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Where to begin

I’m talking at the London Book Fair tomorrow, so here’s what’s going round my head.

Firstly, here are some resources for those thinking about POD or setting up a small press in a University Department. (Scroll down to the bottom of the list.)

One thing that gets me every time as a dyslexic writer is where to begin. As you can see, so far I’ve begun this blog three times. But I don’t just mean where to begin at the beginning. I mean where to begin each point. Meaning seems to spiral off in lots of different directions; there are so many different connections to make. This picture (that one of my Facebook friends shared) comes close to describing the feeling. The sense of control I need to reign it in and make it linear is sometimes overwhelmingly absent. Not necessarily in a bad way. So where to begin what I want to say? I’ve just finished organising a conference on practice-based research. (The website is here.) It was totally fascinating in so many different ways: the combination of drama, dance, animation and creative writing, for instance, or the multi-disciplinary stories about what it means to be creative. But also because it stretched my organisational skills like an elastic band. Anyway. What point was I making? This one: Someone at the conference was talking about creating a website. I told her how I taught myself WordPress using one of the yellow Dummies books. I was probably being far too evangelical and my colleague (a very lovely one) laughed and informed her that I love to teach myself new things. This struck me, I guess, because it hadn’t occurred to me quite so directly before. But I always figured that not knowing something is an advantage, in that you can start from scratch. Get a book for total beginners and follow it.

I did the same thing when I wanted to learn about self-publishing. It seemed to me, from conversations with students, that I was getting left behind, that the advice we used to give about ‘vanity publishing’ was old fashioned, and that several of them knew more about digital publishing than I did. But I also felt that there were still pitfalls and if I was a responsible Creative Writing tutor (at least I think I am?!) I was going to have to find out what they were. One thing a good teacher does is go beforetread the way in advance, not usually on purpose, but sometimes we have to be proactive. Another couple of addendum-type points: I was down to teach Novel Writing again and I found I had far too much to say. And my own novel had been rejected with (by now familiar) comments that I needed to make more of the story. These things happened in parallel with my need to find out about digital self-publishing.

So I decided to self-publish a book on planning a novel. I decided I would try to do it for free, as much as possible, just to see if it could be done. I figured it would help me to set down how everything I had learnt about how to plan out a story for a novel and it would help me to work out what I’d like to get across to my students. And along the way I would gain at least the beginnings of an understanding of digital publishing. You can click through to the resulting book or download a free sample here. I taught myself the process using another yellow Dummies book: Ali Luke’s Publishing E-Books for Dummies. 

The next step was a symposium I organised called Digital You. I realised along the way that it would be a good idea to have a conversation about self-publishing and the academy and we had a very enjoyable and upbeat afternoon at Roehampton in November talking about the issues and listening to some authors read from their self-published work, as well as discussing the steps involved in getting stuff out there. The blog for the symposium is here. If you scroll down to the bottom of the resources page you can see some general resources that could be useful for anyone wanting to self-publish their work online.

Essentially I wanted to teach myself by doing: by reading, by taking small steps, by talking about it and by organising but, most of all, by experiencing the thing I wanted to learn about.

For a while now we’ve been talking about how to go about publishing Creative Writing students’ work at Roehampton. We already have an online magazine which showcases student writing called Roehampton Writes. Now we’ve decided to create a small press – Fincham Press – to publish a print anthology of student work but also as a way of producing edited (again print) volumes of academic work. When I’m not feeling slightly stunned that I managed to become editor-in-chef of anything, I realise it’s going to be another project where I have to learn by doing, by immersing myself in it. I feel terrified because I don’t know how, as a dyslexic person, I go about being an editor. I have much respect for my friend Naomi at RASP who knows much more about it, and about book production, than I do. So I’m ending this blog back where I began it: as a dyslexic writer, faced with the prospect of having to create something linear, without mistakes in it, where I probably have to know something about kerning. On the one hand, it’s an adventure. On the other: HELP.

P.S. In honour of the Book Fair, I signed up to Twitter:

You can follow me @LouiseTondeur

You can follow Fincham Press as it develops @FinchamPress

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