In the back of my mind, I had always fancied walking from John O’ Groats to Land’s End, but never thought I would ever have the opportunity to do so. Then, out of the blue, early retirement presented me with the chance to undertake my own journey, a solo charity walk.
I can honestly say that undertaking the walk has been one of the greatest experiences of my life. My lasting impression of this wonderful 955 mile, 57 day journey from John O’ Groats to Land’s End is that Britain is still, surprisingly, an essentially rural island which is brimming with diverse landscapes, history and communities.
In early January, I sat down at my laptop, printed off a complete series of my daily blogs, removed my JOGLE photobook from the bookshelf, retrieved the wad of weathered A4 mapping sheets I’d used for navigation and started to draw on my memories of my first few steps from John O’ Groats. I quickly immersed myself in my new task and, despite the fact that it was undoubtedly wintry outside my study window, I was surprised how readily I was transported back in time to re-live my journey along the length of a hot and sunny Britain some seven months earlier. I had decided to write the book in the form of a diary, but interspersed with background information about my walk and the places I encountered.
One of the remarkable facts to emerge from my walk was that my entire route was dotted with the scenes of tragic historical events, including air and rail crashes, maritime and industrial tragedies, battles and wartime destruction, and natural catastrophes. The scale of these events was even more extraordinary, given that most of my route passed through rural landscapes and had minimal contact with major conurbations. As a consequence, I resolved to weave the stories of these events into my journey. After about thirty days of writing and much editing, I’d managed to develop the original 30,000 words of my combined blogs into a manuscript of around 80,000 words.
I quickly discovered that, having finished writing the book, the hard work had yet to begin. I needed to find a publisher, but I knew nothing about the world of publishing. After some intensive research, I established that publishing is a complex, crowded, rapidly changing business. The ‘old school’ publishers, who typically take many months to read a newcomer’s manuscript, are slowly being outnumbered by a multitude of newer ‘self-publishing’ companies. Some of the latter seemed to exist purely to get a book into print (so called ‘vanity’ publishers), whereas others offered a broader range of services, including marketing and selling. Under the self-publishing model, the author takes the entire financial risk (for example, funding the print run in advance), but potentially enjoys a greater return if the book is successful. Based on numerous recommendations, I opted for a multi-service self-publishing company called Troubador Publishing and was delighted to be informed that they would accept my manuscript and publish it under their Matador imprint.
For the next few months, I worked closely with the publisher on a range of activities, ranging from composing the Advance Information sheet (for the book trade), the press releases and the ‘blurb’ (for the back cover of the book), selecting the typeface, font size and layout for the text of the book, deciding which photographs to incorporate, arranging for a foreword to be written by Cancer Research UK and drafting a dedication page. We also agreed a title for the book (‘Footsteps in Summer’) and a cover image (based on one of my photographs taken on the beautiful, secluded beach at Brora on day 4 of my JOGLE walk).
Some weeks later, I received the typeset proofs – 280 pages of the book in its final typeface, ready to be proofread. After a rigorous assault by the red pen, 105 pages were returned for corrections of spelling, grammar, punctuation or consistency. Even once these revisions had been processed, a further proofread revealed another 20 pages of amendments.
The publishers highlighted the importance of social media in marketing the book, so I became a reluctant convert to Facebook and Twitter, but also set up this website specifically for the book.
My primary purpose for writing the book was to raise additional funds for Cancer Research UK and I had agreed that all royalties from books sold would go to them, so my marketing plan was developed to reflect this. I’m also working closely with the fundraising team at Cancer Research UK, so with their support, I hope we can enhance sales of the book.
Although the book is obtainable online from Amazon and Waterstones, and available to order from high street bookshops, the charity margin from these channels is pitifully small. Take Amazon, for example. They have already discounted the pre-order price for the book, from £9.99 (full price) to between £6.99 and £7.99 and, after printing and distribution costs, the charity’s benefit would only be around 50 pence per book. However, if I sell via my publisher’s website at the full price, the charity will earn over £6 for each book sold. Better still, if I sell copies direct to family, friends and at promotional events, Cancer Research UK will benefit by about £8 per book.
In its own way, the path to publishing my book has been just as challenging as the route from John O’ Groats to Land’s End, but without the blisters or the blazing sun. I’m not expecting to become the next Bill Bryson, but if I can manage to sell my print run of a thousand copies and raise a few thousand ponds for Cancer Research UK, I’ll be delighted.