Historical Novel Writer
I had, during my Camino walk, kept a diary of my progress and some of my instant thoughts and impressions. I had also taken innumerable photographs along the way. I put the whole lot in a file and stored it away.
One day I pulled it out, re-read it and decided to try and bring the skills and experience that I had gained writing the Anthology to bear on the diary. I put in some additional afterthoughts, edited it rigorously, inserted appropriate photographs and proofed it. Then I designed a cover and produced, using ‘Word for Windows’, what I thought was a good looking document. It was titled ‘My Camino – A personal pilgrimage’
Then I realised that I had a problem. Producing sixteen copies of the anthology had been time consuming and expensive in terms of paper and ink, so to produce a much larger quantity of ‘My Camino’ including several high resolution photos was going to be a major task.
I took the problem to a friend who ran a small marketing business ‘Quayside Creative’ and was familiar with publishing packages and print run economics. He was complimentary about the book but advised that the whole document needed to be reset in a proper desktop publishing package. He also advised professional proofreading.
I was dubious about this, feeling that I had already done a good job on it. Was I wrong! When the document came back there was nearly as much red ink as there was black. It was money well spent.
I worked hard on corrections and on the whole appearance of the book both inside and out. The choice of photographs for the cover and their placement inside the diary was very important in giving the impression of a quality product.
Having finally arrived at a good looking and accurate document I now had to put aside my writing hat and try to decide how many I could sell and therefore how many to print. I made the decision to use this project as an opportunity to learn about promotion, marketing and book selling as well as production.
I decided first to test market. Half a dozen prototype books were made up with good quality covers and I went round to most of the bookshops within a 20 mile radius of my home. The book was well received and I got good feedback and advice and estimates of likely initial sales.
The one consistent message that I got was that the book was only likely to sell with some publicity attached to it.
I then talked to local newspapers and radio stations and found that there was interest in a story about a pensioner walking five hundred miles across Spain and writing a book about it.
Finally I sat down to work out a realistic target for sales and put that alongside the figures for printing costs based on different run quantities. In simple terms the bigger the run the lower the cost per book and the bigger the profit margin per book. The downside however is that the bigger the run the higher the overall cost.
I decided that my best solution was to go for a relatively big print run of 3000 books and spend a considerable amount of my time and effort on publicity, selling and marketing. My aim was to recover my total costs of some £10,000 from direct sales of 250 books at their full price of £12.99, and a further 1000 copies through bookshops and agencies at full price less bookseller discount, usually 40%.
Any revenue above these targets would be profit and give me scope for discounting if necessary. In retrospect it was quite a gamble. My test marketing results had given me some confidence however and I knew that the Camino pilgrimage walk was becoming more and more popular worldwide.
Well it worked. Two things had a significant impact. The first was promotion and newspaper publicity. On a local level, the self produced flyer that I produced plus interviews and articles generated a flow of local direct orders and encouraged local booksellers to stock the book in reasonable quantities. I personally went round many bookshops large and small, armed with a folder of article reprints and a car full of books. At the national level I sent copies of the book to all the main national papers. To my delight one selected ‘My Camino’ as their ‘Travel Book of the Week’ resulting in almost immediate sales of about 450 copies and giving me very valuable extra publicity.
The second important factor was unlocking some of the big retailers. I gained an initial order from a local branch of Smiths using my local author status and the publicity of the national paper write up. On the advice of the local manager I then invoiced their head office. The book was then automatically on their system. I also wrote to their chief book buyer with a copy of the book and some of the publicity material. She would not place a bulk order but told me that many of their larger stores had local purchasing discretion. I found that if I then called on another branch with local purchasing power and explained that the book was on their system, which they could immediately verify, then resistance to the sale was minimal. I used this approach successfully with two other major book retailers.
To date ‘My Camino’ has sold some 2,500 copies and I am still getting spasmodic small orders.
Now I am moving forward with more creative projects; several articles for a County magazine have been published. Ten children’s stories are completed and awaiting an illustrator, and now a historical novel, drawing upon the Camino experience and my ancestry research, has been published in paperback and e book and available via the website or via Amazon. Two further Novels are in the research and planning stages.
Starting to write at the age of seventy plus has been a great experience and taught me that the writing itself, while hugely enjoyable, is only one of the skills that you need in order to publish or get published and more importantly to sell what you have written. Perhaps age and experience have actually been a help to me so far.
I do not suggest that you have to go on a pilgrimage to become a writer but I did and the remaining copies of ‘My Camino’ are available at a bargain price !!
My next blog will cover my experience of getting my first historical novel ‘Moonshadow’ published as an Indie book. Maybe you would like to read it first !!