A Question

You don’t ask you don’t get: it’s an ideal that drives both football and writing. Questions come as a form of currency. The more you ask, the more opportunities tend to come your way.

And sometimes those opportunities are better than you ever could have imagined.

Together with Paul Watson I’ve been running an event called Great Football Adventures. We invite people who’ve had interesting experiences of football abroad to come and give talks in London. When the feedback for our first events was good, the logical next step was to create a book. 

It wasn’t as easy as we thought. Speakers became hard to tie down. People stopped replying. After six months we had just a handful of chapters. 

And so I started to chase new opportunities. I contacted more speakers, learned new stories and revisited older ones. One of those was In the Hands of the Gods. A favourite film of mine growing up, the documentary features five football freestylers who attempt to busk their way from the UK to Argentina to meet Diego Maradona.

I browsed various websites and eventually managed to contact all five. Just one replied.

That one was Paul Wood.

I arranged a time and a date then set about booking a meeting room at work for ‘an important client call.’ I suppose it was half right.

We spoke for an hour. Paul – or Woody, as he liked to be called – was a great speaker and gave me plenty of content. He even passed me on the details of others he knew who could be part of the book. 

A few days later I’d written the first draft of his chapter. I sent it over and Woody called back later that day. He loved the chapter and spoke through a few necessary changes. ‘And by the way,’ he finished. ‘I like what you’ve done. I’ve got a project that might interest you.’

Woody, it turned out, wasn’t just a football freestyler. In fact, that was in the past. Now he was one of the world’s biggest content creators. Along with his partner Kleiny (and manager Darryl), @WoodyandKleiny had more than 10,000,000 followers across their social channels. And now they wanted to write their first book.

At the time I was working in an office job as a social media manager. I knew YouTubers and had worked with many. But I didn’t really know YouTube. The craze had passed me by. I’d seen the impact it had on people up and down the country, the potential of what they did, the power they held in their hands. 

I couldn’t have been more excited.

I followed all of @WoodyandKleiny’s channels. I watched their pranks, gave them likes, showed my mates. Then we met in person.

We clicked straight away. I brought along my business partner in Floodlit Dreams, Ian Ridley, and we outlined the book process over a dinner at Zizzi’s. They had plenty of options, we told them. We’d be happy to help them get a literary agent and pursue their project with a big publisher. Or they could go with Floodlit Dreams. Ian outlined the pros and cons with each option then left me alone with Woody and Darryl, Kleiny being unable to attend due to illness. 

We spoke for a couple more hours and by the time I got the last train home to London I was filled with positivity. 

Another meeting was arranged. They wanted me to help them write their book. They wanted that book to be published with Floodlit Dreams.

Over the next few months I got to know Woody, Kleiny and Darryl well. I saw parallels in their experiences with mine as I attempt to turn a passion into a livelihood and become a full-time author. So inspirational did I find their journey that I even took redundancy to focus fully on writing. 

We set about into a routine: they’d pick me up from the station, take me for dinner, I’d get out my dictaphone and then we’d talk late into the night. They’d always pay for my Uber home. 

It took eight full sessions to get enough content. Then the back and forth really started. There were changes to make, designs to approve, covers to sort. Writing ended up being the easiest part of the process. 

That process is now almost complete. The Social Struggle: How We Took Over the Internet is available to pre-order. It’s been an incredible journey with three people I now consider to be friends, rather than collaborators. Their story inspires me and I hope it will inspire readers all over the world. 

And it all came about from a question.


Two Months In… The Transition to Freelance

On the first day of the rest of my life I played golf. I thought it would make a statement, a symbolic act of how I’d spend my life from now on. My girlfriend laughed.

Later that week I returned home sunburnt after an afternoon spent watching county cricket at Lords. Again, she laughed, but a little less. There was also a hint of annoyance in there.

Then, the moment any goodwill deserted me. She decided to work from home one morning, only to find that her freelance boyfriend was still in bed at 10.30.

Since then, I’ve had to do a lot more work around the house. No matter how often I tell her I need to read in bed for research, her sympathy has remained at an all time low. 

In many ways, being freelance feels like being back at university. For a few hours each week I have to leave the house to go and work, then for the rest of the time I’m left to my own devices. 

Much of my time is structured around sport. It’s the main constant in my life – whether that’s cricket matches, futsal training or gym sessions. 

More of my time is spent with mates. Without full time work, I no longer feel guilty about skipping an evening of writing in favour of a social event.

If anything, I’m now writing less. Previously I’d managed to get myself into a routine of working my office job from 9-6 (though rarely making it in for 9), writing for an hour at lunch, then juggling the four different manuscripts I was working on all evening until the early hours. I learnt to survive on five or six hours of sleep a night.

It didn’t take long for my body to adapt once more to needing my university staple of nine hours a night. I feel much healthier for it: less run down, more proactive, more free. The extra exercise helps. Every day I’m now able to run, go to the gym or practise yoga – luxuries I could rarely afford in full time work. 

There are problems with relying on freelance writing. Mainly it’s that the money is so irregular. An advance comes in that needs to last for months. An article is commissioned and then nothing else comes up. Schools cancel visits. So to lessen the burden, I’ve taken on bits of work in other areas.

Currently, I’m committed to seven hours of coaching and half a day of social media management a week. That pretty much covers my rent, and the rest of my time is then split between writing and helping to grow Floodlit Dreams. 

The benefit of having few regular commitments is being able to say yes to opportunities at short notice. Lots of cool stuff has come up, but much of that cool stuff has failed to materialise. There’s even been a chance to have another crack at professional football in a foreign country. I think my girlfriend is warming to the idea…

With the money that I’ve invoiced for so far, I can certainly say that going freelance has been successful. The only trouble is that money invoiced doesn’t necessarily equal money paid. I’m guessing that a lot of my time this year is going to be spent chasing up unpaid work.

As it stands, however, I’ll be able to give freelancing a go for a second year. There are things I miss about working full time. I miss working with mates. Miss absorbing others’ creativity. Miss being inspired by colleagues and their work. Miss hearing about their successes and all of the other little things that make up their lives.

But every time I think back to the social side of the office, I’m reminded of the routine, the same tube journey at the same time, the same office politics, the same desk every day, the same client relationship.

Though there are plenty of things I miss, there aren’t enough of them to make me want to go racing back. 

I hope this new life really is the rest of my life. All I need now is a midweek golf partner…


Making a Passion a Job

I never aspired to be a social media manager. It’s just something that I fell into. But once you’re in that cycle of relying on a job, it’s hard to break out of it – especially when it takes you five years of writing to earn what you make in a month as a social media manager.

A few years ago I started exploring the possibility of cutting back on work to focus more on my passion. At the time I was working with a former footballer on their book, and felt that if I made the proposal compelling enough I’d be able to at least take a sabbatical from work.

The project fell through. An offer was made but quashed by the company’s lawyer, who feared of libel. It was frustrating, but my desire to try and make it as a writer was unaffected. I’d just need to find a new project.

I took a new job. It was still working in social media – for a less interesting client – but the increased salary on offer would allow me to save up more money to give writing a go in the near future.

Then Brexit happened, and that near future became a lot closer. The company that paid my salary was on the news every five minutes warning of how catastrophic a no deal Brexit would be. Some dismissed their claims as ‘Project Fear’. It was anything but. Rumours of redundancies started spreading around the office.

All the while I’d been putting the ingredients in place to commit fully writing. I published a children’s book to allow me to give workshops in primary schools. I found an agent to get me talks. I networked, met new people. And by chance I came into contact with two of the biggest YouTubers in the world.

Listening to their story inspired me. They’d poured everything into their videos over a four year period and made no more than £2,000. Then they hit a wave and blew up.

As I heard more, I began to see further parallels in our journeys.

I had to give writing a go.

The next week, one of my colleagues quit her job. ‘What would I do if money wasn’t an object,’ she said. ‘Not this. I’m quitting to try and make it as a creative.’

Okay. I really had to give writing a go.

I planned to give myself another twelve months in my job. Save a bit more money. Network a bit more, get some more school visits in place.

Then the redundancies were announced. I was placed into the redundancy pool. My advertising agency was getting a much reduced fee from our affected client and actions had to be taken. My job was to be no more. Everything accelerated. 

If I don’t commit to writing now, I never will.

It ended up happening sooner than planned, and I don’t necessarily have enough in place to break even over the next twelve months, but I couldn’t be more excited for what’s to come.

I’m still going to work in social media. I have some freelance projects lined up to ensure I at least make enough money to eat. Most importantly though, I’ll have more freedom to write. There’s a children’s book currently being considered by publishers, a ghostwritten project for a YouTuber, a football book due to be announced in the coming weeks, and not only that. My project with the two YouTubers who inspired me so much, who poured everything into their passion for four years for peanuts, is due out this autumn.

Let’s see what happens…


How to Get Published

They say that everyone has a book in them. And with the way that publishing has changed, it’s becoming ever easier for everyone to get that book into print.

But it isn’t as easy as putting pen to paper and then selling books by the millions. Publishing houses receive hundreds of submissions a day. Competition is fierce. So to stand out from the crowd, you first need to create an engaging proposal.

A proposal is essentially a summary of your idea, allowing a publisher to make a quick decision on whether your book is for them. This should include an elevator pitch, chapter breakdown, author bio, target audience and a sample of writing. It’s also helpful to include similar titles that have been published. To do this, look on Amazon and Waterstones or ask at your local bookshop and library. When looking, it’s also handy to see who has published the similar titles, as these publishing houses may well be interested in your own book.

You can find an example of a proposal I’ve previously submitted here: https://tinyurl.com/ybbwjq7h

It’s absolutely essential that any proposal is formatted correctly and free of any spelling or grammar mistakes. With publishing houses inundated with submissions, any error – no matter how small – can be enough to see your submission tossed to the side. To try and prevent this, it’s recommended that any submission is checked over with friends or family, who often provide useful feedback. Contacting other authors and running your ideas by them is also encouraged. Even though you’re essentially going to be competing against them for sales, I’ve found authors often go out of their way to help others.

Once you’ve written your proposal and are happy it shows your story in the best possible light, you need to decide how to publish your book. Broadly speaking, there are four options: mainstream, independent, crowdfunding, self-publishing.

There’s a well-known saying that ‘a week is along time in football.’ Well, I’ve found that a year is a short time in publishing. If you decide to pursue a mainstream publisher, expect long turnaround times. Before your proposal even reaches a mainstream publisher, however, it has to be vetted by a literary agent. 

How do you get a literary agent? Well, it helps if you know someone. Publishing is quite old school in that connections can get you a very long way. But not everyone has a literary agent on speed dial. If you need a literary agent, the best thing to do is search for one online. When you’re searching through literary agencies, make sure that they’re accepting submissions in your genre. There’s no point in sending a book on Cuban history to an agent looking for science fiction. 

Make a list of numerous agents. The reality is that even if you’ve written the next Harry Potter, most of them won’t reply. The greater the number of suitable agents you contact, the more likely your chance of success.

Once a literary agent likes your proposal, they’ll probably suggest a few changes. Remember, they know what publishers are most likely to want, so their advice is important. You can’t be too protective of your work.

A literary agent then takes your proposal to mainstream publishing houses. If any editors at these publishers like it, they’ll ask to meet you. This will allow them to find out a bit more about you and get a feel for a working relationship. 

After this meeting, the editor takes the proposal to an acquisition meeting where the sales and marketing teams predict the likely success of the book, whether it’s commercially viable and if so how much to offer as an advance payment. 

For the lucky few who get chosen, this long process is only the beginning of a much longer process. Publishing with a mainstream publisher will give you access to excellent editors and designers, allow your work to be stocked in bookshops up and down the country, help you develop links within the industry and pay you an advance upfront. However, you have less ownership over the work and the royalties are small. Many authors never receive payment beyond the advance. 

Independent publishers are small companies that produce books. My new venture, Floodlit Dreams, is one such company. If a literary agent doesn’t receive an offer from a mainstream publisher, they’ll often then send the proposal to independent publishers. 

However, you don’t always need a literary agent to be published by an independent company. Most will accept a proposal directly from an author. Though a literary agent provides advice, simplifies the entire publication process and gives your work validation, they do take 15% of any payment. And not everyone can get a literary agent.

Prospective authors should search for independent publishers that publish works similar to their own. After selecting appropriate publishers and submitting their proposal, they should expect a response within eight weeks. It is advisable to contact numerous independent publishers rather than wait for each to reply individually. 

When they do reply, the journey to publication is much quicker then at mainstream publishers. If they like the proposal they’ll request a meeting, and if that goes well then a contract will soon be drawn up.

Expect to be involved in every aspect of publication with an independent publisher. The actual writing side of things is only a small part of creating a book. Ideas on cover design, launch parties and marketing techniques are all welcomed. As such, independent publishers allow much greater ownership over each project and also allocate a greater percentage of royalties to authors. However, advance payments are rare and not all independent publishers can get their authors’ books into shops up and down the country. To sell thousands of books with an independent publisher, authors need to be prepared to work hard at marketing their book, appear at talks and events and chase PR opportunities. The greater share of royalties available means that effort is often well rewarded.

Producing a book is a risk. Analysts at publishing houses can obsess over forecasting potential sales, but nobody really knows exactly how well each book will do – and whether it can pay back the money spent on its publication – until it’s actually out in the world. Crowdfunding takes away all of this risk for the publisher. The onus is on pledgers to fork out for the production costs of each book.

Working with a crowdfunder requires an author to think of different ways to incentivise pledgers. Methods include signed copies, first edition hardbacks and even lunches with the author. Though the crowdfunding website provides an audience to see an author’s project, raising the production costs is very much down to the author. Crowdfunding companies usually have multiple projects going on at once and therefore can’t give each individual project much time until it’s funded.

To crowdfund a book therefore requires plenty of energy on behalf of the author. As with independent publishers, proposals can be submitted directly to the crowdfunding companies for their consideration.

It’s never been easier to self-publish a book. Though some look down on self-publishing and dismiss books as ‘vanity projects’, the reality is that it can be a lucrative business. 

Authors get total ownership over their work, choosing every aspect. Unfortunately, that also means it’s on them to fund each project. This means payment is needed for cover design, formatting, typesetting, editing and marketing. The risk is therefore solely on the author, but once production costs are paid off every sale gives good profit. 

Turnaround times are quick, and choosing to self-publish means that authors can skip the proposal phase and go straight into production.

Authors should be aware that bookshops rarely take self-published works and it therefore lies on the author to promote their own book. However, the ability to have the final say on every aspect and turn each project around quickly is an attraction for some.

In Summary
Writing a book is a fantastic achievement no matter which publishing option you choose. The connections you make and the people you come across can often lead to other interesting projects. And there’s no greater buzz than receiving a positive review from a reader.

Seek advice where you can, do your research and check your work over and over again. 

And if you do have a proposal you’re working on, feel free to ask for our advice at Floodlit Dreams. We’ll be more than happy to provide feedback – and who knows what will come of it…