This is the first interview in the “Conversations with Authors” podcast series. You can find more interviews here.
My guest today on Conversations with Authors is Peter Jones … no not that bloke off Dragons Den but author of five books including “How to Do Everything and Be Happy”, and “How to Eat Loads and Stay Slim”, which he co-authored with Della Galton. The interview was recorded at the end of 2013 when Peter was just about to publish his third book, “How to Stop Waiting and Start Dating”. Since then he’s released two companion guides and he also has a novel on the go too. Peter’s publishing story is interesting as he is one of the few authors who have experienced both traditional and self-publishing. He has some great tips to share with you on both the writing and publishing process.
ALISON: So hello Peter. First of all, what inspired you to write your first book?
PETER JONES: By my first book I assume you mean “How to Do Everything and Be Happy”?
ALISON: Yes, that’s the first one that was published, isn’t it?
PETER JONES: Exactly. I had been writing before that for some time. I’ve been working on a novel – I think everybody’s got a novel that they’ve been working on for years and years and years – and as yet that isn’t published, but “How to Do Everything and Be Happy” sort of came about by accident really.
I had a bit of a life changing experience, as most people know. I lost my wife to a brain hemorrhage a few years ago, and when you have that sort of experience it gives you a real kick up the bum. It makes you rethink an awful lot of things, and one of the conclusions I came to was that I wasn’t a particularly happy person. Yeah, there have been happy moments in my life, and most of them have been down to Kate [my wife], and most of them had been in the previous three years, but I didn’t want happy moments any longer. I wanted to be happy all the time.
ALISON: It sounds like a good plan.
PETER JONES: Exactly! Yes, well it’s funny you mentioned plan because that’s exactly what I did. I thought, well how do I do this? So I set about coming up with ideas and strategies. I took all the skills that I’d acquired as a problem solving/fixing man in my credit card banking profession and applied them to the problem of my life. Some of them are a little bit different from perhaps the usual approach to happiness, and some of them are a little bit wacky and some are completely rubbish. And they started to work, the ideas. I was talking to a colleague one day about it and she said “What are you doing at the weekend?” I said: “I am having a Boxing Day” and she said “You’re having a what???”
So I told her about Boxing Day and she said “That’s really funny, and completely barmy! What other ideas have you got?” So I started to tell her about now lists and my wish lists and goals and how I make sure that I do the goal or achieve the goals and that sort of thing. She said “You ought to write all these ideas down.”
Which is what did. I just started to jot down some of the ideas when I got a moment and over the space of six months a book formed and I thought to myself “Gosh!” Because I spent about ten years writing a novel and editing it and reading it out at my writing group and getting nowhere fast with it and yet here was forty or fifty thousand word book – and that’s how I came about to write it.
ALISON: And it took you only six months to write it?
PETER JONES: Yeah. On and off. I had a bit of good fortune really because around that time I was working for a client who needed me to teach 3 particular lads who worked in a very small department everything that I knew about credit card banking and various different parts of the credit card banking system. It turned out that actually they didn’t need my knowledge at all, they just lacked confidence, and me just being in the room was enough to turn these three guys into super heroes.
ALISON: The incredible power of Peter Jones.
PETER JONES: [laughs] So that was a bit embarrassing in a way, because you know, you can’t go back to your client and say oh by the way I have nothing to do. And it has since been said to me that I did actually need to be there and I was doing something, it was just more passive and inactive. So I kind of needed something on my laptop that I could do, and you can’t work on your novel because it looks like fiction on a laptop. I needed something with headings and bullet points and maybe a diagram or two.
ALISON: To fool people into thinking that you’re doing proper work.
PETER JONES: Yes! There I was, tapping away, and they’d say “Jonesy, can you help me with this?” “Yeah, yeah, just finishing this important thing…” So that was enormously helpful.
ALISON: I bet. Now you’ve mentioned Boxing Day a couple of times. I personally think Boxing Day is an amazing concept and I don’t have as many as I should have, but when I do have them they’re great fun. But I don’t want you to say anything else about Boxing Day because anyone who’s listening and doesn’t know what Boxing Day is should immediately rush out and buy your book. I am not going to give away what it is.
During the writing process of that first book, what did you learn along the way ?
PETER JONES: I learned many things actually. What specifically are you referring to?
You mean about writing, about happiness, about publishing?
ALISON: Specifically writing and publishing but yeah, anything that came to mind.
PETER JONES: Well, writing it was surprisingly easy really, maybe because it was just me being myself which was great fun, a little bit like straddling two worlds. On the one hand it was as pleasurable as writing my novel and I was doing all the things you do when you write fiction- I was trying to get the emotion into it and I was trying to capture the reader’s imagination and those sort of things. But on the other hand you’re writing non-fiction, which is much more what I was doing in my normal daily life. Part of what I did when I was in credit card banking was to teach people how to do various tasks so I was quite used to communicating quite technical information to somebody who didn’t necessarily have even the basic understanding of what I was trying to teach them. So it was a pleasurable thing because rather than teaching something technical you’re teaching something a little bit more – almost philosophical, and that was quite a nice change, but also I found it quite easy to do really.
ALISON: You said it was just you being you and I think that’s really important to people writing non-fiction, isn’t it? If you’re yourself it’s a lot easier to write than if you try and be something you’re not.
PETER JONES: Absolutely, and I came to realize that I’ve learned an awful lot in the past two, two and a half years or so that I’ve been full-time author. When Harper Collins came along and offered me a deal, what appealed to them was the human story and the very human aspect of the book. What I realised was that they actually preferred the human aspect and they wanted as much human story in it as possible; they were less bothered about the actual practicalities of what people should do, or the action points and that sort of stuff; they just wanted more pain and suffering and more emotion, more of me. That was quite a lesson to learn. Before I was a little bit shy about how much ‘me’ I should put into the books and now I realise that that is exactly what both the reader and publishers want. They want as much of you as possible. It’s your story and you need to get yourself into it.
This wasn’t necessarily the case with other publishers because my agent had discussions with the likes of Penguin and some of the other big publishers as well, and they each had a different stance, if you like.
ALISON: That’s very interesting, that it’s less about the content and more about the personality.
PETER JONES: Yeah. I don’t know whether it’s the same for all publishers. I know certainly Random House had a policy whereby if it was a how to book they wanted you to have some sort of recognised qualification, a degree or a doctorate or something like that. I’m just your average man on the street who’s sharing his experience with his fellow man and that isn’t for Random House.
ALISON: You need a degree in happiness.
PETER JONES: Yes, I need a degree in happiness!
ALISON: So that’s an important lesson for other writers as well then, that they need to think about what they’re offering and find the publisher that matches.
PETER JONES: Yeah, although that’s almost another step really, that’s an agents job. But you do need to find an agent who specialises in the kind of thing that you write. You do need to take that into consideration but really I think an agent will know who in the publishing world will do what.
ALISON: So how did you find your agent?
PETER JONES: I met my agent at the London Book Fair a couple of years ago when I was introduced to her by a friend and fellow author, Della Galton – she is Della’s agent. We sat down and had a coffee together and I was trying to see if she’d be interested in representing me for my novel because as far as I was concerned “How to Do Everything and Be Happy” had been published and was out there already.
ALISON: We’ll come back to that in a minute because you have a really interesting publishing story, haven’t you?
PETER JONES: Yes! So she read my novel and she was like, “Hmmm yeah…” So I gave her a copy of “How to Do Everything and Be Happy” so I could say thank you very much for your time and she said “I like your novel but this book, I really like it, I think this has got a lot more mileage in it. Have you approached any publishers with this?” and I said “Well no,” and I was dumbstruck because as far as I was concerned it was done.
ALISON: So once you finished the book how did you initially publish “How to Do Everything and Be Happy”?
PETER JONES: Initially – we’re going back a couple of years – I self-published it and the reason why I did that was because I was already sending my novel around to agents left right and centre and I thought “I do not want to do that with my non-fiction book as well.” Because it’s a heartbreaking thing having agents say “No, we are not really interested,” “No, it’s not really for me,” “We’ve seen millions of these types of books”. So I didn’t want to do that to “How to Do Everything and Be Happy” and I genuinely never thought that anybody would be interested in reading it anyway.
ALISON: I think every author in the world thinks that. Nobody will be interested in their book.
PETER JONES: I disagree! I think that you can divide authors into two camps. There’s those that think nobody is going to be interested in this but I am going to write it anyway. And then there are those that genuinely think they’re the next big thing, JK Rowling in the making. Well I was definitely in the first camp, at least when it came to my non-fiction. So I decided to self-publish it and I thought “How hard can that be”? And it turned out very hard but fortunately I had no idea, I just floated along, googling, finding out how you do it, and learning, making mistakes as I went along. Initially it came out as an e-book and then a little while later as a paperback.
ALISON: So was that Kindle?
PETER JONES: No. Actually I started the wrong way around really. I started off by putting it on Smashwords, because I thought it was better to have it out there for as many different platforms as possible. And also at the time you couldn’t really get an awful lot of information on how to publish on the Kindle but you could get a lot of information on how to publish on Smashwords. They even had this downloadable PDF manual on how to publish on Smashwords. It was about thirty pages and it had twenty eight steps or something and it literally took me six weeks to work my way through every single one of them. But that was a really good exercise and it was only when I published it I realised that it was in every single book store apart from the world’s biggest bookstore. I then really wanted to put it on the Amazon Kindle as well and because I’d done all this slog to get onto Smashwords, literally it took me about a day and a half to do it for Amazon. It was no time at all.
Things have changed, they’ve moved on significantly since then but that’s what I did originally. I put it on Smashwords first and then I moved onto Amazon after that.
ALISON: Which one did you find got the best sales?
PETER JONES: Do you really have to ask that?
ALISON: I don’t think so but ….
PETER JONES: Very quickly I realised that 98% of my sales, if not more, were coming from Amazon and that basically Smashwords – and I do apologise – was a complete and utter waste. Although I did get a cheque from them at one point for about a hundred dollars from all the sales, and I did occasionally get an email from somebody saying “I am reading it on my Nook” And I was like “Wow!” you know. It did have a few sales on the Apple Store but no, 98% of my sales came from Amazon.
ALISON: So would you advise people to start with Kindle and then maybe try Smashwords later or not bother with Smashwords at all?
PETER JONES: What I would say is … what’s the date today? The date today is the 22nd September 2013. The reason why I specify the day is because this will be out of date within 6 months!
ALISON: Can I just say that it’s the 22nd of November.
PETER JONES: What did I say? [laughs] Well what I would say right now if anybody was going to self publish their book is yes, you should get it on Amazon and that should be your primary aim. It’s the world’s biggest book shop. So that’s definitely where you should get it and if your sales are spectacular or you have a lot of time on your hands, then and only then would I consider putting it on Smashwords. I reckon that that’s the split and this is an estimate right now. It would be 95% Amazon and 5% everything else. So only try Smashwords if your sales are really really good via Amazon. I wouldn’t even bother thinking to go any other route, because you’ve got to think, will an extra 5% be worth it? If it’s going to be in the reach of hundreds of dollars, then it’s worth doing, but if it’s not, if you’re going to be doing all this work for effectively another dollar a month it’s not even worth bothering really.
ALISON: Yeah, it’s quite complicated formatting it to Smashwords, I found.
PETER JONES: Some of your listeners might not even know what Smashwords are, but effectively if you put it up on Smashwords then they pass it on to all the big e-book retailers. So you got WH Smiths, you got Apple, you’ve got Barnes and Noble, you’ve got Sony and they’re big names. And it’s really nice to see your book in those stores, in those online stores and sending it to Smashwords is a really easy way of getting it into those stores, but obviously in order to do that, in order to meet all the requirements of those other retailers, the book has to be absolutely perfect in terms of formatting. You basically have to build a book one-size-fits-all.
ALISON: It is quite complicated.
PETER JONES: Did you that with yours?
ALISON: After about three months I did do it for Smashwords and in the last three months I’ve not had a single sale. Whilst I’ve had probably a couple of hundred sales on Kindle so…
PETER JONES: Another reason why I did it –and I think it was quite naïve – but I thought the more places people can see my book the better it is. So I thought maybe it’s a possibility somebody will see it in the Sony store and still buy it for their Kindle. So that was my thinking, but another reason why I did it was that back then if you wanted to read a Kindle book, you actually needed an Amazon Kindle device.
ALISON: That’s very true. Now you can get the apps for just about everything and you can use it on your phone and on your tablet…
PETER JONES: Yeah, and that’s it. And although there are still people out there who haven’t quite figured that out, I think more and more people are beginning to realise that the Kindle app is where it’s at. And there really isn’t a mobile device on the planet that doesn’t allow you to read an Amazon Kindle book.
ALISON: Now that’s very true. So that’s the digital side of your book. How did you publish the paperback initially?
PETER JONES: Well this was a couple of years ago and there weren’t many solutions to do that, but there were many people out there who would … you know, you paid them a fortune and they would publish it for you. And I did loads of research and it was not unusual for companies to want between £700 or £1000, and what irritated me was that all they talked about was the cover. A choice of ten covers for your book or something like that. And I already had a cover which I paid a designer to do and it was irritating the hell out of me.
I shopped around and found this company – still going today – called Authors Online and they are a lovely little company. They did a variety of services but their rock bottom bargain basement service was £299. They would publish a print-on-demand paperback for you, so long as you were prepared to do all of the formatting donkey work. I thought to myself, “Well you know, I published the e-book. Hell, how hard can it be to do a paperback?” and the answer was very hard, but obviously once again I had no idea, and I set about doing it myself. And what I can’t do in Word now just isn’t worth knowing about.
ALISON: So you picked up some Word skills along the way then.
PETER JONES: Good grief yeah!! And I now realise what an awful program Word is as well, it’s so buggy it’s unbelievable, but I got it to do everything from the headers, footers, page numbers, everything. I managed to format my book into paperback and produce print-ready PDFs. I sent them to Authors Online and they then set up whatever they needed to do with a company called Lightning Source, which I think are the biggest print-on-demand printers in the country. And they got it on to the Nielson book system so that when you type in the ISBN every book store in the country can order a copy and blah blah blah and that’s how I did it originally. That isn’t how I would do it now, but that’s how I did it then.
ALISON: So how would you do it now?
PETER JONES: Well unfortunately – and I do feel a little bit sad for Authors Online because they are a lovely little company, but it’s typical isn’t it? – one of the big boys, Amazon again, they thought “We want to get on this print-on-demand business.” I don’t know whether they started CreateSpace or they bought a company called CreateSpace but now you can do everything you did with Authors Online on the web with CreateSpace and it doesn’t cost you a penny. And if I was going to be self-publishing a book today, that’s the route that I would go down: the CreateSpace route.
ALISON: So you got your book out there in digital format and paperback, and you said that you gave a copy to this agent you were trying to get to take on your fiction book and she really liked it … so what happened from there?
PETER JONES: Well she said “Would you be interested in me acting as your agent?” – daft thing to ask! – “and I will approach a few publishers.” So she started shopping it around. That was quite interesting. Most of them turned it down for all sorts of peculiar reasons, such as I wasn’t a doctor, therefore I obviously didn’t know what I was talking about.
ALISON: Doctors know everything about being happy, I suppose.
PETER JONES: Yeah, but my favorite one was, “Well you’ve priced this e-book at £1.99, that’s why you’re selling as many copies as you are. If we put all of our e-books at £1.99 we would be selling just as many!” Which is nonsense. But Harper Collins were very interested in it and they said they wanted to meet me . My agent said this was basically to see how well I come across and whether or not they’d have any problems when they sent me up to the BBC or ITV for an interview or something like that. “No pressure Peter!”
ALISON: Check if you have a face fit for television.
PETER JONES: That is basically what it was. Now I should say at this point that what helped sell my case to Harper Collins, and indeed to my agent, was that I’d already had a three-book deal offered to me by Audible, the audio book people. And that helped enormously because nothing persuades a publisher more than one: having another publisher interested in a book and two: having a proven sales history – and I had both. By this stage I was selling at least a thousand or fifteen hundred copies of “How to Do Everything and Be Happy” a month and Audible, the audio book people had contacted me and said they’d rather like to release this title as an audio book and did I have any other ideas? So that helped my case enormously and helped persuade Harper Collins that perhaps I was worth taking a bet on.
ALISON: Gosh ! 1000 to 1500 copies a month for a self-published author! That is pretty amazing. What was your marketing secret?
PETER JONES: Well the thing is I don’t know! Because I was and continue to do all the things
everybody normally talks about, you know, Facebook and Twitter and writing blogs on other people’s web sites and getting other people to review the book on their website and the like.
But to be honest with you, Alison, I think we’re talking two years ago and in publishing terms that’s ancient history and things have completely changed, and what worked back then doesn’t necessarily work now.
But I think to a large degree I was really really lucky. It was still the early days and as people heard about my book and they bought the book the engine which is Amazon – you know how it sort of recommends … you know, people who’ve bought this book also bought this book.
That was really the thing that propelled my book up the charts. One of my proudest moments was when Amazon sent an email at the start of 2012 with the customer favourites from 2011 based on reviews. And my book was number 10. And I think really I caught it just at the right moment. For a couple of years the Kindle was the number one Christmas gift, and e-books were the big new thing. I think that’s what really propelled “How to Do Everything and Be Happy”.
ALISON: Yeah, and I guess it was right at the beginning of the self-publishing explosion.
PETER JONES: I think I caught the tail end of the start. Because we had a chap called John Locke – you’ve probably heard of him, he was the first self-published eBook millionaire.
And there were a few others around then and it was just on the tail of that, just before everybody started self-publishing their books and before the whole game changed.
ALISON: Yeah, there’s so much competition now. It’s much harder to get your book noticed, I think, amongst everything else.
PETER JONES: I don’t know whether it’s harder or whether it’s just things have moved on and I suspect that’s what’s happened, it is just the world has changed. And I also suspect that Amazon has changed as well. Amazon keep a real secret as to how the algorithms work and if “How to Do Everything and Be Happy” launched today, it wouldn’t necessarily meet whatever criteria they’ve got to specify who gets shown what book … do you know what I mean?
ALISON: Yeah. So it was just right time right place.
PETER JONES: Yeah, right time right place, exactly.
ALISON: I know Harper Collins then republished the book under their label. What happened from there?
PETER JONES: Well I was thinking of putting out a second edition anyway and I put a second edition on eBook about a month or two before Harper Collins finally gave me a contract and then they rebranded the book and put their own cover on it and changed the subtitle and released it as a Harper non-fiction title. And that was quite exciting. Even now self-published authors really struggle to get into bookshops and suddenly being published by Harper Collins means that it’s in all the book shops.
ALISON: It must have been an amazing feeling seeing your book on the shelf.
PETER JONES: Yeah … I’m still actually too scared to go into a book shop and try and track down my book just in case it’s not there. [laughs] I still can’t bring myself to do that, you know. I hear stories about other authors going into every single book shop and rearranging the shelves. I can’t do it in case it’s not there.
On the Facebook page I started encouraging readers to send me pictures of my book in bookshops and I said for everybody that sends me a picture of my book on a bookshelf, I’ll send them a free badge. And the badge promotion worked really well and I started getting pictures of people standing in bookshops holding my book or just rearranging the shelves. I felt certain at some point I was going to get sued by Paul McKenna because his book “I can make you happy” was constantly being moved around in shelves throughout the country and my book was being put in its place.
ALISON: He doesn’t give away a badge though, does he? That’s the difference.
PETER JONES: No, but I bet his legal representatives give writs out left right and centre!
I got an email yesterday from a lady in Japan that said “Just read your book, really enjoyed it!” and here’s me thinking she must have bought it on the Japanese Amazon site. No! She bought it in a bookshop in Japan. Which was astonishing because I didn’t even know it was in Japan.
ALISON: Worldwide sensation! That’s amazing!
PETER JONES: Yeah, and then shortly after being published in the UK Harper 360, which is a subsidiary of Harper Collins in New York, they took the book and put on another cover. They didn’t like the UK cover and they put a different cover on it and released a version in select bookstores in the US.
ALISON: So obviously the advantage of being picked up by Harper Collins is this is now available in book shops so it’s widened your exposure. Has there been a downside to it?
PETER JONES: Well as a control freak – and if you’ve read the book then you’ll know that I am a complete control freak – the downside is there was this awful feeling of loss of control. At the time it was still very early days for the e-books and Harper Collins made me feel quite nervous because they would talk as though e-books were just a fad and the money was still in paperback sales. Things have changed since then. I think they’ve had a quite a shake up at Harper Collins in the last twelve months and now they realise that e-books are here to stay. But yes, it was a little bit nerve-wracking at the start because I am such a control freak and I was used to doing absolutely everything myself, but that said it was a learning experience as well.
Initially I was a bit shocked by their cover because it was such a deviation from what I’d used before. Now I look at their cover and I realise why they chose a cover like that, and I actually prefer what I still think of is their cover over my one. And yeah, it’s been an interesting ride, the last 12-18 months with Harper Collins.
ALISON: So what’s happened since the book was published? How’s your life changed?
PETER JONES: Well the biggest change is I’m not in banking anymore.
PETER: Since then I brought out with Della Galton a follow-up book called “How to Eat Loads and Stay Slim” and that went down very well, and I’m just finishing up working on the third book that’s called “How to Start Dating and Stop Waiting”. And this one I am really looking forward to releasing, and that should come out February the 14th.
ALISON: Aw! Good date!
PETER JONES: And all three of these titles have come out on audio as well, which is quite a fun experience because I asked them very nicely in the early days if I could I read my own book and they said that I could audition if I wanted and I had to audition. Fortunately I passed the audition.
ALISON: That’s a good thing because your books are so personal, they are so very much you, that I think it wouldn’t sound right if somebody else read them.
PETER JONES: Again that is something where I can see there’s an advantage now. I can see there would be advantages if a professional actor read them and I’m pretty sure a professional actor can get all the emotion and all of that sort of stuff without any problems at all. But whilst there are listeners who follow particular readers they also have a whole tranche of listeners who really only want to listen to a book that is read by the author. That’s an interesting business in itself.
ALISON: This is the culture of audio book listeners.
PETER JONES: Yeah it’s fascinating! I love audio books and it’s even more interesting when you get to talk to the people who make them. It’s really amazing. About two hours after I’ve left the studio the book is effectively done. I’m reading it in one studio and in another studio there’s an editor who’s following what you’re saying and somehow marking on the audio places where you fluffed and restarted. And then in another studio there’s somebody who is working through the audio and editing it as you go and they’re working around about 30 to 40 minutes behind the actual real time recording. And so two hours after leaving the studio the book is finished.
ALISON: That’s incredible, isn’t it?
PETER JONES: It’s amazing! Yeah!
ALISON: So you’ve got another book that you’re in the editing stage of now?
PETER JONES: Yes, well my first readers have got it at the moment. As soon as I finished it I edited it, then I sent it out to the world to my first readers who are reading it at the moment and scribbling their comments all over it. And they’re starting to come back, the comments, and so there’ll be another round of changes. Then it will go to my proofreader and at the same time I will send an unproofed version to Audible for them to have a look at. And then it will be recorded probably during December/ January and then released for February 14th.
ALISON: And what are the plans after that? What does the future hold for Peter Jones?
PETER JONES: After that the novel should come out at Easter.
ALISON: Oh! Wow! Are you self-publishing that or do you have a publisher?
PETER JONES: I have got a publisher, but the publisher is my publisher, because one of the things that’s happened in the last two years … Knowing everything I know about publishing, I started a publishing house. So www.soundhaven.com has sort of been gathering pace in the background for two years and publishes 21 titles … and ironically only half of one title is mine.
ALISON: That’s “How to Eat Loads and Stay Slim”?
PETER JONES: Yeah, it publishes that title, or it publishes the e-book and the paperback versions of that title. I’ll also bring out my novel with soundhaven.com as well. Unless … well it’s ages, you never know what might happen between now and Easter.
ALISON: Someone listening to this now might think “I’ve got to have that novel.”
And then are there more books to come from you?
PETER JONES: I am experimenting at the moment with companion guides so I’m thinking
of bringing out a companion guide for “How to Do Everything and Be Happy”. Kind of an update. Kind of an “okay, look, this is more thought I’ve had on the same subject since the first book came out.” And that’s basically because I’ve been doing workshops for the past couple of years based on the book and they’ve all been fun but some of them have been jaw-dropping in terms of what people have achieved and some of the exciting stories I’ve amassed in the last two years. And in terms of things I’ve been doing to move my life forward as well. So I’m thinking of bringing out a companion guide but then that made me start thinking, “Hang on a moment, could I do a companion guide for ‘Start Dating and Stop Waiting’ and could we do a companion guide for ‘Eat Loads and Stay Slim’?”
They’ll probably be after the novel comes out, which itself sounds a little bit like a self-help book, because it’s called “The Good Guy’s Guide to Getting the Girl”.
ALISON: That will keep you busy for the next year, I guess. And who knows what will come after that? So before you go, have you any lessons or tips or advice that you would like to pass on to anyone who’s either thinking about writing a book or in that writing process at the moment?
PETER JONES: If somebody’s thinking about writing a book, then go for it, is what I’d say.
Don’t get hung up on things like “Can I buy an ISBN number?” or “Where can I get stickers saying ‘signed by the author’?”
ALISON: That’s a great excuse not to start writing a book. They don’t know where to buy the stickers.
PETER JONES: Every single time I do a “How to Do Everything and Be Happy” workshop there is always somebody – maybe even two somebodies – in the room who says “I’ve got this idea for a story, my life story is so exciting and I think it would make a good book” and always they’re hung up on “Should I self-publish or should I approach an agent?” You aren’t at that stage yet, just sit your butt in the chair and start writing because you have to write about a million words of rubbish before stuff actually starts to come together. I mean, you must know that Alison, as a proofreader – you must be able to see the difference between somebody who’s been writing for a while and somebody who perhaps has just started out. And I genuinely believe as well that with writing, yes, some people have got some inbuilt talent but that just means they had a head start. Everybody’s writing improves the more they do it, so if you’re thinking about writing a book then just get started.
If you’ve written a book and now you’re also thinking about whether you should self-publish it or go the more traditional route? Well that’s a more complicated subject, and of course any advice I give you now will be out of date in three to six months anyway. But as it stands at the moment, fiction is far far harder to sell than non-fiction. But for both you need to put an awful lot of work in, maybe even four or five times more work than it actually took to write the thing, to actually sell a book.
In the early days I did a radio interview and the person who was interviewing me said “Do I call you writer or author?” And I said, “Well I personally prefer author.” The reason why I said that, I’ll be completely honest with you, is totally snobbery. It sounds better. Now I call myself author because writing is only a part of the author’s job. The days I actually get to sit here and write, if it’s one day a week I’m lucky. The rest of the time it’s all the other things to do with being an author. You know, writing an article for this magazine, that magazine, tweeting, Facebook, doing a radio interview, writing a book proposal for your publisher, talking to your agent. All that sort of stuff. It is incredible how much work is involved with actually being published and being an author.
And it’s incredibly badly paid as well. That’s probably the last piece of advice. I’ve never been as poor as I was the day I stopped working in banking and started working as an author.
ALISON:Yeah, that’s the thing I always tell people. Don’t write a book to make money because it will happen but it won’t be your retirement plan.
PETER JONES: I know, and the thing is that in some ways, when “How to Do Everything and Be Happy” took off I had no idea how successful I’d be. None whatsoever. I just thought, in my mind I’ve done as well as I thought I should have done. And now, two and a half years on I realise how incredibly lucky I was and that’s the exception rather than the norm.
ALISON: How many copies has it sold?
PETER JONES: Now that’s another thing I lost control of. Before I knew exactly how many copies but now I have no idea because I don’t have access to the through the till sales. I can’t tell you what those are. I can tell you how many on Amazon but I’ve stopped looking at those ages ago because they’re just a percentage of the total sales.
So there you go! That’s my advice!
ALISON: I have one more question for you before you go. What’s the name of your latest book that you’re just finishing now?
PETER JONES: The one that’s coming out next is called “How to Start Dating and Stop Waiting”.
ALISON: So can I ask you: have you started dating and stopped waiting?
PETER JONES: Yes!
ALISON: It’s a success story book then.
PETER JONES: Yes ! I have started and stopped dating during the course of the book and I met somebody and that’s going very nicely, thank you. And so yeah, to know more about that you have to read the book. And the companion guide to “How to Start Dating and Stop Waiting” is called “From Invisible to Irresistible”. That will be coming out about the same time.
ALISON: Well it sounds like you’re going to have a very busy year in 2014 promoting the new books. Good luck with them and keep in touch and thank you very much for being my willing victim of this interview today.
PETER JONES:You’re very welcome Alison! It’s been lovely to talk to you!
ALISON: Thank you very much Peter!
I hope you enjoyed our conversation. If you would like to find out more about Peter and his books, workshops and talks have a look at peterjonesauthor.com. His publishing house Soundhaven is at soundhaven.com. You can also find all Peter’s books on Amazon.