Another Milestone

In my last postI said I was close to completing another milestone: sending the book off to a publisher. Well, I’ve only gone and done it. It was with a heady mix of anxiety (is it as close to perfect as I want it to be?) and excitement (it’s going to a publisher!), I lined up the email and pressed the ‘Send’ button. That’s not to say there weren’t a couple of hills to climb first though.


Also in the last post, I spoke of my mind turning to marketing. Incidentally, I’m still in the market for speaking opportunities if you’re aware of any. As well as the manuscript, the publisher asked me to complete a form with basic information and initial thoughts on this very subject. This really focussed the mind. Rather than simply putting forward some vague ideas, I was obliged to start thinking about specifics. Of course, I was going to do this anyway (honest), but in my mind I’d seen this as a post-final-manuscript task, rather than concurrent. 

An example of the sort of thing this involved included listing geographies which might have a particular interest in the book. In other words, the areas I walked through. I was also asked to provide a description of the book looked at from different angles. For example, a description for what is called an AI (Advance Information) sheet, sent to book retailers, is likely to be different from that for a press release. I also had to provide a brief biography. I have a number of these, but this one needed to be within the Diagonal Walking context.


A second challenge was obvious really, but not obvious enough for me to realise it. I’m speaking here of the photos for the book. Whether or not to include photos has never really been an issue for me. I think the book does need them, although interestingly, looking at other similar books, I seem to be in a minority on this one. Maybe this is to do with cost? In my case, it’s adding about 80p to the cost of each book. This is significant, biting into an already thin profit margin, but essential in my opinion.

I have opted for a colour plate in the middle of the book of eight pages. That’s 16 sides, at an average of say three pictures a side, that’s 48 pictures to distil my collection of hundreds down into. I managed it, but it was tough. Luckily (or perhaps not, I have been thinking about it), I already had a good idea of ‘must haves’ and ‘possibles’. Still, sorting and captioning them and then presenting this took the best part of a day.


On the subject of price, I also had to decide this. Naturally, it would be good to come in at the £9.99 level, which seems to be the benchmark. I could do this, but it would mean that for every book sold through Amazon I would lose getting on for a quid. Amazon take a 60% discount, and the publisher takes 15% for warehousing and supplying. There’s not a lot left for the author there after printing costs. Equally, books sold though book retailers would be at rough cost price (they ask between 35-50%). This kind of sticks in the craw. The theory is you make up for this through profits made on books sold direct, but there is a principle here.

The publishers have assured me that a cover price of £12.99 is still deemed to be commercial. I think the photos (which most other similar books don’t have remember) help justify the price, but it is higher than I’d have liked. That said, it does give me wriggle room for discounting from this website. Plus, and this is a thing few people take into account, you have to remember postage. Every (single) book I post costs me £2.85 in postage alone. That’s a huge chunk of the profit margin.

In the end, I ran some numbers and calculated, using a formula of direct, retailer and Amazon sales, that I can break even if I sell all the initial print run. If there is demand for a second run, then the profit margin goes up considerably due to lower fixed set up costs and I might actually make some dosh.

The Cover

Finally, I had to think about the cover. Again, I took photos along the walk with half an eye on the cover and had a small library of potential images I could supply. Tricky this, I find the photographer’s instinct is to take landscape photos, when of course a portrait image is preferable. You also need a lot of space clear (normally sky in my case) for the title. 

Giving a cover designer a brief is tricky as you have an idea of what you want, but you don’t want to constrain their creativity. I hope it’s a balance I’ve achieved. Let’s see what comes back and I may share it here to get suggestions.

The Next Stage

All in all, the final copy of the manuscript has been ready for a week. Okay, I have tweaked it a bit. Completing these other tasks has been something I had been putting off, but it’s done now. Packaged. Sent off. It’s not the end though, more of the beginning of the next stage. Before too long, I’ll be checking drafts, commenting on covers and so on, but hopefully there’ll be some respite over Christmas. I think I need a break …

Have a good one and keep walking – diagonally, of course!

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lost hat

Not Walking, But Writing

I’ve just spent a couple of hours working on the website, focusing mainly on tenses. Every ‘I plan to…’ or ‘I will be …’ has now become a ‘I have.’ This wasn’t too bad (I’ve become something of a content wizard – I wish!), but it was poignant. As I reported in my last blog, the walk is now well and truly complete. The challenge now is to turn that intangible ‘asset’ into something real. To get writing. In other words, the whole Diagonal Walking project has moved onto a fresh stage. I haven’t hung up my cap, it’s just resting!


Stay tuned for the journey, it’s likely to have as many ups and downs as the walk itself!


So, Head Down and Writing Now Is It?

Sort of, but it’s more complicated than that. As it happens, I already have a first draft of the book. As regular readers of this blog will know, I’ve taken extensive notes along the way, and have devoted time in between legs of the walk to writing them up. This, along with the planning, research, booking of accommodation and actual walking, has pretty much dominated my summer. Don’t get me wrong, it’s been worth it, in spades; just that it’s been all-encompassing. Especially when other life stuff gets in the way, but you don’t want to know about that.


After the completion of the walk, I put a real shift in before a short break away and this brought me to the completed first draft. This included the tricky bit of writing a conclusion. One of the purposes of the walk was to take the temperature of the country as it stood on the brink of Brexit, and as such it was incumbent upon me to come up with some conclusions. I’d made notes on this as well, and as it happened, writing the conclusion flowed quite well. However, while the rest of the book almost writes itself, this bit is more subjective. The temptation to go back time and time again and tweak it is irresistible.


Discipline and Deadlines

The solution lies in deadlines. I like to think I’m fairly disciplined in my writing, well in most things actually, otherwise I doubt the project would have got so far, so fast. That said, there’s nothing quite like a deadline to focus the mind. So, I’ve created an artificial one.


Past experience has taught me the benefits of having an external pair of eyes cast over my work. No matter how much you go over a passage or proof a page, your mind plays tricks on you. You see what you think should be there, not what is there. An external perspective is essential. As it happens, there’s no shortage of people with editing and proofing skills. A shakeup in the publishing industry means many of these work as freelancers, and there’s a useful directory of them through their trade body, the Society for Editors and Proofreaders .


Understandably, these need to be booked ahead. So, I’ve been searching for likely candidates and am on the brink of appointing one. I have another break coming up in October (I know, I know, but it’s my birthday), so I’m trying to line them up to work on the book while I’m away, which means it has to be ready before I go.


This will mean some more long shifts, but that’s how things get done. Plus, I’m really driving the momentum on this project, as it really has to be out as soon as possible next year in order to remain relevant to the Brexit angle.


Publishing Options

In my blog The Sense of an Ending published back in July, I was very much of a mindset to go down the self-publishing route. My thinking at that time was that the traditional publishing industry just takes too long to get stuff done (you’ll have gathered I not a patient man). In a subsequent blog, The End of the Beginning I reassessed this thinking and approached some publishers. Four in fact, all smallish players who are likely to be more fleet of foot, two of whom I’d worked with before, two I hadn’t. Two (one of each) have come back saying no, one seems keen and another I’m about to chase. I still haven’t ruled out the self-publishing option as it allows me to retain more control, but it does require a cash injection. Hopefully, I’ll have made a decision by the time of my next blog.


A Fresh Direction

No, not north east to south west (although, never say never), but a fresh direction for the project. As this blog attests, the focus now is on sharing the publishing and promotion story, rather than the actual walk. I will continue to post on the various social media from the walk, but Diagonal Walking now moves into a different phase.


On the social media front. Twitter continues to creep upwards, and I’ve had some success boosting my Facebook followers, mainly by sponsoring a post boost. This cost £10 and got me and extra 20 followers, but over 1,000 engagements, whatever they are. Worth it? You judge. Instagram is still the hit, with followers now in excess of 1,100, which I’m pleased with.


I’ll leave it there for now, more to come shortly.


So stay tuned and keep diagonal!


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how to write a travel book

Safe From Staffordshire

Well, I’ve made it safe from Staffordshire. As anyone who’s been following my other blogs, or indeed the YouTube Channel (see the video Surviving Staffordshire), or my Facebook page, might have gathered, the second stage of diagonal walking wasn’t exactly a breeze.


As with previous blogs, I’m going to use this blog to keep you up to date with progress on the walk. However, from now on I’ve decided to differentiate the various platforms I’m using in order to sharpen things up. This follows a discussion my son Ed, who ‘walked with me’ over the bank holiday weekend and provided some feedback, for which I’m grateful.


The following therefore is for clarification. In future the blogs will be more for giving an insight into the process of writing a book. In doing so, I intend to be very honest, perhaps disarmingly so. These are in addition to the FFS occasional series giving Five Fascinating Facts about places I pass through. Instagram and Twitter will be used more to provide pictorial updates on progress. YouTube will provide occasional videos for a bit of variety. As much as possible, I’ll be using interviews with people who ‘walk with me’, or who I encounter on the walk, on the podcasts. And finally, Facebook will act as a bit of everything and as a signpost to the other media.


I hope that all makes sense. Anyway, on with the show.



Mayday! Mayday!


The second leg took place from the Thursday before the Mayday bank holiday to the Tuesday after it. All the walking was in rural Staffordshire, pretty much all of it in East Staffordshire. This is not a particularly easy place to find convenient accommodation, so we took the decision to book a cottage for four nights and use that as a base. When I say we, I mean me and my wife Annette, who acted both as chauffeur and fellow walker for two of the days. This meant we could settle in somewhere and also have room for two other walkers, my son Ed and his partner Lydia join us for a couple of the days.


As most readers will know, it was a hot one. This was good, in as much as it meant we only got rained on once. However, it also meant taking extra care not to dehydrate or do anything heroic for the sake of it.


It also meant shorter days, as there tended to be a fair bit of driving to and from places. Typically, we got on the footpaths anything from 10 to 11 each morning and ended around 4 or 5. This was less than I’d got used to in the first leg, but as I say, it was hot, so this wasn’t a bad thing.



A Different Dynamic


As well as having Annette walking with me one day, and Annette with Ed and Lydia on another, I also had my cousin Simon and his wife Judy walking with me one day. On the first leg I’d done all the walking alone, and this meant a different dynamic. Walking with others means you tend to do more talking and less thinking. Or at least I do. This also means less notes, which makes the writing harder later.


On the other hand, having others’ perspectives helps add to the thinking process afterwards. Plus, their insights invariably add to the mix, making it richer. I think the challenge for the future will be getting this balance right. On this leg I did have the final day on my own, but this was only half a day. Still, I found it invaluable to get my thoughts in order. I hope the book, when it’s finished, will show this.





Writing is what I promised I’d talk about in this blog, so here I go. As I mentioned in my previous blog having good notes makes a tremendous difference when it comes to writing the passages up. What I tend to do is think of a unifying ‘message’ or theme for each chapter and write to that, weaving the actual experiences into it. Sometimes this emerges from the experiences, other times it is more deterministic.


To give an example, on this leg we visited our old university at Keele. This allowed for some ruminations on education and how it’s changed and is changing in England. Certainly in the last twenty years, which is my horizon for this book. Throughout, I am keen to keep the book as a mix between a travelogue and something a bit grittier, hopefully providing some insight into the state of the nation.


At the same time, I want to keep the book highly readable. This means injecting some humour, or letting it flow. I don’t want the humour to be forced, and I do want the book to have ‘a voice’. Luckily, this seems to come fairly naturally, especially as I have the template of my first book, Walking on Water, to go by. I am also not just writing notes up, but trying to write straight into a first draft. Sure, there’ll be some polishing, but I hope what I’m writing is 80-90% of the way there by the time I’ve finished. Again, another objective is to have the book reading asap after the walk is finished. This is so it’s fresh as we approach the actual ‘exit’ part of ‘Brexit’ (assuming we do – controversial), and also so it’s still fresh and relevant.


The only exception to this is the conclusion – for conclusion there will be. I want to bring the various strands of the book together in the end, and here I have been typing in notes, or streams of consciousness. I see these as helping to refresh my memory when it comes to writing those pages.




As for progress, I’ve now written about 25,000 words. That’s the equivalent to around 50 to 60 pages of a paperback. They fit into five chapters, two of which cover the last leg, which required around 9,000 words. Of course, all this may change in the editing, but it gives an idea. This seems about right. I’ve completed around 25-30% of the walk (it’s difficult to know) and somewhere around 100,000 words is a good target.



The Staffordshire Experience

Interestingly, as I’ve said, the entire walk this time round was in Staffordshire. In fact my diagonal also cut a diagonal through the county, which is a big one geographically. This was both good and bad, Good in as much as it allowed me to get under the skin of a distinct area. Bad in that the footpaths in the county are pretty poor. Not only are they poorly maintained, but there seems to be a semi-deliberate policy to deter walkers. This said, at least it gave me an angle for the book – a chapter theme! There’s more on my experience in Staffordshire in the above mentioned video and on this blog, which I called ‘Playing Hunt the Footpath’



And Finally …


I know some people like to be kept up to date with the progress on social media, so here goes. Remember, the reason I want numbers here is to make the book more of a compelling proposition for potential publishers, not vanity. I am even beginning to wonder whether to start to approach potential publishers sooner rather than later, rather than waiting until its finished. More on this in the future.


I now have approaching 400 followers on Instagram, and again following the advice of my son Ed, have installed an app caller ‘Followers’ which allows me to monitor who is following me to get their own numbers up and then dumping me. Twitter had been lagging behind, but has received a boost through a competition run by the Stay In A Pub initiative I have been working with. The prize is a signed copy of Walking on Water, and to date this has seen at least 50 new followers on Twitter. Okay, they are not of the highest quality, but hopefully it will kick start things. The total here now is around 350. This article was the second from Stay In A Pub, the first came out in the 26thApril.


I was initially disappointed by these totals, but have to keep reminding myself that the accounts are only a few weeks old. Actually, they’re doing quite well considering, and I think there may be a snowball effect. Certainly the Instagram account seems to be gaining momentum. This may be due in part to some of the publicity I’ve been getting, both locally and nationally. One coup I was pleased with was this article on The Great Outdoors website.


Facebook is still stuck in the friends and family plus odds and sods zone. I’m okay with this, but it would be nice to ‘break out’ a bit. As I’ve said above, I’m changing direction on the podcasts, but these are accumulating a following. I’ve regularly been in the top 5 in the Travel section of the PodOMatic chart, where I host the pods. In March I had 40 downloads, and I doubled that in April. So far, I’ve already reached the 40 mark in May and I’ve two more podcasts to come out. The YouTube channel is there as an adjunct really, but I enjoy doing them.



That’s it for now I think. I hope you’ve found this update on progress blog interesting. There’s much more to come, so stay tuned and keep diagonal!


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