Milemarker

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.

Marketing

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.

Photos

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.

Price

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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100% Proof?

Another milestone for Diagonal Walking this week. After three weeks of slog, sorry, I mean finessing, I’ve incorporated the changes suggested by my editor. As such, I’ve been able to pass the book onto its next stage: proofing. Again, this is something I’ve sub-contracted to the professionals, and I expect the proofed version back within a couple of weeks. I know it’s been a while since my last blog, but hopefully this one will go some way to explaining why. So, in line with one of the larger aims of this project – to share the triumphs and travails of the writing process – it’s time to bring you up to date.

 

Letting Go

Re-reading that opening paragraph makes that process sound very logical and sequential. Scratch the surface though, and it’s anything but. As any writer will tell you, the hardest part of the process is probably letting go. Incorporating the edits has been a mix of correcting obvious errors on things like sentence construction, grammar, facts and spelling. So far, so mechanical. Then there have been the moments when I’ve read a sentence or paragraph and thought … ‘You know what?’, and the process of re-crafting has begun.This is the bit that slows you down. Judging the line between making the text better and over-complicating it is a fine one. If I think there’s a change is worth attempting, it’s a case of make it, read it, read it again, and test it against the original. Is it shorter? Pithier? Clearer? If not, revert to the original.

Then there’s the issue of when do you let go? It’s never really finished, is it? My solution to this problem was to set a deadline. I lined up the proofer beforehand. Getting a slot in his schedule meant not only a smooth transition between phases of the book, but also an incentive to finish, sign off and get my life back.

 

Timing and Proofing

As you’ve probably guessed, all this isn’t a fast process. I can safely say that wasn’t a single page of the original manuscript I sent to the editor that didn’t have some kind of change (necessary or optional) on it. The next time an interviewer asks me the question they always seem to ask: ‘How long did it take you to write the book?’, I may mention this.

I’ve probably spent around ten days making these changes. This is something it’s easy to underestimate. I fully expect to go through the whole thing again when the proofs come through, although hopefully these won’t be quite so fulsome. In between times, I have also created a map of the route for the book. The dilemma here was whether to go down the hand-drawn or digital route. I tried both, but in the end went for the latter. It looked crisper and more professional, as well as easier to read!

My next job is to set myself another deadline to replicate the transition next time I have to let the manuscript go. I fully expect it will be harder next time though. The version on that occasion will be the final one – the one I send to the publisher. Blimey!

 

Publishing

My last blog spoke of how I still had one more traditional publisher interested in the book, and how she needed a ‘few weeks’ before she came back to me. To be fair, she came back in a couple of weeks. The opening sentence of her email was encouraging (I quote) ‘there is so much to admire about the project and the writing.’ But, in the end, she was still worried about sales.

I wasn’t too disappointed. Sure, part of me would have relished the affirmation of a professional publisher, but the longer the process of securing one went on, the more I became convinced it wasn’t the route for this project.

My main reason for this is timing. As I’ve mentioned before, I need this book to come out while it’s still relevant, and ideally I think this is probably around the time we exit the EU i.e. the end of March 2019. Assuming we do of course. The events of recent days have highlighted once again, the importance of staying relevant. One of the selling points of the book is going to be a view on where we were during the crazy summer before. This isn’t going to be very interesting if publication is delayed until 2020, which would have been the case if I’d gone down the traditional publisher route. Self publishing it is then.

 

Selecting a Publisher

My next job then is to select a publisher. This is what will give me the next deadline. The self publishing option gives me control, now is the time to exercise it. I’ve done it before and know where to go, so while the book is away at the proofer I’m going to get some quotes and, hopefully, make a choice. The power, the power. I feel I’ve given the traditional publishing route my best shot, but ultimately I’m back to where my initial instincts were taking me.

Self publishing has come on leaps and bounds in recent years. ‘Package’ suppliers offer not just printing but also marketing and distribution amongst other services. For example, getting a book on Amazon. Most operate a pick and mix system, so it’s a case of selecting the best deal.

Ultimately, time will tell if I get this right. But then again, there’s no 100% proof that any option is the best.

 

Wish me luck, and stay tuned for further updates. Meanwhile, don’t forget you can download my latest novel for Kindle off Amazon for only 99p – for a limited period only.

 

Meanwhile, 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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A Million Steps Later

I’ve added a new video to YouTube detailing the last day of the walk and a few reflections from the whole experience. It’s called ‘A Million Steps Later’ and can be viewed here:

Ever Wondered What’s Involved In Writing A Book?

There’s nothing I like better than writing a book, or reading one for that matter. Over the last twenty years I’ve written over twenty books and enjoyed some modest success. It’s true that none of my books have troubled the Sunday Times Bestsellers, but I have occasionally hit the upper echelons of different Amazon categories. Over that time, I’ve made a modest income, dabbled in traditional publishing with different publishers, done some self-publishing and got involved in e-publishing. So, while I may be a journeyman, I hope I have something to say to anyone who’s ever wondered what’s involved in writing a book.

 

 

If It Ain’t Broke …

 

If I’ve learned one thing about the publishing world it is that it likes its traditions. Its approach to how it goes about things can be summed up as ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’. The biggest hurdle any aspiring author will have to face is breaking into that fixed world. If you’re an unknown, you are very likely to stay an unknown.

 

Put simply, and it’s not an unreasonable position, why should a publisher take a chance on you? The publishing world isn’t alone in protecting its corner. However, as similar industries have found, they are vulnerable to attack from the democratising power of the internet.

 

 

Diagonal Walking: A 21stCentury approach to writing a book

 

That’s why, when considering my next writing project, I decided to take a 21stcentury approach. The project is a travel book, documenting a long distance walk following a diagonal line drawn NW to SE through the centre of England. I could have just done the walk, written the book and then pitched it to publishers. In fact, not to publishers, but to literary agents. Publishers very rarely respond to direct approaches, even if you have written twenty books.

 

Instead, I’ve decided to get the general public involved. If you’ve browsed this site you will have got it by now. I want to be a sort of authorial pied piper, gathering a virtual cloud of followers. These can be on social media, or through podcasts, blogs and videos. I want to harness the power of the internet to build a potential audience for my book. The aim is to rebalance some of the power of decision making towards the author. When the walk is finished and the book is written I want to have a say in how it reaches its market.

 

 

Follow and Learn

 

With Diagonal Walking experiment I’m going to open up the processes of planning, generating material, writing, editing, proofing and publishing. Using the various outlets I have created, I am inviting people to follow every step, and learn from my experience. I will share the ups and the downs of the process in real time. At the same time, I will ask for ideas and help. I want to make this book a communal effort.

 

 

I’m Learning Already

 

I’ve learned a lot already, and the project’s only been going three months! I’ve learned technical skills such as how to build a website and optimise its search engine attractiveness. I’ve learned how to make a video and get it on YouTube. I’ve learned how to record and publish podcasts. But I’ve learned more than that. I’ve learned patience, especially when you delegate tasks to others. After all, this is your baby not theirs, you can’t expect them to share your urgency.

 

Perhaps most significantly, I’ve learned to follow an idea. Truth time. When I started with Diagonal Walking I was only thinking about getting others to follow the walk. As time has gone on, I’ve appreciated the potential the project offers to shine some light upon what, for most, certainly for anyone thinking about writing a book, is a place of very dark secrets.

 

 

Follow Me!

 

So, follow me along the journey. Not just the physical journey but the whole journey of writing the book. I will keep on posting regular updates even when the walk is finished, sharing the pleasures and agonies of the whole writing process. Planning and executing the walk is the easy bit. The real slog starts with the rising, editing, proofing and publishing.  There’s still a long way to go, I haven’t even started the walk yet!

 

Happy writing! Diagonal or otherwise.

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