Marie Guillot, a serial writer of non-fiction, tells us about the beauty of 'vanity books' and their untold potential to open doors.
by Jon Waterman on 12-04-2021
I discovered writing as an almost sexagenarian through creative writing sessions provided by a community college in Cork. Our instructor Tina Pisco introduced us to many genres of writings; fiction, non-fiction, essays to novels, from narrative to memoir, short stories to radio plays, poetry and more. Through practical exercises and homework, each participant was encouraged to find their own niche. I found mine: non-fiction short pieces, in any format and on (almost) any topic. We learned about the various aspects of the publishing process and were told that expecting an easy worldwide-distribution for a novel was bordering on delusion, as it had become more and more difficult over time for any script to be accepted by a publishing house. The alternative to traditional publishing was self-publishing. Self-publishing has been frowned-on in academic circles but, thanks to new technologies becoming available after the millennium, several companies started to offer self-publishing as an affordable and flexible option. At any rate the stigma around self-publishing was also dying out.
I made up my mind in 2007, that my first move would be to self-publish a collection of short stories. But WHICH stories? I had only the ones I worked-on during the classes. Thus, I embarked on a mission: convince enough of my friends to send me their stories, that I would then compile and publish. Within a few months, I found myself six contributors (all beginners in writing), thirty-two texts, and fourteen illustrations, in both French and English. We needed a proper editor for our book, so I asked our instructor Tina to be the one. We were now closing the loop between learning and application by taking what we’d learned in our creative writing sessions and actually applying it! After compiling everything, the next thing to consider was printing, we needed a proper printing workshop. A local association, where I was a member, had often used the services of Carraig Print (which printmybook.com is a subsidiary of). It seemed natural for me to go to them first for general publishing information. On the financial front, I was extremely lucky to have a sponsor for that first book. It allowed me to learn the basics of desk-publishing, the ultimate requisite step before printing and in 2009 a bilingual, illustrated book 'Friends and Friendibility' was born!
In the subsequent years, I acquired desk-publishing software for use at home, obtained an editing diploma, became a Cork ETB tutor/facilitator for creative writing and registered with Nielsen as a publisher. As any aspiring writer is advised to do, I also became a member of the non-fiction writers group who meet in Cork City Library. All of the above, added to the pre-existing writing talent and competence of the members of this group, provided us with an invaluable independence when we considered self-publishing a compilation of our non-fiction works. Eventually, we published our first non-fiction booklet in 2012. It was followed by three more, Non-Fiction & Co. (2012), Collected Works (2014), Manifold Paths to Writing (2016), and Impromptu Writing (2018) with two of the booklets produced in conjunction with the Alliance Française of Cork. In parallel, I was asked to facilitate the making of booklets with a local association where people who had never written were encouraged to share stories about their own experience and feelings. Overall, the main advantage of publishing as part of a group and for a group is that there is no marketing involved. All the contributors can tell in advance how many books they will buy at the end. We then get the requested number of books printed, adding just a few extras for libraries etc. The contributing writers pay only the costing price for each book; it varies, of course, with the numbers actually printed, but remains quite affordable.
Above: Booklets that Marie has contributed to or solely written herself
Throughout the first decade of my retirement, I got hooked on two more hobbies: digital photography and historical research. They walked happily hand-in-hand and I was able to get a few illustrated articles covering famous people, families and places with strong Irish links, accepted for publication in historical journals. In 2019, I decided to publish a compilation of these articles, combined with various posters made in the same vein, called 'History Strips'. I used this booklet (as well as the previous books) as an introduction for getting access to private museums, or to special families, or to places not usually open to the public. It has proven very effective in my investigations, not only in Ireland, but also in France, England, Italy and even in America. That is the beauty of so called 'vanity books', they open doors: you may give some to family and friends, as personalised gifts; add them to your portfolio in a related field, or use them to support a step-up when an opportunity arises.
Let’s face it: producing a book takes a huge amount of expertise, time and effort; decisions have to be made at every level; the book-cover itself goes a long way... If a printer’s website like printmybook.com is offering support in the proceedings, that can only alleviate the burden; still keeping you in control while getting the books printed in a timely manner. You will be guided step-by-step, getting sound advice and effective suggestions by a family team who has a broad experience, not only in the general printing trade but also in book editing and printing. I am currently working on two booklets, one in French, one in English. Both of them will be delivered by printmybook.com!