. Many of these authors are household names and the stories are first and foremost good stories, but are written and edited using ‘plain English’ guidelines to make them accessible to emerging readers. They are deliberately packaged in such a way that they don’t look like educational texts. They are widely used on adult literacy courses in both Ireland and the UK (including in the prison library system), but they are also useful for people learning English as a second language.


You guys must be thrilled about Darach MacDonald’s shortlisting of Hard Border, for the 2018 Michel Deon Prize for non-fiction. How did this travelogue project start out, and when did you decide to work together?

Indeed, we’re delighted to see this timely book receive the recognition it deserves. With Brexit on everybody’s lips, Darach’s exploration of the forgotten Border communities and the effect a hard border has had and would have on them seems incredibly timely. Having published his last book, Tóchar, about Ireland’s pilgrim pathways, we already knew he was a great writer and a pleasure to work with, so we were very open to his proposal for Hard Border, which we commissioned last year.


What advice would you give to someone hoping to start up their own book publishing house in Ireland?

There are opportunities for publishers in Ireland, but you need to do your research before diving in. Identify a gap in the market and be realistic about how well you’re positioned to fill it. General business and accounting courses are very useful to have (and give you perspective from outside of the industry too), but industry experience is crucial. The economics of the book trade are not always comparable to other sectors. A stint working in a bookshop and really actively looking around you is also invaluable. Finally, have the courage of your convictions, but consult as widely as possible with as many specialisms as possible before deciding to publish – you might not agree with everyone’s opinion, but it’s better to know them in advance all the same and while rule by committee would be a nightmare, often advice can be incorporated to make a stronger and more successful book.

Excellent! Thanks very much for taking the time out to speak with us, Mariel.

Mariel will be joining Deirdre Nolan and Ivan O’Brien at their Meet the Publishers event on Sunday 18 November from 10.30am to 12.00pm.

Venue: Main Theatre, Smock Alley Theatre

Ticket Cost €15

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