Monday, 21 April 2008

Riding to Write. Or Writing to Ride?

Pasted Graphic 6
Immediately after graduating from university I climbed on my bike to try to cycle round the world. Four years later I arrived back home and sat down to write a book about my experiences. I soon discovered that the riding was the easy part and that the writing was, in fact, the true arduous endurance challenge!

I climbed off my bike, sharpened my pencil, and began writing. I felt that I had prepared well for my new beginning as a writer for on the road I had read books for a couple of hours every single evening in my tent. I thought I knew what was good writing and what was not. I was ready to begin.

Words came fairly easily and, after a couple of months, my book began taking shape. Excited, I sent my synopsis and sample chapters off to agent after agent and sat back to wait for the royalties to roll in.

Reality hit hard. I did not receive rejections. Worse, I was met with a wall of indifference. Few agencies even replied. Those that did tended to use a generic rejection letter with little hint that anyone, not even the work experience tea boy, had considered my manuscript. Others replied only to say that they were not even considering new authors. The travel writing market seemed saturated. Cash cows and celebrity tales dominate. I am not whinging: it’s a competitive world!

But for a young, not famous, beginning writer the outlook was bleak. I did not give in as I believed that I had an interesting tale to tell and that I could become a good writer as well. However, after nine demoralising months I had to face reality. My book was not going to get published.

Perhaps it was stupidity to ignore the massed expertise of the entire publishing industry, perhaps it is important to be determined and to back yourself. But, whatever the reasons or the motive I decided to self publish a book about my experiences cycling the length of Africa. I knew of the stigma of self publishing, vanity publishing, of thousands of unsold, poorly produced books piled in the corner of your living room for year after year. But I also learned about the modern technology of Print on Demand where stylish looking books are instantly available on Amazon with very little financial output required. So I decided to trust myself, and to go for it.

Self publishing would give me the freedom to succeed or fail on the merits of my own writing and the opinions of those reading the book rather than on the whims of over-subscribed agents with no time to do anything but glance at a page or two. Self publishing promised to give me a new challenge. I had cycled round the world, I had written a book, now I just had to publish it, distribute it, market it and sell it as well. And, by no means least, if those who read my book actually enjoyed reading my book I felt it would be a welcome ‘up yours’ to a publishing industry where everything seemed set up to make life difficult for young people striving to become writers.

A year later I had sold over 4000 books. JK Rowling and Steven King may not be looking anxiously over their shoulder at me, but given that most bookshops are reluctant to even stock self published books I was pleased with this figure.

Even more pleasing is that, following on from my first book, my second book has been taken on by a traditional publisher, Eye Books. They are also re-releasing my first book which now gives it a chance to be sold in shops and to potentially reach a wider audience than when it was simply self-published.

With a new, bold, expedition in the pipeline for the end of 2008 and a book to follow that the future is slowly beginning to resemble one in which I may have a chance to make my living from expeditions and from books. The pleasing thing about expeditions is that your success or failure rests mainly in your own hands. Writing is not like that. But perhaps that just adds to the satisfaction of the challenge. I am just enormously relieved that I did not give up on my book when nobody in the publishing world wanted it. Self publishing my first book was extremely rewarding and a good way for would-be authors to determine whether or not their book is actually any good.

Labels: , ,


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home