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From Commissioned Author to Self-Published and Fancy Free

A very warm welcome to old friend, Tracey Smith Wright West today. Tracey is a fantastic author and broadcaster, having penned the still popular Book of Rubbish Ideas and having sparked the growing Downshifting movement. We’ve known her for years, in one form or another (hence the many names.) She’s always worth a listen on Apple radio – you can listen online if you’re not local.

She’s multi-talented as well as a multi-tasking whirlwind and we’re honoured to say she’s found a moment to scribble us a post.

Tracey West

I’d been writing about sustainable living for some time and was truly delighted to be contacted by Alastair Sawday and asked to write The Book of Rubbish Ideas.

I duly completed the task and having been asked for 40,000 words, delivered 57,000! It was so hard not to wax lyrical about the topic I’d been living and breathing for so long. A website was built to support the additional material and I got to work sliding in all the extra bits into it.

I had the use of a lovely PR company who organised press releases and that sort of thing. I also had advice about how to organise book signings and appearances at literary festivals, which was easy to do and to be honest, pretty much organised by me.

I guess the fact that the book was out and doing well was a good indicator that things were going to go well in respect of the likes of Waterstone’s saying, ‘Oh yes we’d love you to come in and do something in the shop’. However, I now think that book shops are inherently very likely to say yes to any author who offers to come in and do a personal appearance and help boost their coffers at the end of the day! All you need is a book, some time in your diary and a little charm and personality; everybody wins!

So, The Book of Rubbish Ideas did what every author wants it to do…it sold out. I was so excited about the prospect of a second edition with tweaks and new material, however it wasn’t to be. They, like many other publishers had hit upon tricky times and there wasn’t the money to do so. So, eventually, they gave me back the rights, which was a blessing!

Being completely truthful with you about money, the average Joe(sephine) first time author generally gets a very small amount of money for each book sold. If they are lucky, they might get an advance of a thousand pounds or two to actually write the book which is delivered in three tranches; on signing that you’ll do it, on handover of the manuscript and on publication. Then once the first print run is sold and the publisher has hopefully got back their investment in their little unknown writer, you may be in line for a royalty. Depending upon which distribution outlet they sell the books to at this point, your slice of the piece might reel in 10-35p per book…yes, I did say per book…That was my scene anyway and my cover price was £6.99.

So, cut to a few short years later and I find myself entering the darkness that is divorce. It was an horrific period in my life and one that I shall never repeat. They say write about the stuff you know and boy, I did. I wrote out my darkness, for me initially, but then I realised that there was an enormous void for books that helped women rise above the angst of separation and divorce. So, I changed tack and started talking to other women who were suffering the same fate and expanded my writing to include elements of their stories.

I ended up with, strangely enough, a set of Poetry of Divorce! I’d never penned poetry in my life so goodness knows how that started, but start it did and some of the pieces literally fell from my fingers. T hey were incredibly cathartic to write. Some were sombre pieces, some cheeky, some tear filled, but all written from the heart. The resulting collection I believe, helps women to realise they are not alone in how they are feeling or being made to feel.

So, the decision was made to self-publish this little puppy and right now, I am putting the finishing touches on the book itself, which will come out in paperback and also in an e-version. As I have no PR company behind me, I’m going to have to do all the marketing myself. This is key. You have to get your body of work out there in the world of the media. If the work is good, they will help spread the word to a far wider audience than you ever could. I’ve been collating a list of emails for journalists, radio and TV news teams, who report on this genre which is rolling up towards 200 long. Believe me, that might sound a lot but there are no guarantees that they’ll all reach their target. You have to shoot far, wide and big if you are going to hit the numbers and that’s what it is really, a numbers game. A proportion of them won’t read your note because they may never had had anything from you in the past and you’ll end up in their spam box, but some might just make it and you only need a few good reviews and you’ll be up and running.

At the end of the day, a self-published author should be prepared to work incredibly hard for their slice of the crust. I did for Sawdays, actually it was a sister company called Fragile Earth Books, and of all of the authors in their stable is it’s commonly termed, I was the only one who sold all their books.

You need to avail yourself for interviews, for book signings and appearances, opening shops, doing charity events, visiting schools, giving talks and more if you want to make a good impression on your potential readership. They are always great gigs for taking along a box of your books to and doing signings, as you will no doubt have been able to buy them at a large discount and you make a far higher percentage profit.

So, here I sit poised, (well, I say ‘sit’, that implies I’m taking it easy, believe me, my house is a literary hive of activity) getting the last bits and pieces ready to launch Poetry of Divorce: for women and the excitement levels couldn’t be higher.

Recently, I also launched a ‘Coping Tip of the Day’, which you can subscribe to, free of charge of course, which delivers a little uplifting gem into your inbox each day. It is something I really wanted to offer people, as I know all too well how hard it is to carve a route through the day when there’s so much noise and confusion going on around you and all you crave is something shiny. It has taken quite a while to write over a year’s worth of tips, but that’s how long the process can take and how nice it would have been for me to be able to tap into that sort of a resource – I hope it manages to help women, particularly those touched by domestic violence and abuse and that it lifts them up out of part of their pain.

But if you want to slice it into marketing facts, the Coping Tip is a strong marketing tool. If people like what I’ve written and are uplifted, maybe they’ll look at buying the book or going to the library to lend it. The Book of Rubbish IdeasActually, that reminds me, every time I was interviewed about The Book of Rubbish Ideas, which is based on ways you can reduce your rubbish and keep more money in your pocket, I always advised people to go get it from the library…my publishers hated me for it and I was regularly ticked off! But there you go, it’s not all about saying, ‘Go buy my book, it’s great’, it’s about getting your vision out there in the world and hopefully, if you are serious about writing for a living, actually making a living! That said, it is an incredibly tough world out there, so don’t enter it with delusions of E L James’ grandeur!

By the way, wow, what a great job she’s done for highlighting the fact that self-publishing can work, in a big way occasionally, well done girl (even if you don’t agree with the genre and content, you have to raise your hand to your forelock with respect!)

So, if that has tempted you to be an author, wonderful, go for it! Do it with eyes wide open and be prepared to do lots of strange thing to make it work. It’s not simply about putting pen to paper (the way I prefer to do it actually, I am old fashioned) it’s about finding a route to taking your product to market that works for you, if you want to make money from it. Remember, many don’t, they are content enough just having something out there and that’s fine too.

I am girding my loins for continuing writing Poetry of Divorce: for men. There are equally as many horror, funny, exasperating and desperate stories to be told for them too…you wait until you’ve read ‘Return Journey’…do so and tell me if you’ve not shed a tear.

The Book of Rubbish Ideas is now only available in e-book.

The Poetry of Divorce: for women will be available soon. Go onto the mailing list to be advised of when and where and/or subscribe to Coping Tip of the Day



One thought on “From Commissioned Author to Self-Published and Fancy Free

  1. Hi lovely – it was a pleasure to pen this and I hope it goes on to inspire others to grab a notebook and write down the stuff they know…you never know what might become of it…Best, T x

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