I am delighted to publish this guest post by author, Victoria Eveleigh. I “met” Victoria via Twitter, through a discussion I was having about pony books with a bookseller (who I’m going to feature on the Saturday Small Business Chats soon). Victoria has an interesting story to tell, as she has become a somewhat unlikely author, and has now moved from self-publishing to being published!
You can read all about Victoria’s farm, horses and books on her website. Let’s hear her story …
How I became a Proper Author by Victoria Eveleigh
Nobody was more surprised than me (with the possible exception of my old English teacher) when I became an author.
I grew up in London, but spent as many holidays as possible on my grandmother’s farm on Exmoor. From an early age, my ambition was to marry a farmer and live on Exmoor. Remarkably, I’ve managed both: Chris and I have been farming for over twenty-five years now.
At 240 acres, our farm is fairly small, so we’ve had several other enterprises: a self-catering holiday cottage, horse-drawn tours over Exmoor with Shire horses, Land Rover tours of the farm, organic farming, cream teas, renewable energy and publishing.
Starting to write
The Foot and Mouth crisis of 2001 was partially responsible for my first book. We never got Foot and Mouth on our farm, but it came far too close for comfort. For nearly half a year we closed the self-catering cottage and horse-drawn tour businesses, and our children stayed at home for the whole of the spring term. It was a nerve-wracking year, and our cash flow became a trickle, but in some ways it was a holiday from all our usual commitments. For the first time since we were married, we had time to spare. Chris took up drawing and painting, while I sat down and wrote the book that had been forming in my head for several years: the story of a girl and an Exmoor pony growing up on an Exmoor hill farm together.
Full of optimism, I purchased a copy of The Writers’ And Artists’ Yearbook and started writing to agents. After several months, I’d received polite rejections from some and no communication from others. I felt utterly disheartened, and would have given up completely if a friend hadn’t suggested publishing the story myself. She’d published her own books in the past, and said all I needed to do was register myself as a publisher (I registered as Tortoise Publishing), get someone to design the layout of the book (I asked a good friend who’s a graphic designer), get a printer to print it (our local printer who printed our holiday cottage leaflets obliged) and some people to buy it (um…).
Learning from self-publishing
It was shocking how much space 6,000 books took up when they were delivered to our house by the printers. Too late, I realised I knew nothing about selling and, being typically British, I didn’t feel comfortable promoting myself. However, the prospect of never being able to use the sitting room again spurred me on. I loaded some books and leaflets in the back of the car and went for a drive around the Exmoor area. There weren’t many bookshops but there were gift shops, tourist attractions and tack shops, so I had more outlets than I’d realised. In fact, my best customers turned out to be places which normally didn’t stock books because there was no competition. (I’ve found that the easiest way to get depressed is to go into a large bookshop and see how many different books there are, all vying for attention!)
Probably because of Chris’ illustrations, the first book sold so well that I had to do another print run, and I was encouraged to write a sequel. Now I had stacks of boxes and a bit of money, so we converted Chris’ work shed into a farm office where I could store both the books and the ever-increasing quantity of farm records. At last I had a warm purpose-built room where I could write and deal with the paperwork for the farm and publishing businesses.
We made the Exmoor pony story into a trilogy, wrote and illustrated a colouring book about the farming year for the Exmoor Horn Sheep Breeders’ Society and then published a story set on the island of Lundy.
The amount of effort it took to promote, sell, distribute and account for the books meant I had an ever-decreasing amount of time for writing. Furthermore, while I was trying to build up my publishing business several things happened to the book industry: the economy slowed down, then went into recession; fuel and postage prices went up, squeezing margins because books are typically delivered for free; paper and printing costs increased, and large bookshops and online stores started a price war. Simultaneously, the whole book industry was going electronic, and I couldn’t really get my head around it all.
Never give up …
I’d more or less decided to quit while I was ahead when I received an email from Louise Weir, who runs a website called Lovereading4kids. She’d read my Lundy book and wanted to make it a book of the month on her website and, to cut a long story short, through her I was taken on by Orion Children’s Books just over a year ago.
Since then my life has changed quite a bit. I have to treat writing like a proper job now, and it’s a scary, serious business with deadlines to meet, schools to visit and talks to give. However, I wouldn’t turn back the clock for anything. I love writing and I’m so glad I’ve been given this fantastic opportunity to turn it from a hobby into a whole new career. I’ve re-written my existing stories (which have been published as Katy’s Wild Foal, Katy’s Champion Pony, Katy’s Pony Surprise and A Stallion Called Midnight) and I’m writing a new trilogy for publication in 2013. It will have horses and the countryside at its heart, but it will have a boy as the main character for a change. Chris is still doing the illustrations for my books – so I’m now a proper author and he’s a proper illustrator!
I wish Victoria all the best with her new trilogy, and I’m looking forward to reading the Katy books soon. I should mention that Victoria’s publisher will be sending me a copy of “A Stallion Called Midnight” to review, but I wanted to share her story to encourage my readers who are writers: never give up!