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New writers’ group connects self-published authors in Newfoundland and Labrador

The founders of Independent Publishers of Newfoundland and Labrador at their first meeting (from left): Herb Hopkins, John Greene, Liz Graham, Daphne MacNeil, Scott Bartlett, Marin Darmonkow and Jeff Kelland.
The founders of Independent Publishers of Newfoundland and Labrador at their first meeting (from left): Herb Hopkins, John Greene, Liz Graham, Daphne MacNeil, Scott Bartlett, Marin Darmonkow and Jeff Kelland. - Contributed

Mentorship-based organization aims to address challenges

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. —

Anyone who’s ever tried self-publishing can attest to the challenges that come with it — from editing and design, to printing and distribution — it requires a broad range of skills.

A new group, Independent Publishers of Newfoundland and Labrador (IPNL), aims to make the process easier for its members.

“I had the idea through personal experience,” said the group’s founder, Jeff Kelland.

When he published his first book, “Grace Ungiven”, he ran into the challenges that come with independent publishing.

“I began to realize, gee whiz, if people get together — if we all got together — we’d answer a lot of the problems ... we’d be each other’s resources and connections.”

Kelland reached out to the writing community and the group already has about 50 members. Half of them reside in St. John’s and the rest are spread across the island and in Labrador.

This without yet formally founding the organization.

“It’s new, it’s scary, we’re not used to it yet — but it is the way of the future.” — Scott Bartlett

An open meeting for anyone interested will be held this Sunday at Coffee Matters in Mount Pearl. There, those gathered will officially form the organization and elect an executive.

They’re hoping that once they incorporate as a non-profit they’ll be able to apply for funding. One thing they’d like to do with funding is create a virtual storefront on the group’s website, ipnl.ca, where the public can peruse independently-published books by members.

For aspiring author Daphne MacNeil, it’s exactly the kind of opportunity she was seeking.

Now retired from her career as a strategist — among other titles — with the provincial government, MacNeil is pursuing her passion for writing about personal development.

MacNeil said she writes a lot for herself but has never published. She was interested in joining IPNL because of the mentoring aspect.

“These people have walked through it,” she said.

Those people include self-published author Scott Bartlett, whose novel “Taking Stock” won the Percy Janes First Novel Award and the Lawrence Jackson Writers’ Award.

There’s also Herb Hopkins, who has published four works in the past decade since he’s retired as a teacher.

His book of poetry, “A High of Zero,” the original volume with hand-carved walnut covers, resides in the Rare Books Collection of the National Library of Canada in Ottawa.

“I’m at a stage in my life now where I want to share what I’ve learned.” — Herb Hopkins

“I’m at a stage in my life now where I want to share what I’ve learned,” said Hopkins.

“There’s so much that I’ve learned and struggled with over the last 10 years getting my books out there that I want to be able to pass that on.”

As the group spoke passionately about their varied reasons for choosing to self-publish, Hopkins summed up many of the broader ideas: “It’s as much about putting the power and the strength in the hand of the writer (instead of the publisher). As opposed to a top-down power paradigm, it’s really a bottom-up power paradigm.”

Despite the many struggles that resulted in their banding together, the five group members who spoke with The Telegram said, for them, the benefits of independent publishing outweighed the challenges.

When The Telegram asked about those benefits, Hopkins proudly produced a list of 24 advantages of independent publishing over trade publishing, which he wrote himself.

His list ranged from having complete control over the final product, to being one’s own boss and having self-determined deadlines.

“But it’s not for everybody,” he said.

“You have to have a certain amount of skill in different kinds of areas, you have to have a certain kind of character… putting on a marketing ad is a completely different skill than sitting down at a desk and writing a story….For me, it’s allowing people to tell their stories that might not otherwise have a chance to tell their story.”

"For me, it’s allowing people to tell their stories that might not otherwise have a chance to tell their story.” — Hopkins

Another of the founding members, Marin Darmonkow, said independent publishing better fits his personality.

“I have never worked for anybody in my life but for myself,” he explained.

The group acknowledged there are a lot of opinions about independent publishing and there are those who refer to it as the ‘vanity press’.

But this group thinks that with a change in technology — notably, the popularity of e-books, for example — that independent publishing has found it’s time.

“I’d say the main difference between traditional and indie and why there’s so much stigma is the old model was having gatekeepers,” said Bartlett.

“It worked for a long time because the technology wasn’t there to do otherwise, and everyone relied on the gatekeepers to decide what did and didn’t get published. Now, the power is in the hands of the readers, and it’s democratized because of information technology.

“It’s new, it’s scary, we’re not used to it yet — but it is the way of the future.”

Twitter: @juanitamercer_

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