We're on a mission to help you share your stories, document your experiences, writing tips and solutions to every writer's potential problems, and this week we've got a personal journey from former BBC reporter, Roy Sheppard who now writes about personal development and relationships. His story isn't dissimilar to others we've heard through our campaign, yet it's interesting to see that even the most experienced media guys can make mistakes!
HarperCollins made such a mess of my book “Press Pause on Your Life” back in 1997 (in my opinion!) that I decided I could do it better myself.
How difficult could it possibly be, I asked myself? Hmm. Does this make me a pioneer or just an arrogant author? (Clue – I don’t think I was a pioneer!) In those days, it cost a lot to join this publishing ‘party’. There was a HUGE amount to learn. And I loved it.
The physical book creation was possibly more exciting to me than the painfully slow and hard, daily grind of writing my target 1,500 words early each morning (regardless of any other daily commitments), followed by a couple of hours editing/re-writing each evening.
Two years later, I gave birth to “Your Personal Survival Guide to the 21st Century”. With hindsight, at 89,000 words and 280 pages, it was way too long. And looking at a dog-eared copy right now, to keep the page count as low as possible, the font was way too small (or is that because my eyesight has deteriorated so much over the last 19 years?!) Today I’d make it a ‘series’.
But the Independent newspaper described it as ‘required reading’ and it went on to sell about 12,000, helped in some part, by a fairly substantial poster campaign I ran on the London underground. Even though I had a friend in a major London advertising agency, who somehow managed to wangle an amazing deal, it still cost me a small fortune. But, it also helped secure lots of publicity, including an appearance on Sky TV and an interview with Steve Wright on Radio 2– all without a PR company. I just hit the phones and set them up myself.
There were two unexpected highlights for me; learning to make my own edits within the desktop publishing software was almost a spiritual experience for me. The idea that you could write, edit, typeset and then print a book yourself was (and still remains) mind-blowing for me.
The other highlight was driving to Cambridge (UK) in the middle of the night to watch that first book being printed; the massive sheets of 16up pages whizzing through the printing presses, moving onto other machines where the sheets were folded and cut, then bound together, glue was added along the spine, the book block pressed hard down on the cover, then bent again and trimmed to create a finished book. A euphoric experience for me.
As a business, this was going well. However, I came to realise early-on that traditional publishers now regarded me as an outcast. I distinctly remember attending my first London Book Fair; my badge said ‘author’. I was made to feel that I would have been treated with more respect if it had said ‘leper’ instead.
It was bad enough being an author, but when they discovered I was also self-published, they’d look at you with the same expression as someone who’d just discovered something foul-smelling on the bottom of their shoe.
I didn’t make the same mistake when I flew to New York for the BookExpo. I made sure I only ever described myself as someone who ran a ‘publishing business’.
My next book “Rapid Result Referrals” sold about 22,000 copies.
I made my biggest mistake with that book. I still don’t know how it happened. The book was proofed by a professional but somehow, the un-proofed files were sent to the printers. Imagine my sheer horror when, a few weeks later I received 5,000 perfectly printed books – every copy littered with dozens of typos! It was an absolute disaster. It has never happened since.
My advice to all authors is always, always get your book proofed – you cannot do it yourself. Really.
Recently, my best mate got the rights back to a book he wrote for Random House. He’d paid a small fortune to have it re-designed and typeset. Proudly, he sent me a pdf before it was printed. It looked fantastic, but practically EVERY page had typos. I told him very bluntly “You can't publish this. It’s terrible. It will destroy your credibility.” He explained he didn’t have time to get it proofed. I was insistent. Eventually, and very reluctantly, he contacted the person I have hired to proof all my printed books. I highly recommend Stephanie Bennett of ProofScrutiny.co.uk. She duly returned the proofed pdfs which he then passed back to his typesetter. Curious, he decided to count all her corrections. He found just under one thousand mistakes!
Today, with so many people publishing books of variable quality, reaching potential readers has never been so difficult. I have been luckier than most. And it took me many years to realise it. The most important success factor has been my ‘day job’. I was/am an international conference facilitator and speaker. This gives me access to tens of thousands of potential readers each year. Today it’s called your ‘platform’. My advice to every author is learn to give great presentations about your books and get in front of as many audiences as possible; locally, regionally, national and even internationally.
I’m writing this on the day my latest ebook has gone live on the Amazon Kindle store. It’s a 69 page self-help book for single women who always seem to attract jerks into their lives. http://www.amazon.com/dp/B01E7GZWDM ($2.99)
Next, I need to distribute it to all the other eBook stores around the world. To do that I use www.eBookPartnership.com Nice people. Very helpful. UK based. They collect my revenue from all these stores and send me money every month. I like them a lot! ☺
I created the eBook using Jutoh (Jutoh.com), a brilliant piece of relatively inexpensive eBook software developed by a Scottish husband and wife team in Edinburgh.
I have learned so much more than I could possibly include here – but if you want to be published – DO IT! It’s the most fun you can have with your clothes on!
I’m often asked if writing is a ‘calling’. No it’s not. It’s more of an addiction. I have yet to finish a book and not tell myself “That’s it. I’m never doing that again”. But it isn't long before I get another book idea…and well, I just can't help myself.
I’m working on something new already.
Thanks for your story Roy! I'm sure many would agree it's an addiction, and much like tattoos - one you that can cause you so much pain but you keep going back!
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