If you’re writing a book, at some point you’ll need to decide on self-publishing or pitching to a publisher. Each method has its pros and cons. What’s a pro to one person could be a negative to another. It depends on what’s available and what suits your style.
We talk to authors who’ve taken different routes to publishing. This interview is with self-publisher Fiona Fenwick, author of Stand Out and Step Up: A Reputation Toolkit For Life. Read our interview with a writer who worked with a publisher here: Josh Steimle, author of Chief Marketing Officers At Work, published by Apress.
Experience and depth bring best writing
At what point in your career did you realize you were ready to write Stand Out and Step Up?
Only fairly recently! The book draws from a long career and many experiences, including time spent in public relations and communications, ranging from corporate and individual crisis and reputation management through to consumer and sports media. So although I could have outlined the theory much earlier, I think the value is in the perspective and depth.
Deciding self-publishing is right
You decided to self-publish. Did you consider submitting a proposal to an editor and, if so, what were some of your thoughts on that?
I did, and I sought good advice on the various processes; but being in control of the whole process was very appealing.
I also looked into how I could get a cost-effective cover produced, as I had a clear idea that I wanted a simple cover and didn’t want to spend a fortune to do it! I used 99 Designs, which is a cost-effective platform that offers you the chance to brief designers and choose a favoured design. This worked well as I had a specific brief.
A pre-marketing idea I used was to choose two quite different designs and do a poll amongst my networks. Not only did this inform them that a book was imminent, it also engaged them in the process which worked really well.
Self-publishing means you handle every detail
There were a few issues around ensuring the sizing was right for digital platforms and also the language barrier made for some interesting conversations (my designer was based in India), but it all worked out well and I was very happy with the process.
Real sense of conviction
You’d never written a book prior to writing Stand Out and Step Up. When you embarked on the project how did it feel?
My whole mindset on writing at the time was brief is best – i.e. if it didn’t fit on one page then it was not worth reading! Of course, such thinking is not hugely conducive to writing a book. And the first paragraph was very hard. All the emotions kick in – will anyone like it? . . . what if it sounds stupid? etc etc!
I had great support from my editor, who almost daily checked in on me and motivated me to keep going!
I had a real sense of conviction that what I had to say was important and valuable, and in the end that conviction helped me push through.
Writing retreat very effective
Writing a book is an incredible amount of work, probably more than most people realize. How did you approach and manage writing your book in the context of other responsibilities?
I believe I could have been more disciplined, but sometimes life gets in the way and plans change. The book fitted around everything else and therefore took a bit longer than I had planned.
What really worked for me was to go on a very focused writing retreat, which effectively meant I was locked in and accountable each day for delivering chapter outlines, content etc. Saying that, it was in a beautiful location overlooking the ocean in New Zealand’s Abel Tasman region, so it wasn’t as harsh as it sounds!
Techniques to fight self-doubt
All authors face challenges. What were some of yours and how did you manage them? Did you ever worry you’d miss your deadline?
Self-doubt was a big one. The negative voices would challenge my right to write and my depth of knowledge.
I have my ways of helping the ways others manage their self doubt, so I turned some of that on me and it, coupled with some generously positive feedback, helped me push on.
Write first, edit later
In terms of structure and editing, did you receive a lot of guidance from freelance editors or any consultants you hired or worked with?
The best advice I got was to write it all down and not think too hard about how it is presented. The edit can come after.
Did you include every aspect of your expertise on reputation management and personal branding?
The one thing writing a book showed me is that there is always more to talk about! Every day brings new stories that illustrate the best and worst of personal brand and reputation management so I will always have something new to say!
Did you hire a professional editor?
Yes and it was the best decision as it allowed me to solely focus on content.
Seeing your name in print is quite a rush!
How did it feel when the work was finally done and you had a copy of your own book in your hands?
FANTASTIC!!!! Seriously, seeing your name in print is quite a rush! So after some quiet fist pumps in the air and a little happy dance, it was back to being slightly nervous about how it would be received !
Writing is hard work!
What key lessons did you learn from your first book and from self-publishing?
Don’t underestimate the amount of time required to write it. But equally write it in the way that suits you and your style. Don’t give yourself punishing deadlines if that strategy doesn’t work for you.
The lesson from self-publishing is stay aware that there are many books out there so you will have to try harder to rise amongst the clutter and be seen and heard.
Writing a book brings many rewards
What are the rewards of writing a book?
I speak often at conferences in New Zealand and internationally and one of the questions I was regularly asked is if I had a book that captured some of my key messages so people could apply some of the thinking in their own lives. Having the book makes that possible.
It’s written as a toolkit so it can be picked up and put down throughout your career/ life to suit specific needs at the time. Having people say they are using it that way is hugely rewarding to me.
Digital, print, or audio?
As surprising as it sounds in this digital age, print unit book sales for non-fiction adult continue to rise year-on-year, according to Publishers Weekly. Will your next book be in all formats?
Yes it will. There is still a significant place for a printed book – especially in the personal and professional development space. For some reason and for some people, that format just seems to resonate better.
I am involved in an accessibility organisation in New Zealand and therefore it has been part of my strategy from the start to ensure the book is available in audio. Plans are still in progress and I would love to do the audio myself. Watch this space.
How much attention should authors pay to marketing?
If you don’t, you have to ask why you wrote the book in the first place. If no-one knows it’s available then what was the purpose?
It’s hard though and as I mentioned, you need to be able to distinguish your book from the many others out there – you need to ‘ Stand Out and Step Up’ !
First-time author? Stick at it!
What advice do you have for first-time authors?
Don’t be dissuaded by those voices that may aim to knock you from your plans. Stay enthusiastic, but be clear on what you have to say and who will benefit from hearing it. Take advice and have your ‘big girl/boy pants’ on when you are receiving the feedback! It won’t always be what you want to hear but it will make you and your book, better.
Author Fiona Fenwick
Fiona Fenwick has spent her career in public relations and communications, ranging from corporate and individual crisis and reputation management through to consumer and sports media. Stand Out and Step Up explores the importance of being authentic and how to use that to become a person of influence. Find Fiona on LinkedIn and Twitter.