Last week, I wrote about the things I did wrong while writing How Not to Travel the World. Today, it’s time to take a positive look at my publishing experience and share everything I did right.
Let’s get started!
I Blogged as if Everyone Was Watching
You’ll never know who’s reading your blog.
When I was contacted by the first editor — an editor from Penguin Random House, no less! — she mentioned she’d been reading my blog for over a year and had told everyone she knew about my dead woman on a slow boat experience. When I announced I was working on a book, she jumped at the chance to work with me because she knew my story, had evidence that I consistently produced high quality content, and could see I had an engaged readership.
Summersdale — the second publisher to contact me, and who I signed with — decided they were looking for UK-based travel bloggers with a large audience and an interesting story to tell. My lovely editor found me through one of the many lists of top travel bloggers and, once she saw I was writing a book, got in touch. In her words:
It immediately caught my eye because you seemed so friendly and accessible, and your blog clearly had such a unique hook. There are lots of perfectly well-written travel blogs out there but lots are simply ‘where I’ve been’ stories – perfectly fine, but not something that will sell huge numbers. Your experience as a writer for other websites was also a good sign, as it indicated that you’d be used to writing professionally. Your blog was the perfect candidate, and when you responded to say you were interested in sending over a book proposal I was over the moon!
The lesson here is to write as if Important People You Want to Impress are reading your every word. You won’t know if they’re subscribed to your site or if they’ll happen to stumble across it one day, so be prepared.
For years, I made sure every post I published had gone through multiple rounds of edits, was of the highest quality, and had a strong, consistent message that related to my brand of being a walking disaster.
I Wrote So Many Lists
I used to think making lists was a waste of time. It’s just a way of distracting yourself and avoiding doing whatever you need to do, right? Well, now I’m a convert.
In Granada, I was drowning in lists because it was the only way I could figure out how to tie everything together. There was the list that told me when I would need to finish each chapter in order to meet my deadline. There was the list I wrote every morning that covered what I needed to achieve before going to bed. There was a list to remind me what themes I had to tackle in each chapter. There was a list to keep track of character development. There was a list outlining which were the weakest parts of each chapter.
Writing lists kept me accountable, organised, and focused on my deadline.
I Wasn’t Afraid to Cut Stuff Out
Condensing a multi-year trip into one and trying to tell my story in 90,000 words was harder than it sounds. I wanted to share everything! I wanted to write about my week spent partying in the Philippines, and the time a hostel owner handed me an egg before running out of the room screaming. I wanted to share fun anecdotes about throwing up over market stalls, and my night of tag team food poisoning. The problem: they weren’t relevant to the narrative, they weren’t revealing anything new, and the extra words were giving me less opportunity to delve deeper into the important parts.
When you write a book, every single sentence has to further your story in some way. If it’s doesn’t, cut it.
I Dropped Everything and Started Writing
Dropping everything I had going on and deciding to focus solely on my book was the right decision. It meant that I wasn’t worrying about freelancing deadlines, I wasn’t brainstorming post ideas for Never Ending Footsteps, and the only thing I had to think about was what was happening in my book. In the end, I lost some lucrative freelancing gigs and probably lost a few readers here and there, but I had to do it to get it finished.
Most people I know use Scrivener to write a book, but I’m a firm believer that you just need to write. Don’t worry about what software you’re using — just open up a text editor and start.
I Focused on Marketing When Writing My Book Proposal
I wrote my proposal without having any idea about what a book proposal should look like.
Rather than focusing on the quality of my writing, I headed straight for the marketing books. A proposal is all about selling yourself and your book to a publisher, and as a Brit, I’m terrible at doing so. Learning tips and tricks for promoting myself without sounding like I was over-exaggerating or uncomfortable made for a far stronger proposal. So much so that both editors I sent it to loved it, and my agent didn’t want me to make more than a couple of improvements!
I Started a Mailing List
As soon as I signed the contract for my publishing deal, I started a mailing list. When I made the big announcement on Never Ending Footsteps, I offered you guys the option of signing up if you wanted to be notified when my book is launched. When you combine those sign-ups with my newsletter subscribers (my most treasured readers!), there are now 3,000 of you who are interested in what I’m up to and how you can support me.
That sort of commitment is invaluable, so I’m going to be offering free gifts to all of my subscribers when they pick up a copy of the book. Stay tuned!
I Broke the Rules When Searching for an Agent
Agents receive something like a hundred submissions a day and 99% of them are rejected. In order to increase my chances of a successful pitch, I meticulously followed each agent’s submission guidelines. I sent 100 emails, received three rejections, and two requests for more information.
The problem came when I had two publishing houses telling me they were going to be making me an offer in a week’s time and I still didn’t have an agent. Nobody was even focusing on my emails because the subject line was something like, “Query: How Not to Travel the World (travel memoir)”. I was buried in the slush pile.
I changed my tack and titled my emails, “URGENT: I have two offers on the table!”, and suddenly agents were actually reading my emails and offering representation. In fact, the agent I chose to go with thanked me for using that subject line, because it had her reading it the second it landed in her inbox.
I Downloaded Self Control
Without Self Control, I would still be writing my book. It was a game changer for my writing process. Self Control is an app for Macs that takes you offline for a set period of time and nothing you can do will get you back on. Uninstalling the app doesn’t work and restarting your laptop does nothing.
Every morning, I’d power up my laptop, set Self Control for 18 hours and write, write, write! As soon as I’d eliminated social media and distractions from my day, I was able to focus for far longer than two minutes at a time.
I Rejected the Offers that Weren’t Right for Me
I received an offer for world rights (that’s English and foreign language rights) for How Not to Travel the World and I turned it down. As it stands, I still hold the rights for the US and Canada, but have sold the rights for the UK and most of the Commonwealth. Selling world rights would mean having my book in bookstores around the world, but there were a few things that put me off. That’s why I’m going to be self-publishing in North America.
If I’d taken the deal, my book would have had different launch dates around the world. I’m currently knee-deep in marketing plans for my book, and can’t imagine having to do this over and over again without another meltdown.
It was about you guys, too: how annoying would it be if I was promoting my book, but it was only available for my UK readers?
There were a few other reasons, too: If I self-publish, I’ll make 70% royalties as opposed to the ~10% I get through publishing traditionally; I’ll have full control over the price and blurb and making any kind of editorial changes to the book; I’ll be able to write a big blog post comparing traditional and self-publishing; and it’ll help me make the decision about what route to go down if and when I write my sequel.
The downsides to not taking the deal were not having my book available in bookstores in the US and Canada and not having access to a publisher’s marketing contacts in these regions. It was hard to turn down the offer, but I think the pros outweighed the cons. We’ll see how it goes!
I Bought the Book Files From My Publisher
There can be a bit of a stigma around self-publishing, so I wanted to make sure every version of my book looked just as professional as the traditionally published one. I decided to buy the cover, fonts, and inside files from my publisher.
It was a lot of money, but it was worth it. I don’t have the time or mental strength right now to try and figure out how to use InDesign, or to look for a talented designer to help me with my cover, or whatever else goes into self-publishing a book. Even if I did, I’d never be able to create a product as professional as my current one.
I’m excited to know I’ll be publishing a polished book that looks just as good in the US as it does in the UK. Plus, how pretty is my cover?
I Wrote Everything From Scratch
The last thing I wanted was for my book to be a copy of my blog, so I wrote it all from scratch. I rewrote my stories so much that I’m certain my book has no identical sentences to any on Never Ending Footsteps. I want How Not to Travel the World to be 100% new content so that you guys get your money’s worth.
Yep, it features all of my biggest and best incidents — some you already know about; some brand new — but I took a different angle with every single one of them. You’ll find out what was really going through my mind when I threw my fist at the scammer in Shanghai, you’ll get to discover why I almost broke up with Dave in Bali, you’ll wince as you read in excruciating detail about the time a fish swam into my bikini bottoms, and you’ll discover what, exactly, kept me on the road when I was clearly the unluckiest traveller in the world.
How Not to Travel the World is launching around the world on August 13th. If you’re in the UK, you can pre-order the paperback version from Amazon and a dozen other UK stores, both online and offline. The ebook version will be available on the 13th. If you’re in the US, you can pre-order the Kindle version from Amazon here, and the paperback version will be available on the 13th. For everyone else, check out your local Amazon store and there’ll be a way for you to pre-order it. Thank you SO much to everyone who’s already done so! You’re all amazing :-)