Monday, December 10, 2012...7:01 pm

Paperback writers: how to move into freelance book writing #3

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We’re asking  freelance journalists about their experiences in the book market and what tips they can offer to anyone who fancies taking the plunge.

The third case study in our series is Trevor Merriden – an experienced business media editor who wrote several technology business books in the early 2000s, including Rollercoaster: The Turbulent Life and Times of Vodafone and Chris GentBusiness the Nokia Way and Irresistible Forces: The Business Legacy of Napster.

Why did you want to start writing books?
A mixture of vanity and curiosity. I wanted to get “my name out there” to be well known for something at least.

How did you get your first book deal?
A wonderful man called Mark Allin co-owned a young publishing company, Capstone. He had some great ideas and wanted to here from me about others once I expressed an interest in writing. I suppose I had the journalistic credibility and he had the know-how to move me from writing features to writing books – two very different skills.

Do you need any special skills beyond the usual journalistic ones?
Patience – it’s like climbing up a mountain. You see what you think is the summit and then realise when you get there that there’s much further to go. You have to understand that by the time you’ve finished the first draft, the final chapters will reveal all sorts of holes and inconsistencies in the early chapters, so you need to be self-critical, professional and be ready to go back and do a lot of re-writing. If you don’t tell yourself what’s wrong, your publisher will, and it’s better that you spot it first.

What are the differences between planning, researching and writing a book as opposed to, say feature articles?
A book is not just a collection of essays or features (unless that is what you’ve specifically been asked to write of course). You have to plan out something much bigger than you’ve ever done before. You have to be well organised in collecting together all your source material. Bookmark everything that could help you – make collecting material as you go along an ingrained ritual in your daily life and not a panic exercise immediately before you are due to start.

Did/do you enjoy it?
I enjoyed finishing my three books! Doing it was particularly fraught for me personally. Each time I signed a book deal, my wife announced within a few weeks that she was pregnant (the two events were, I believe, unrelated) and so I had in each case an Ultimate Deadline to face – there is no way you can write a book after the happy event. A good thing in that it focused the mind but bad in that it created long hours in evenings and weekends.

What about money? How was your deal structured. Was it fee-based or was it based on royalties?
I received an advance and a small share of royalties (too small, in retrospect).

Was it worth it (financially or otherwise)?
Unless you are a rare person who writes a bestseller, you will not make much money from writing a book. So financially, not really. However, it is a wonderful thing to say that you have written three books – it gives you a real credibility that really helps you get a foot in doors and so on.

Top tips for potential freelance book authors

  • You have to really want to do it
    It is a big project so make sure that you can take it on without the rest of your life and your income being put on hold.
  • Be well organised – a must-have requirement for non-fiction books
  • Don’t expect to get rich
    Go into it not to make money, but as a means of developing your reputation – if you do make money from it, then that’s a bonus.
  • The journey is not the best thing about it
    Don’t believe whoever said “It’s better to travel than to arrive” – when it comes to writing books it’s more like running a marathon, a fantastic thing to have done!

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