Being an author – Interview with Robert Bullard
10 questions on authoring a book …
1.) So, what made you author a book – where did it start?
It all began with a rally car driver, Penny Mallory. She was giving a motivational talk to a business networking group (LATE BREAKFAST) about setting ourselves a really bold vision, and the need to go outside our comfort zones etc. It was really inspiring. So when I got home I asked myself, ‘What is my vision?’ And as part of that I wrote down that I would write a book that summer – and I did.
2.) And what about the practicalities – how long did it take to write?
I did the writing in two phases: I wrote most of the chapters in August 2014 (pretty much one each day), and then added some additional content either side of Christmas. I did the editing and final proofreading in February, and it was published on 8 March 2015. In total it took around 10 weeks. People often regard that as very quick. But as a journalist, I know how to organise myself and how to write; and of course I was writing about things I knew about. A lot of it was therefore in my head; it didn’t need any research.
3.) At your book launch you compared authoring a book to having a baby…
Well, there are quite a few comparisons between the two actually – and I am not the first person to say it. For example, you only tell close friends at first, in case it goes pear-shaped. It restricts how much you get out and about, so people wonder where you are. And as the big day approaches you worry whether or not you have done the right thing … until it all happens, of course, you are on Cloud Nine.
Those parallels are true for many authors/mothers. There were additional ones for me: I knew exactly when my book was conceived (see above), it took almost exactly 9 months from conception to publication (and the launch was on my Dad’s birthday). I think I have proved my case!
4.) Where do you think businesses need help with their writing?
Some people lack confidence and think their writing is no good. Some people are unsure of their punctuation and grammar – like the difference between colons and semi-colons. And some just need a few good writing techniques, like the impact of putting things in threes, or placing a short, strong word – and your punchy point – at the end of a sentence.
Their biggest mistake is probably to write too much, and to not think enough about their audience. Also, to be worried by ‘rules’ they half remember from school. The most common question I am asked is: ‘Is it OK to start a sentence with “And”?’ ‘Of course’, I reply. You were taught not to at school, but that was for simple writing. In fact, the second sentence of the bible is ‘And God saw that the light was good …’
5.) The book doesn’t cover Social Media or emails; is that an omission?
Well, I wanted each chapter to have 10 tips, but Social Media is a vast area. It would have needed different chapters on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, … where do you stop? Second, those channels are changing rapidly, so my comments would quickly have become out of date – or I would have neglected new, more popular channels. And third, as I am not an expert in those areas, I would have had to do a lot of background reading, and would have felt a bit of a fraud.
As for advice on how to write emails, yes, I could have included that – maybe I will in the second edition. But I think emails are pretty straightforward – I am not sure I would have come up with 10 tips.
6.) What areas of Business Writing Tips are you most – and least – pleased with?
Well, as well as my text I provide readers with exercises, references for further reading, and I direct them to examples of really good copywriting, from companies like Innocent Drinks and Pret A Manger. Also, many readers have said they really like the inspirational quotes, and a review in the Self-Publishing magazine said the advert for a shower that I reproduced, by Samuel Heath (page 47), was ‘worth the price of the book alone’.
But I am most pleased with my advice on commas! I ditched all the usual grammar books’ reference to non-defining relative clauses and subordinate clauses etc. (which of course many people find too hard to comprehend), and distilled it down into advice on terms that businesses can follow – I have a one-page table advising where commas are (1) needed, (2) optional and (3) not necessary (p.153–5).
7.) You dedicated the book to the Oxfordshire Library Service … aren’t libraries a bit old-fashioned?
Well, I have always been a user of libraries, and since moving to Oxford in 2010 I have started reading a lot of fiction – and nearly all of my books have come from the library. But I am also a fan for other reasons. I am a big user of their facilities (PCs, scanners and copiers), they are a good place to work, they supply free books for our Book Group, and they are great for finding out about theatre, concerts and talks etc. going on. As I do in the book, I would also like to praise their staff, who are always have time for customers, and are very helpful.
8.) Now the crunch questions – how are sales going?
Well, a little slow, but there again I haven’t really pushed them. The real aim of the book is wider goals we can talk about. And actually, feedback from readers to date has given me some good ideas for how to market it to others. Plus, I now have some excellent reviews on Amazon that I can build on.
9.) So, evaluating your book, has it worked for you?
Yes, I am pretty sure it has – even only a few months on and without much advertising. First, people are always impressed when you are an author, even if they are not interested in the subject. Second, it has raised my profile. I have been on That’s Oxford TV and in July did an Author Talk at the Blackwells Business Book Group, which in August will be repeated at their shop in London. And thirdly, I think it has help me capture additional training clients, and got more work from my existing ones. All that seems pretty conclusive to me…
10.) Finally, do you have plans for another book?
Well, I always fancied writing a biography one day, so yes. It will mean ‘living with’ that person for a few years, so I am waiting for the right person to come along. But bearing in mind this book came out of nowhere, it may not be long. I just need to keep my eyes open, and my ears to the ground. And I reckon Oxford is a pretty good place for that.
And if you buy the book, please tell me what you think – and please post a review on Amazon.