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Why We Love Working With Debut Writers

In the first years of the press John and I would run to the door when we heard our printer’s van arrive and would practically maul the deliverer as he brought in the boxes of books. To say we couldn’t contain our excitement was to put it mildly. Once the delivery driver was gone, we would rip open the box (John carefully with a knife, me more roughly with my fingers) and we would then each grab a copy of the new book and spend the next hour going through it, page-by-page, taking it in both as quickly, yet also as slowly, as we could.

Though we were not the authors of these books, they meant nearly as much to us as they did to the writers themselves. We’d put all our love into these books, wanting them to be as beautiful and perfect as they could. And when we presented them to the authors—which we always did in person in the early days, a ceremonious event in which we would wrap the books in many layers to prolong the moment—we were as excited as the writers were as they stared at the cover with big sparkly hearts in their eyes and leafed through the book with a smile on their face. If only we could’ve frozen those moments to be able to come back to later.

The Early Days

In these early days every book we published was by a debut writer. It wasn’t anything we had planned—just part of being a new publisher, I suppose, that perhaps the more seasoned writers wanted a publisher with equally as much experience, nervous about a new publisher who was still finding their feet. But it wasn’t too long before we started receiving submissions from writers with previously-published books. Those experiences were special too—still are—but there is something very unique and wonderful about working with a debut writer.

In the beginning it’s all about the desire for the book. The anticipation. And then, as the process develops—as they edit the book alongside John or go back and forth with the proofs with me—it becomes more about the wonder. Wonder about all the work that’s involved from all the different angles, all the many steps it takes to bring a manuscript into book form. Voila!

The Design

For me the best part was working with the writer on cover design. In the early days, when all of our writers were Galway-based, they would sit at my desk with me and we would go back and forth with a handful of designs I’d done up and we would mix and match font, colour, text placement and all the rest. It was magical and the gratitude they showed was something close to intoxicating. I loved doing it and didn’t mind if it took hours. In fact the only time I did mind was when a writer showed little enthusiasm. I knew—and still know—that not all writers show their excitement in the same way and that others might keep it in or have a delayed reaction and that it’s not necessarily true that it doesn’t mean the same to them as it does to the writer who squeals in excitement. But admittedly I preferred the squeals.

The Launches

And then there were the launches—the moments when the writers would finally get to share the book with their family and friends, to literally put it in their hands. In these early days John and I were very sincere in our wish to keep this moment until the launch—The Wow Factor, we called it—and made the writer promise to only show the finished book to their immediate family until the launch. To disobey was a curse that would haunt the book.

Ten years later now things have changed. We’ve changed. In a usual year now only a third of the books we publish are by debut writers. But now we have a stable, as it’s called, a place where these debut writers will grow and mature along with the rest, while some other writers might wander away and others might get kicked out on their ear, making way for new debuts.

Lisa Frank

Lisa Frank has an MFA in Creative Writing from Eastern Washington University and worked in publishing for many years before moving to Ireland in 2007. She is co-director of Doire Press and is responsible for text layout and grant writing, among other things.