After five years of trial and error in the craft and business of writing, a writers’ group from Shediac has made the “dash” from writing to publishing.
In the past five years since the Ice Dash writers’ group was formed (formerly known as the Ice Dash Dozen), their members have grown from 12 to 20, and out of those experiences, a core group of eight people have combined their financial resources, skills, and experience to form a full-service publishing company.
“Our goal is to publish one book in 2023,” says Maria Gillespie, one of the founding shareholders of Merlin Star Press, (merlinstarpress.com), based in Cocagne.
For now, their focus will be to publish fiction that appeals to their readers, and preference will be given to writers from the Southeast region of New Brunswick, but eventually they want to encompass Atlantic Canada.
For Maria, this seems like a natural progression for a group of people who learned about the process of writing—and afterward, the business side of writing—together, and from the ground up. Understanding the business of words is not just about creating characters, moving a story along with dialogue, and using colourful, evocative language.
“Over the years, there’s been a real development in people’s skills. The publishing industry, as you well know, has changed a lot. Driven by economics and a variety of reasons, it’s really hard for people to realize their dream and get their work published. So, we felt we’d like to take the next step.”
The idea formed among a group of three, including Maria, in 2022. They discussed their vision, what they wanted to accomplish, and they approached other small publishing companies who explained the pitfalls and difficulties they’ve faced.
“We have Warren Redman, (pen name Zev Bagel) who’s a published author, has lots of experience with being rejected, and accepted, how to produce and print books, editing, cover design. Zev published previously under the name Merlin Star. “He graciously gave up the logo and title and let us take it on as our corporation name. The white cat on the logo is Nicole’s cat.” Another ex-officio member is Allan Hudson, who has had both self-publishing and traditional publishing experiences.
A retired lawyer from among their group led them through the incorporation and shareholding process, and for the manuscripts they take on, experienced local writers will serve as readers and editors.
“We have skills and experiences in different areas, and we feel Merlin Star can do a lot of the work in-house. Editing can be very expensive, and we have some skilled editors in the group.”
Merlin Star intends to be a full-service publisher. “We are going to offer these services at no up-front costs to the author,” the retired teacher and school principal adds. “We will do some of the jobs ourselves, except for printing, artwork and layout. Our company has shareholders who contributed money, and from that pool they will offer these services. We might not get rich, but we’d like to break even!”
Maria says their purpose is to celebrate the creativity of local authors, and create beautiful, presentable, marketable products that they can get send out into the world. “The more I learn about other authors out there, read their work, and go to book launches, I’m sure there is a lot of unrecognized talent out there.”
Currently, Merlin Starr does not have a brick-and-mortar location at this point in time. They gather in a public place for meetings. Maria’s home address is the official address of the publisher. “We’re still learning as we go…we’ll be more efficient when we’ve had this first experience and we can accept more submissions. One of the publishers told us they got 18, in the first year, and another said 128.”
Merlin Star Press opened for submissions in April, and they will remain open until July 1. They will make a formal launch announcement of sorts to writers about this new venture at WordSpring in Saint John on June 2. In the meantime, Maria says that the dizzying amount of work in the process of book publishing isn’t so intimidating, because it’s not a solitary experience. “We’re together in this project. This is a wonderful experience that I’m having. “