The 'Millionaire Boot Camp for Authors' Report
‘Ok people! Take out your paper and pens,’ Stephanie calls. ‘What are you going to do to change your lives? Do you want to be in the same place you are in five years’ time? No! First I want you to make a list of the negative consequences of not doing anything to change your life!’
1. Failure generally
2. Never published again
3. Living on a small academic salary forever
‘Now where do you see yourself in five years’ time?’ she exhorts. ‘Make a list!’
1. On permanent safari
2. On a horse
I have a feeling number 4 should be: the author of a million-copy bestseller, but I’ve never been much good at self-actualisation.
When my friend Phyllida, who is a Mind, Body, Spirit author, asked me if I’d like to attend the Millionaire Boot Camp for Authors, a tangle of conflicting images unfurled in my mind: tanned playboys and bedraggled authors, all rising at 4.45am to do push-ups.
Instead I find myself in the cavernous underground conference centre of the Millennium hotel in Gloucester Road, along with 400 other people. As we enter the room, people dressed in black with badges that announce them as ‘Crew’ thrust invitations to become one of the ‘inner circle’; ‘Moves like Mick Jagger’ pumps from speakers.
‘I hadn’t expected it to be so—American,’ says Phyllida, as we take our seats.
Phyllida and I are both published authors. I’m here to find out more about online publishing, both from the perspective of an author and publisher. My friend and colleague Julia Bell and I are in the process of setting up a small digital publishing house, and I also want to know how to go about digitising my backlist to make out-of-print books readily available.
Online publishing, self-publishing, digital publishing—it goes by many names. But it’s not simple. This new technology and the associated platforms that have sprung up to support it present the initiate with a digital jungle to be hacked through. There’s more than one way to produce an e-book (Kindle, say) and it’s important to find the right one.
The Millionaire Boot Camp is the initiative of Stephanie Hale, a publishing consultant who graduated from UEA’s Creative Writing degree—the same degree I teach on. On stage now in an optimistically summery dress, miked up with one of those rockstar microphones that wrap round the head, Stephanie tells us her story:
‘I got an agent, wrote a novel, and published it. Then—nothing. Nothing happened. It was very anticlimactic. But I was committed to being a writer, so I wrote another novel, and a couple of years later published that too.’ She pauses for effect. ‘Again, nothing. It was a non-event.’
Stephanie tells us that hers represents the experience of 97% of writers. She then shows us dire statistics about the median income of authors in the UK. Most earn well below the minimum wage. An average advance for a book these days is £5,000. ‘That’s 5,000 for two or three years’ work,’ she reminds us. Stephanie’s statistics are reliable, based on a study by the UK Society of Authors and corroborated by other industry studies.
‘What about the other 3%?’ Stephanie asks—a rhetorical question. We know who they are: JK Rowling, Stephen King, Terry Pratchett, plus a bevy of writers of get rich, diet, change-yer-life and esoteric think-positive hucksters. It seems that the depression-era globalisation that is driving a widening wedge between the haves and the have-nots in society at large is having a similar effect in publishing—a tiny percentage of the rich take all the spoils. It’s the tiny percentage that preoccupies Stephanie, and most people in the room today.
‘Publishing is a winner-takes-all game,’ Stephanie says. ‘Do you want to be in the 97% or the 3%?’
The 400-strong audience responds as if one: ‘three percent!’
‘If you want to make some real money you’re in the right place. Are you in the right place? Say yes!’
‘Yes!’ the audience returns obediently.
Phyllida turns to me. ‘I’m beginning to think I’m in the wrong place.’
Stephanie’s life was turned around by a series of events, not all of them happy. With her back against the wall, she decided to have a go at writing an entirely different kind of book. Millionaire Women, Millionaire You was published in 2010.
‘How different it was.’ She shows us bullet point style on Powerpoint: BBC Breakfast, Richard and Judy, WH Smith, sales, sales, sales. Now Stephanie works as a publishing consultant, helping other writers to refine their ideas, put them into action, get agents and publishers.
Anyone who has worked as an acquisitions editor in trade fiction publishing, as I have, knows that there is a vast number of aspiring authors desperate to be published. Creative writing degrees and a sub-market of books on how to maximise your chances of publishing have long catered to this desire.
But then along came Amazon, and the Kindle. The digital revolution in publishing really is just that: a paradigm shift. For the first time since Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press in 1440, the means of producing and distributing a book are no longer exclusively in publishers’ hands.
This revolution seems to have sparked a hybrid creature, of which Millionaire Boot Camp is a diamond-sparkling example: the self-help/self-publishing motivational seminar, attracting hundreds of aspirant authors who have all paid £37 (a reasonable sum for the information being proffered). Here is a sampling of the topics lined up over the three days: