Lockdown gave me the excuse, and the push, to publish the book of ‘Normal For Glastonbury’
I’ve had quite a few people ask me about the process of putting together and publishing the book, I’m hoping that with this article I might encourage other first time writers to have a go. Self-publishing is a great adventure! I did a lot of research on equipment and suppliers, I’ve put some links in to the ones I decided on here too, they may not be the best for your purposes, but they have worked for me. I did everything on a shoestring and as much as possible myself, so my costs were quite low, the only thing I didn’t economize on was the printing as I wanted the book to be printed in the UK and on recycled paper.
I didn’t mean to write a book. I never even meant to start a blog, let alone have it take over my whole life. When lockdown happened I realised that there wasn’t going to be much happening to write about in Glastonbury, with all the big gatherings cancelled, even the Glastonbury Festival. No businesses were going to be commissioning me when the future was looking precarious and the bits of work I had were all dependent in some way on people actually coming to the Town. I realised I had to find something that was going to make me some income, keep people in touch with the town while they couldn’t visit and give locals something uplifting to read. I decided to have a go at producing an eBook to give people some distraction free reading material, especially since I realised that others, like me, were obsessively reading articles and posts about Covid to the exclusion of anything else and slipping further into the slough of misery.
I didn’t even consider sending my book to any publishers, thanks to the blog I knew I already had an audience to market the book to. My subject matter is rather niche – we might all love Glastonbury but I’m not convinced my subject would have mainstream appeal. I also needed to earn an income quickly and I was confident I could do most of the things a publisher would do well enough, plus self-publishing meant I got to keep all the profits. While the book has by no means made me rich, sales have been sufficient to make it worth while and I’m now working on the next one….
(At this point I’d like to mention that if you haven’t actually read the book yet I’m hoping you might want to order it! click on the covers to be taken to the two different editions)
What do you put in a book anyway?
Over more than four years of writing about the Town I had over a hundred pieces I had produced for the blog, I picked those that I felt gave a fairly well rounded picture of the Town and the joys and difficulties of living here. I added a couple of pieces about the Festival, as for me it is an intrinsic part of life here. I put in some illustrations too, the funny town maps and a previously unpublished Glastonbury ABC that really should make it onto a tea towel. A friend suggested I added a timeline to put the Town’s long and fascinating history into context. I added a short story that had previously only been published on the members’ site We Are Normal For Glastonbury. I asked my friend William Bloom to write me a foreword. Finally, on May the First at Beltane, I temporarily overcame the writer’s block that afflicted me over lockdown and beyond, to write a piece on Glastonbury during Covid. Strangely, that short piece flowed out of me effortlessly and is possibly the best thing I have written to date.
If you are thinking of writing a book I’d really recommend getting bits of your writing out there on social media first, it’s a great way to get feedback, hone your skills and find out what grabs people’s attention. I joined a local writer’s group too, we read each other’s work, and the published authors in the group gave me invaluable advice. I didn’t employ an editor, as I have edited other people’s writing in the past and I’d edited my pieces repeatedly already – for the blog, then for the eBook, then for the paperback. However, good editing is essential, please don’t neglect this step!
On Top of the World
The photograph on the cover is of a lady called Helen who was visiting from Cumbria in mid March, her partner set up the shot, I just saw it from the other side and grabbed it. I love it, for me, the tower presents a sense of solidity and history and makes for a really strong image, while her stance gives a feeling of lightness and of being ‘on top of the world’, it might not be me in the picture, but nonetheless it represented my relationship with the place. I somehow knew that this picture would be significant, so I introduced myself to Helen before I walked back down the Tor and gave her my card. She got in touch shortly after and was happy to appear on the cover.
The cover photograph and most of the photos on this website and my social media pages were taken on a phone. I chose Huawei phones as the cameras are excellent, initially I had a Honor 9, now I use a Huawei Mate P20 Pro. I’ve been taking photographs since I was 14, in fact I wanted to be a press photographer even before I wanted to be a journalist. I’ve also done quite a lot of poster design so I was reasonably confident I could design the cover myself, I used Canva for this, Photoshop would probably have been better, but Canva is much easy to use and free.
I’m no great fan of Amazon, but I must say they make the process of producing an eBook pretty easy, at least once you’ve learned how to format it with KDP. Once it’s out there you don’t really have to do a lot except tell people that it’s available to buy. I uploaded the book to Kindle not realizing that it would take several days before it was approved for publication and that I could not set the release date. Coincidentally it was published on my birthday in May, which felt like a good omen. I sold 200 copies in a matter of days and received lots of 5 star reviews. for a couple of days I was number 2 in Amazon’s ‘Essays’ ranking in between Virginia Woolf and David Sedaris, which was nice. I also got lots of requests for a paperback edition from readers who (perfectly reasonably) don’t like buying from Amazon, prefer real books to digital ones, or wanted to give copies as gifts.
If you are thinking of publishing a book I highly recommend starting out with an eBook, you can gauge the response of readers without the commitment of getting hundreds of copies printed. There are other platforms besides Amazon, but I don’t have enough knowledge of them to advise. If you are advertising the book on your own social media channels and you sign up to Amazon Associates you can even make a few pence every time someone clicks your link to buy the book and if they make other purchases you get a percentage of those sales too. In other words, Amazon reward you for advertising your own books! If you buy any of the equipment I’ve recommended on this page from Amazon I make a small commission, it all helps!
A steep learning curve…..
Although I’d not written a book before I’ve bought and sold plenty. While still a teenager I’d run a secondhand bookstall on the local market, then worked in the Covent Garden New Age Bookshop Mysteries in my early twenties and then in Glastonbury bookshops for over five years in my thirties. As a friend commented, I “know what a book looks like”.
Consequently, I decided if I was going to do a paperback I’d do the whole thing myself – the illustrations, the layout, the cover, arranging the printing. Yes, I’m a control freak. I did ask for some help – my friend Mary-Liz did the final proof read for me and taught me some grammar in the process. Mary-Liz is from New York but now runs Abbots Leigh B&B in Glastonbury, she’s refreshingly straight forward and honest and I really appreciated her input. Next was the layout, which was tedious as i didn’t really know what I was doing and the page numbering took a day alone, I kept having to start again. I use Google Docs for everything, there are proper layout and writing programs out there, but Google Docs is free.
Once I had something that resembled a real, grown-up book, fellow writer Geoff Stray came round to give me the courage to press the button to make the order for it to be printed. I’d used the printer that he’d recommended Digital Imprint as they are UK based, offered recycled paper and I was happy with their service. I breathed a big sigh of belief, thinking that the work was pretty much done. That night I woke up in a cold sweat, suddenly realizing that publishing a book was all very well, but I was setting myself up for a whole load of work actually selling them…..
A week later I took delivery of five big boxes of books. Luckily I was really happy with them. They are 146 pages long, printed on recycled paper, with a full colour glossy cover that really grabs your attention. I set up a WooCommerce store on my existing WordPress website to sell the book, an iZettle account to enable payments (I already had a Paypal account which I use as well, but IZettle offer better rates) and a Click and Drop account with the Royal Mail to pay for and print the mailing labels. I then spent a whole day getting my head around printing these, which nearly resulted in the printer being thrown out of the window. I use a Canon TS8250 inkjet printer which does the job really well, as well as printing colour prints. Click and Drop is brilliant as it means you don’t have to queue up at the Post Office to send out parcels, particularly handy since Glastonbury’s Post office closes at 3pm nowadays and almost always has a big queue. One of the most frustrating things has been finding book mailers, I was really happy with the initial order but then they ‘improved’ the product and it was no longer as good.
I genuinely enjoy packaging the books up to mail them off but most of all I love selling the book face to face in Glastonbury and meeting readers. I did my first book signing on market day, socially distanced in the outside courtyard of Amanda’s shop Haruka, another outside Pie & Tart (sadly now closed) and another in the garden of the Pilgrim Reception in the Glastonbury Information Centre. For the latter, my friend and colleague Morgana West tied helium balloons to my chair, it was a kind thought but looked more like a five year old’s birthday party than a grown up book signing.
Although the strength of love and feeling for the Town itself is obvious, I had no idea that Normal For Glastonbury itself was so important to people. It seems a lot of locals enjoy my comedic descriptions of life in the town, while visitors feel it keeps them in touch when they can’t be here. I chatted to people I have seen around for nearly three decades but never spoken to beyond a ‘Hello’ on the High Street. I met some fascinating people and heard some wonderful stories, I got given cake and gifts, at times it was quite overwhelming. I learnt that even the local police enjoy my descriptions of the town.
Before Lockdown 3 I was delivering books around Glastonbury on my electric bicycle too, it gets me away from the computer and gives me at least some exercise. I’ve met readers outside Co-op and cafes. It’s also taken me to some tucked away places in the town I might not otherwise have seen, leading me to discover a small street that looks like it should be in a seaside village, huge and abundant gardens and more lovely readers. Once this lockdown is over, If you are local, or visiting town for a bit and you’d like a copy please send me an email so we can arrange to meet up. Selling books in person works out better for me and gives me a chance to meet more readers.
Local shops are stocking the book, including the Pilgrim Reception at the Glastonbury Information Centre, Heart of the Tribe Gallery and Labyrinth Books. A special mention must go to Debs at the Goddess and the Green Man who has sold loads of copies for me, her enthusiasm for my writing is heartwarming and humbling.
International customers may be best buying a copy of the eBook, as postage is expensive and with Brexit a further layer of complication has been added. I could set up print on demand with Amazon so international customers could order paperbacks without these complications, but I haven’t quite got my head round this yet.
Reviews and How to Read the eBook for Free
For more information about the book and reviews from readers, you might like to read this blog post which even tells you how you can read the eBook for free!
So What’s the Book About?
The book is full of insightful, affectionate and often humorous observations and anecdotes from over 30 years of life in England’s most magical (and oddest) town. Besides collected writings and funny maps, there’s an illustrated ABC of Glastonbury, a timeline of significant events in Glastonbury’s history, essays covering social issues and pieces on Glastonbury Festival and its relationship to the Town. Published during the coronavirus pandemic the book also touches on life in Glastonbury in lockdown. The foreword is by Glastonbury based author and educator William Bloom.
If you’d like a copy by mail order it’s £9.99 plus £3 for P&P. Direct link here.
You can buy the book for a friend and I’ll wrap it in recyclable and very tasteful gift wrap and label it with my own fair hands for only £2.50 extra, click here to order.
Thinking of Publishing a Book?
If you are thinking of self publishing and you have a broad range of skills I’d say go ahead! There’s a lot more to it that I’d realised and a bit of technical stuff to learn, but if you enjoy problem solving it’s all fun in the end. Obviously if you are planning on selling some copies it’s handy to have an existing following of people within your ‘niche’, but the wonderful thing about the internet is that no matter how specialized your field of interest you can now connect up with people around the world. I am very glad I had an audience even before I’d bought out the book.
You can read Guy Kennaway’s interview with me here
Love Reading? Fiction set in Glastonbury
Enjoy this post?
Then you’ll love my books – ‘Normal For Glastonbury: Life in England’s Most Magical Town’ and my ‘Crap Views of the Tor’ Postcard Book.
For more of ‘this sort of thing’ join the We Are Normal For Glastonbury membership site, for exclusive content, a comprehensive guide to making the most of your visit to the town, a personalized membership certificate, discounts from Glastonbury businesses, a members’ forum and blog page where you can post your own writing and photos. You’ll also be supporting me to carry on writing about and photographing Glatonbury Town and its wonderful creative community. Membership is only £20 a year. Click here to find out more: We Are Normal For Glastonbury.
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