SPS-257: From Adventurer to Author: Kindle Storyteller Winner 2020 – with Anna McNuff
Adventurer Anna McNuff shares with James the highs and lows of cycling South America from top to tail and then writing an award-winning book about that trip.
- What to do when there’s a disconnect between what a life looks like and what it feels like
- Working 2 jobs and saving up to pay for an adventure
- Making a living having adventures
- Folding speaking into an author and adventurer career
- Discovery self-publishing and figuring out how to do it
- Learning how kind and generous people are through travel
- The challenges and rewards of traveling 24/7 with someone for 6 months
Resources mentioned in this episode:
PATREON: Self Publishing Formula Show’s Patreon page
MERCH: Are you a ligneous beetle or a yawning hippopotamus? Get your SPF hoodies and t-shirts in the brand new SPF Store.
SPS-257: From Adventurer to Author: Kindle Storyteller Winner 2020 - with Anna McNuff
Speaker 1: On this edition of The Self-Publishing Show.
Anna McNuff: The writing is my happy place. It's what I absolutely love. If you took it away from me and said, you can never write another book, I would just feel devastated. I feel like it's what I'm supposed to be doing.
Speaker 1: Publishing is changing. No more gatekeepers, no more barriers, no one standing between you and your readers. Do you want to make a living from your writing, join indie bestseller Mark Dawson and first-time author James Blatch as they shine a light on the secrets of self-publishing success.
This is The Self-Publishing Show. There's never been a better time to be a writer.
James Blatch: Hello, and welcome to The Self-Publishing Show with me, James Blatch.
Mark Dawson: And me Mark Dawson.
James Blatch: If you're watching on YouTube, look, I've got my....
Mark Dawson: Christmas jumper. Yeah. I noticed
James Blatch: Christmas jumper.
Mark Dawson: Very nice.
James Blatch: Christmas jumper, my Christmas beard. It's all going, It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas.
Mark Dawson: Humbug. You like a bit of Christmas.
James Blatch: It's very lovely in your Victorian or Edwardian, what is it? Georgian Vicarage?
Mark Dawson: Yes, we went to pick out our tree yesterday, so we went right into the farmer's field and pick them where we wanted. He then chops it down, delivers it-
James Blatch: What's wrong with it. We've had our tree since November.
Mark Dawson: We've got an artificial tree up in the one of the rooms. And we've got the big tree comes tomorrow, Tammy 3.
James Blatch: A lot of people listen to the podcast six months after it's gone out, people listen to this in July.
Mark Dawson: Well, I hope they had a happy Christmas.
James Blatch: Yes. Tell us about the future. Is it COVID free? Good, excellent. Well, I'm pleased that Christmas is coming and we actually the podcast will be released on Christmas day next week. So that will be a book club episode, always some of our favourite episodes, brilliant interviews to listen to next week. Well, we've got a great interview today. We should say as well, really exciting one actually coming up in just a moment.
Before we do anything else, I would like to welcome two new Patreon supporters. We have Patrick Bryan from FL, USA for the USA and Emilia Adler. Thank you very much, indeed.
They went to patreon.com/selfpublishingshow, and they pledged a minimum of a dollar an episode, very cheap for which they get access to the SPF University Life Training and all sorts of other things you can see how those are arranged. In fact, I will remind myself exactly what the offer is and perhaps even sweeten it a little bit, because they probably need a little review. But it's very welcomed because it keeps us going on this podcast week in, week out. Thank you very much indeed Patrick and Amelia. And of course you've got a shout out on The Self Publishing Show.
So happy Christmas to them. Although a proper happy Christmas we'll reserve till next week, the actual 25th.
Mark, I know life's been intervening with you a little bit, so you probably haven't done a lot of publishing stuff in the last week or so.
But you have seen your children's book go into its second and third week, I guess into the wild. How's that going?
Mark Dawson: Yeah, it's going well actually. A few things have been going on. I have been very busy with family stuff, so I haven't done any writing really for about a week. That's one of those things. But yeah, the kids' books doing quite well, nothing amazing. 25 copies a day, which is fine.
We will amp that up as we get to the full print run next year, the first half of next year. But quite exciting is the paperback of The Cleaner has come out now, the Welbeck Edition and it's been great. So we've had I think about 20,000 25,000 copies have been bought by the supermarkets and by Smith's. Smith is chain of, I suppose stationers and booksellers in the UK.
And for the first time ever, when the hardback came out, obviously I sold plenty of copies in stores, but sometimes I would have to look a little bit to find them. But this time it's everywhere. It's been great. I was in South World where the kid's book is set over the weekend and in a small WHSmith, very small one I found a copy there, which was great. And then Tesco's has to add loads and loads of copies. And from what I understand from the publisher, it's sold really well in the first day of full trading sold 500 copies, something along those lines, so really encouraging. I would say they've really done a great job, again, and got the book out there. So we'll be interested to see how many that sells as we get right up to Christmas.
James Blatch: What number is The Cleaner in the series?
Mark Dawson: Number one.
James Blatch: Is number one.
Mark Dawson: Number one, yeah.
James Blatch: What was released last time then?
Mark Dawson: The Cleaner in hardback. So we had a hardback release. That's the way publishing typically works. You have a hardback release, then you have a paperback release six months later. So we had the hardback sold, I think about 20,000 copies of the hardback around the world. And then the paperback comes out now and that's the one that typically will sell more copies because it's cheaper.
James Blatch: Okay, good. Well, I had lunch today with an old BBC colleague and he was telling me he's just finished reading the Lee Child books and was looking for recommendations and he really enjoyed Lee Child. So I think he might be getting a little Christmas present from me. I might need to WHSmith and I'll take a picture if I see something.
Mark Dawson: Yeah. Should be there.
James Blatch: Yeah. Good. Oh, well that's exciting. And this is a discussion we have a lot about what is the right path for people in trad versus indie and all that stuff. And one of the things that Jo Penn says this quite often when you talk to what's best trad versus indie and she says, what are your expectations? And what does success look to you? What do you want?
Some people want to see their books on the shelves in bookshops and for them a trad deal up until very recently has been pretty much the only way to be able to walk into numerous shops along the high street, main street and see your book on the shelf for sale. But this is exciting for you. This is a traditional contract, but it's very much you as an indie author, having built yourself into a position where that's possible for a publisher to buy the book from you and put it into those shops. So it's another route rather than trying to query and beg an agent to take you on and then beg a traditional publisher to publish your first book for the first time.
Mark Dawson: Yeah. So we don't need to go into all the details of what this deal looks like, again, because we've covered it before, when it came up earlier, but it isn't a typical deal and I'm not licencing away everything. It's a joint venture between me and the publisher whereby they take care of print only. So I retain everything else, digital, audio, all of that kind of stuff. They handle printing because they're really good at it. I can't as easily or even easily at all get those books onto those shelves.
I won't lie, it's really cool to see the book on a shelf. I've been there before, long time ago, when I was originally published, not very successfully.
So it's lovely to see them on the shelves, but my view has always been it's nice, but that doesn't pay the bills. So it didn't pay the bills before. Just having them on the shelves is not really enough. I want to sell as many as possible. So it is lovely now to see there are high level as well as I know when I was originally published, back in 1999, 2000, the book came out and it was kind of at shoe level. So no one is seeing at all, but they're really well placed. And I think they're going to be deals of the week in some of the stores before or just after Christmas. So that's really, really great. I really can't say enough about how a great job the publisher has done on this.
James Blatch: This is Welbeck. We should give them a shout out. You've been really pleased with everything they've done. And what a fantastic position for you of course, because this is book one in your series, as you say, and we know what read through is worth. And some of those we'll wait for the hardback or paperback to come out in the future. Some people will go online and buy the eBooks as a result of that.
Mark Dawson: I think there's a fairly distinct audiences. I think if they were going to read eBook, they probably, they may already have done that.
James Blatch: They discovered you this way, haven't they?
Mark Dawson: Yeah. That's true. I think the people who are discovering me now probably don't read eBooks. My view would be they probably do prefer printed books and that's fine. As we've mentioned before, the majority of book sales are still dead trees. I don't know exactly what that split is, but it's 30%, 40% eBook, the rest is the old fashioned way of doing things. So it's a huge market and I been able to tap it before. So yeah, it's pretty exciting.
James Blatch: You're basically JK Rowling now who has her books traditionally-
Mark Dawson: Hard published.
James Blatch: ... But she holds onto the eBook.
Mark Dawson: I'd say a percentage of her success and I'd be very happy with it.
James Blatch: Yeah. Probably less than 1%.
Mark Dawson: Yeah. A fraction of a percent would be fine by me. Yeah. A fraction of a percent, I'll be very happy with it.
James Blatch: Excellent. Well, good luck with side, definitely we'll go into town tomorrow and I'll see if I can then add to the pictures that pop up in the Facebook group. Oh, I'm out of focus again. I'm getting told off by John Stone? I don't know why my camera's doing this. I can see the focus areas and there you are.
If you're watching on YouTube I do apologise. It's not your eyes. It's my camera, which is weird. I can see the focus area right over my face. Perhaps it doesn't like my beard, it's beardest, this thing, anyway.
Let's move on to our interview today. I really enjoyed this chat with Anna McNuff. It came to our attention when she was shortlisted for the Kindle Storyteller Award. So this is an award run annually by Kindle. It's very easy to enter.
I think you'd turn one of your keywords into Kindle Storyteller, 2021, it would be for next year. And that automatically means your book is considered for the award. They have an august judging panel, which may or may not include somebody on this podcast. So that does include Mark Dawson at least did last year and the year before. And it's competitive. And we've spoken to the winners before, and we know that these are books that have passed through a lot of hoops by the time they get through to the judging bits. I think it's probably relatively confidential aspect of it.
Dawson, I won't ask you too many questions about that, but you can guess that this is a strong book. What's unusual about it is it's effectively a memoir. It's the story of Anna out trekking in South America and around the world, because she's been a bit of a traveller, a nomad in recent years.
And she's one of a gang of people I've discovered during this interview online, who are part of this little fraternity of people who do this. They go out travelling and they write about their exploits. They blog about it. They do interviews and Anna's turned it into a very, very good and readable book. So let's hear from Anna then we'll have a chat with Mark off the back of this.
Anna McNuff, I literally just asked you where you are. And I notice you're sitting in front of a map of the world. It doesn't really matter where you are now, does it, what matters is where you've been and where you're going, which is kind of what this interview is all about.
Anna McNuff: Absolutely. And I could be anywhere in the world where I'm sat in front of the map of the world, which is why I love it.
James Blatch: It's a lovely map of the world as well. You are a traveller and a writer. And we should say right at the outset, the winner of the Kindle Storyteller Award 2020, which is fantastic. Congratulations on that.
Anna McNuff: Thanks.
James Blatch: And we think between us the first time a nonfiction book that has won that award. So that's a really special thing for you.
Anna McNuff: Oh yeah. I believe so. It's a very special thing and yeah an absolute shock. Like I said, I thought I wasn't in with a chance because I'd only seen fiction books win it before so completely bowled over by it.
James Blatch: Well, that's well deserved. And it's not your first book that's based on your travels. To set the scene, you should perhaps tell us a little bit about how you became this traveller and adventure, I think it's probably the right word.
Where did that all start for you?
Anna McNuff: Adventure is one of those jobs when people say, what do you do? I say I'm adventurer but I think it's a made up job.
For a long time I had a corporate job. And then I think I was 28 when I decided that I just felt I needed a bit of something different in my life. And so I bought a giant pink bicycle. I took a sabbatical from my marketing job and I went and cycled it 11,000 miles through every state of America. And that was the start of what I thought was just scratching and adventure itch, but turned out to be life in a whole new direction.
I started writing again for the first time in 10 years. And everything just rolled on from there basically.
James Blatch: Let's just talk about that transition because I've changed careers a few times, I've taken pay cuts in half just to start again. And a couple of my friends have said to me that they could never envisage themselves doing something like that. I think it's a big risk and it's a different sort of personality that can go and do it.
In your case, I think I'm talking to somebody who I would say, I don't think I could envisage myself doing something like that, because that is a massive thing to do, a massive change in your life to do.
Anna McNuff: Yeah. I mean, it's funny because it's so relative, isn't it? What's frightening to you. At the time it didn't make any sense because by the looks of things I had a cracking job, everyone on the outside would say, oh, you've got a great life. But there was this mismatch between what I felt I was doing with my life, what everyone else was telling me was a good life.
I just realised everyone around me was loving their jobs. It was all about spreadsheets and numbers and lining up PowerPoint boxes. And people were getting so excited and I saw, I am not coming in to this office every day with nearly the passion that you have, therefore something is wrong.
So it is scary and it's terrifying. I think the biggest thing I remember thinking when I went to do this trip is I have no idea where this is going to lead me, but I cannot fight the feeling that it is the right thing to be doing.
James Blatch: Yeah, by the way there's nothing wrong with loving spreadsheets. I love a spreadsheets.
Anna McNuff: Don't get me wrong. I love a spreadsheet, I'm all there with you.
James Blatch: I would happily never see a PowerPoint again in my life, but spreadsheets I could wallow away a weekend. I often do. Okay. So how does this work?
Did you have a load of savings, how did you fund yourself? Because it doesn't sound like you earn a lot of money cycling, a pink bicycle through American States?
Anna McNuff: Funnily enough, that it's not something that people want to pay you for. I mean, shock and horror!
No, at the time, I had all of those reasons not to go. I had a mortgage, I had no savings. I'm terrible at saving money. So I thought when I made the decision, it was about a year between making the decision before I left for that first trip. And I thought, well, you've got to earn more, spend less. So I took a second job in a weekend, in a bike shop. And for nine months I worked seven days a week.
My weekend job was actually harder than my marketing day job because I had to be on my feet all day talking to customers about bikes. And that was it. And basically I became a recluse. I lived on baked beans, on toast. I didn't do any cycling. And after those nine months, I had just about enough money to get myself on the road for six months.
James Blatch: And then tell us about this trip.
Did you take your pink bike from the UK or did you pick up your pick bike in America?
Anna McNuff: Absolutely. Because I was going on my own I felt like I needed a companion. I needed to bond with this bike. So I called her Boudica, which I thought was a really strong warrior name. And again, when I was choosing the bike, there were all these sensible colours, green and black, which apparently was supposed to help you blend in when you're wild camping.
But I went with the pink one and took her with me and it was 11,000 miles. I started in Alaska. Did a bit of a ride there, then did the lower 48 States and then flew to Hawaii and cycled up a volcano with my dad. That was how I finished.
James Blatch: Wow. It sounds absolutely fantastic. And you had panniers with camping stuff on there or where did you stay at night?
Anna McNuff: Yeah, because this blew my mind and I think it's why I hadn't done it sooner is I didn't realise that you could travel in that way. You put everything you need on your bike, you hook it on to racks at the back and the front and you just peddle. And then you find somewhere to sleep each night, normally a camp ground, or if it's safe, a bit wild camping.
It's just amazing to know that you can just cycle until you're tired and you want to pitch up your little pop-up palace, as I call it, and crawl in and make some super noodles. And heaven's a place on earth at that moment.
James Blatch: Wow. Sounds absolutely amazing. And I imagine tough as well.
Did you find the transition from turning up to your busy bike shop in your office, I think you worked at Sky TV, so a big TV company in the UK and suddenly your nights are you in a camp fire?
Anna McNuff: Well, no. Do you know what James? I actually discovered my introvert. I had always really wondered why when I was in the office, I used to always... Even though I was fit and athletic I would take the lift up for two floors and everyone would say, why don't you get the stairs? I remember I used to enjoy that quiet 30 seconds when the doors shut. And I would just enjoy that moment up.
So on that first bike trip, I realised that I was actually really happy spending a lot of time by myself and that being by myself, I allowed all of these creative thoughts to come out. And that's when I started writing a journal or what led to a book. I actually used that trip to discover that I quite liked spending time my own more than I'd realised. So that was pretty cool.
James Blatch: Wow. And there was presumably another side of you which meant you met people and I mean you couldn't just be introverted the whole time.
You must've had some relationships.
Anna McNuff: No, I actually had to hide whenever I went to a gas station to fill up on fuel for my body, not fuel my bike. I would actually have to hide because you're a British girl on a pink bike. I'm 5'10, I had blonde hair at the time, got pink hair now. There was so much attention on me. People couldn't believe I was cycling. They were saying things to me, "You do know we have cars, don't you?" I said, "Yeah, I do know, I'm choosing this."
I met so many people and I was using, there's a hosting network, which is a bit like couch surfing for cyclists. And I was using that a lot. And so I was meeting those a local people. I wasn't hardly stayed in any hotels. It was either camping or staying with fellow cyclists who are willing to take in a smelly British girl on a bike.
James Blatch: Did it change your perspective on things?
Anna McNuff: Massively. It really did. I'm not a big watcher of the news. I take it in little shot glasses. And I think what it showed me is that the people generally in this world, we are a generous race and I couldn't believe how warm and welcoming everyone was too. I guess I must have seen pretty vulnerable a girl on my own on a bike. And everyone just wants to look after me.
They wanted to make sure I was fed. They wanted to make sure I had somewhere to stay that night. And I just thought all these people that I'd never met before and everyone was so kind and welcoming. And they also want you to show their country off to me, which I thought was pretty cool. So it changed my perspective in that, my reality shifted basically, the reality of the world as I know it, wasn't based on what I necessarily saw in the media. I actually got to see it firsthand. I thought, oh, this is cool. This is the world I want to live in. I like it.
James Blatch: That's really uplifting to hear, especially this year. America has been so divided over big things, BLM and then the elections. But when you're on the ground in America, going from house to house, we do a bit of that as well in our travels.
It does feel different. Doesn't feel everyone's at each other's throats. Most of the time, does it?
Anna McNuff: No. And that was the thing. The only thing I knew of America first when I was going to go and travel there, I dismissed it because I thought, well, I know what America is like, you've got New York, you've got California ocean and all the sports and they do all of that, and Hollywood. And then I saw, but hang on there's a lot of country in between the two things and what goes on there. And that is where you find the real America and those tiny towns. And I just think it's a fascinating country. I know you have so many Americans on this show, but just the diversity of it, there's 10 countries in one.
James Blatch: It is. I agree with all of that. So this was the beginning of the new you.
You walked out of your job, had your savings and then at the end of that year, presumably out of money and thinking, what are you going to do?
Anna McNuff: Absolutely, of course I'd say I followed the idea of I don't know where this is going, but I'm just going to follow this dream, this idea. And then I came back completely stone cold broke. Thankfully, when I'd gone to hand in my notice at work, they'd actually offered me a sabbatical. So I was able to come back to a job, but I didn't last very long. I think it was a few months before I then decided I haven't got this out of my system. This is something that I actually want to be doing with my life.
Again, I've got no idea how I'm going to make a living from it or whether I want to. And it's then that started a six year journey of doing little pieces of contracting, I call survival work to save up the money, to go on a new adventure, to experience that adventure then to write books and to give talks about that adventure, earn the money back and repeat.
And it was basically six years of that before I could actually make a living from it, which is what I do now, which is pretty mad to be honest.
James Blatch: So, you've got to the point now where your income is no longer going off and contracting and doing whatever I think marketing you did before. Your income is now derived from a product of the travelling, the adventuring?
Anna McNuff: Yeah. So it's three things. It's a jigsaw career. I put one piece in place and then think, oh, that works. Let's find something else. And it's basically books, talks or keynote talks and then a bit of brand work, which is working with brands to be an ambassador for them. So those are the three sources of income I have. And I'm pretty evenly between the three of them in any given year.
James Blatch: Let's just talk about those. We often talk about non-fiction authors having streams of incomes, not quite as straightforward with fiction authors just focused really on selling the books. So the brand stuff, I guess, is perhaps some free rooms and things like that.
How do you even begin a relationship with an organisation that might want some publicity?
Anna McNuff: I think the first thing that I learned is you've got to do the work first before you start getting paid for it. So in my industry that is, you've got to go on the adventures, you've got to build up the stories. You've got to start to be seen at those events. And then the brand starts to notice you, and then you've built up enough of an audience, I guess that will listen to what you have to say.
Then the brands become interested rather than trying to get, I've never gone for the trying to get brands to pay for things off the bat. So I always sell from my expeditions because I think, well, when I'm 80 and when I look back, I just want to do what I wanted to do. I don't want to have to pander to so anyone else.
I guess the thing is, and it's that little cycle and it just takes ages and gradually builds up. And then I've made so many mistakes over the years, working with brands that doesn't quite fit and makes me feel a bit uncomfortable. And now I really am in such a cool position where I will only work with a brand if I'd buy their products anyway. So it's a bonus because then I get the stuff for free and then there's media partnership there. So that means that I can sleep at night because I feel like I'm promoting good stuff to the people that follow me and actually giving them recommendations and I can make a living as well.
James Blatch: Do you have a particular social media platform that use for this?
Anna McNuff: I do love a bit of the Gramme I have to say, love Instagram. I used to be predominantly Facebook, but Instagram has just taken off in the last few years. I think if you do want to make any kind of income with brands, it has to be on Instagram.
And it suits me as well. I like pictures and I love Instagram stories because they don't take too much thought. It's just a bit of fun and I'm posting up and you don't have to take yourself too seriously. So I'm a big fan of that.
James Blatch: You better tell us where you are on Instagram. People will be looking up as you speak now?
Anna McNuff: Yeah. I'm @AnnaMcNuff, M-C-N-U-F-F. I'm the only one in the world. So I'm really easy to find.
James Blatch: And the second stream you talked about was public speaking, is that schools or conferences?
Anna McNuff: A mix. I know you had Mandy on, she gave a massive insight into what the speaking world is like. So it's a lot of its corporates, it's festivals as well, national trust festivals or other outdoor festivals in the UK and then schools as well. It's a mix of those.
I really enjoy the speaking and I also find it helps me write books because if I hone a talk and I see the reaction you get from the audience then it helps me realise that that needs to go in a book perhaps, or if it doesn't get any reaction at all, that it needs to be ditched.
James Blatch: Testing material on there.
Anna McNuff: That's it.
James Blatch: That's exactly what comedians do. Isn't it? I used to go to those little warm-up gigs were quite big comedians have tiny audiences and you'd see them making notes on whether you-
Anna McNuff: That's exactly.
James Blatch: ... Where there was stony silence or laughter and I guess that's quite an advantage. I think you mentioned Mandy Hicks and I think she has the same experience when she gives talks and works. Oh, well, that actually works quite well. And you can't always get that kind of you, you can't always second guess what's going to go down well with an audience.
Anna McNuff: No. And it's like anything, it's like writing the first draft of book. I know there are people out there that the words just come onto the page and they're pure magic, but in my world, it's an absolute mess when you start. And it's the same with talks, you start and it's clunky. It doesn't flow. It's not getting the reaction you want. So I test it out with smaller audiences. And then as time goes on, you refine it, you refine it, you refine it. And then eventually you've got something that you can just do with your eyes shut and you know it works and you can have fun.
James Blatch: Where do you get those bookings from?
Anna McNuff: Mixture. It's a lot of word of mouth for me. I think that is thanks to how self-publishing is this whole world, where there is this adventure world.
If you're in that circuit, your name gets known and you get booked. And then of course, all the people that come to adventure evenings, and film festivals about adventure, they all normally tend to have corporate jobs. So, and then their corporate job, they're normally looking for someone that's a bit different and isn't the usual business speaker. And I run around and basically just tell stories and try not very business messages. There's no bullet points going on. And I've got this point in one of my talks where I rip off a pair of strip of trousers and I'm wearing some unicorn leggings.
James Blatch: How would I forget that?
Anna McNuff: That is exactly why still I've done it in some very corporate environments. I thought, well, they're not going to forget, are they? So hopefully they'll remember something from this talk.
James Blatch: You mentioned the books there. At what point did you start thinking that you could write books about your travelling?
Anna McNuff: It was when I came back from that first trip to America. I had a journal, an old school, handwritten a journal which I would never do nowadays. It's far too much effort, but I'd really enjoyed that process. And I came back and I thought there is so much in this journal. I'm pretty sure there's a book in here somewhere.
And as I've gone along, I've been sharing blogs because I just felt compelled to. And that's when blogging was the thing rather than social media and people seemed to be enjoying the blogs. And I thought, well, this is great. So even if there's a few people that will buy the book, then that's fantastic. And it actually was another, I think, three years before I bought a book out and I didn't even bring them out in order, I actually wrote a different one first, but that was the start of it with me thinking, well, I'm putting something into the world and people seem to be enjoying it.
It comes naturally to me because I'm excited and I want to share these stories and I feel like I'm taking people on this adventure with me. Then this is probably again, something that I should follow. No idea where it's going to go. Classic of course.
James Blatch: How did he set about crafting the books, those first couple of books you wrote? Did you read other adventure books or did you just work off instinct?
Anna McNuff: That's a good question. Isn't it? Because I listen carefully when people talk about whether they read books in their genre or not. I have a few authors that I really like, but I can sometimes find it quite distracting. I don't know about you, but sometimes when I read a book, if the next day I stop thinking and the way the book's written and it really affects in my own writing. So I have to be quite careful, but I'd read a couple of books in the adventure genre and nonfiction travel stuff. And I think I'd read enough to say, oh, okay, I see how this is done now.
But then I just went for it. I didn't have a huge amount of experience or a formula. I just thought I'll write down what the stories are that I would tell my friends down the pub, but I think it entertaining or exciting or shocking, stick them down in a manuscript and then pull it together and see what happens.
James Blatch: Which one did you launch first? I know you said you wrote one, wrote a second, launched.
Anna McNuff: I launched a book about running the length of New Zealand, which was actually the second trip I did and that one's called The Pants of Perspective. And that was because even though the bike trip had been amazing, it was an awful lot of fun, which is great, but the New Zealand one was fun, but there was also this just gruelling hardship in it because I had so much self-doubt. I was trying to run the 2000 miles on a trail in New Zealand by myself, going over all these mountains. I grew up in Kingston upon Thames in London. I could basically navigate across a national park and that's it. And so it was such a coming of age journey and there was so many points that felt so raw. I just wanted to share that with people. And so that is the book that ended up coming out first.
James Blatch: Just tell us about that run. Were you running every day?
Anna McNuff: Yeah, for about, I think it was just under six months. I'd normally have one day off a week. But again, it was just a case of I had a plan and when I did the plan for this run, I thought, well, I'm going to run in time with the working week. So I'm just going to run for five days and take two days off. But that doesn't work when you arrive at Mountain Heart in the middle of nowhere in the middle of New Zealand bush, and you've got nothing to do, except I had my Kindle with me.
I just thought, well, I'll just have to run until I get to the next place. And then when I was in town, I'd take a day off. So yeah, it was pretty much running for six days and then taking one day off and just going as fast as I could. As in, I wasn't worried about speed. It was just, you've got sun rise until sundown to make it from this hut to that hut. Over that mountain, off you go, you've got everything on your back and some noodles at the end of the day. And that was it. Yeah.
James Blatch: Wow. I'm like bag of potatoes running 5k. I come back out of puff the idea of running relentlessly every day. That's incredible.
And presumably, as you say, on your back you've got what you're going to be sleeping in that night and a tent, or would you run with a tent?
Anna McNuff: That's not something I do again, James, I'll be honest with you. I thought it was a seven and a half kilo backpack because I weighed it before I left, but then I did the classic thing of throwing a few extra things in there. And then you go to Boots at the airport and you have a product, you need all the stuff in Boots, in the pharmacy shop. And so actually I discovered halfway through the trip I hadn't weighed my backpack, but it was about 14 kilos on my back.
And then when I had seven days' worth of food in that bag, if there was seven days between towns, it was about 20 kilos. So it was proper Navy seal job at times. And it just slowed me down. It pushed me, but I did have that freedom because I wasn't bound to any roads or paved surfaces. I could actually just go for it with everything on my back and it did change the journey and it made it really, really special, but also hard, which has great content for booking that.
James Blatch: The good news is you can also join the SAS now, because you'll probably qualify.
Anna McNuff: Absolutely. I couldn't do with the sleep deprivation though. I really like my sleep. So I think I'd be thrown out of the SAS.
James Blatch: That's incredible. And so that was your first book, The Pants of Perspective. I should say in the UK pants, I did notice we're starting to have the US version of pants. So what was I watching today? I was watching a golf video and the guy said, "Oh, man, my blue pants today's from Yorkshire." And I was like, that's what I expect my 16 year old daughter to say, pants. Pants in the UK is underpants, right? So that's the kind of jokey title of that.
Anna McNuff: Well, he is, although it is pants in the sense that they are a pair of leggings, but leggings of perspective just doesn't work at the book title. So I just borrowed the American term and went, well, these are my unicorn pants.
James Blatch: How did you publish and market that?
Anna McNuff: I'd love to tell you that I had a very highly strategic launch plan, but it was a case of absolutely fumbling my way through it. And actually I tried to get it done with a publisher. Originally I went on this little journey because I thought that's what you have to do before I found out about independent publishing. I tried for a while with that. And then I decided you know what, this isn't working. And I just thought, right, I'd started listening to Joanna Penn and podcasts like that. And when I came to your podcast later, of course, and I love it.
James Blatch: Thank you.
Anna McNuff: I thought, oh my gosh, you mean I don't have to wait for permission to put this book into the road? Right. Let's do it. And it just all started from there. So I think at launch, I just had a party. I invited all the people that follow me on through my adventures and said, I've launched this book, here we go.
We had some beer and pizza and I just shouted about it as much as possible on my social media channels. And it started to tick up and go pretty well actually. And then it got into the running community and it was really popular in the running community. So then there came this whole other world for it. I hadn't really thought about beyond the venture.
James Blatch: Ah, so made some money?
Anna McNuff: Yeah. Oh absolutely. Yeah, it did really well, but I think that is the classic thing. Isn't it? That when you do that first book, you build up to this publication day and then you sit there and you put it out on live and then everything happens so slowly and nothing really happens. And then you think, oh, actually now I have to market this book and it's going to take a long time.
I did make money. I made a decent profit. I think what did I must have made in the first year? I probably made about $7,000 off it. And then as time went on and I wrote some other books and I learned a bit more about marketing and I got a bit more savvy about it, then things started to build up. But classic thing is I've realised that the more books you have, the easier it is to make a living from your writing. But I write slow. I write really slow. So I struggled with that one.
James Blatch: Hello.
Anna McNuff: Oh yeah.
James Blatch: Let's not go there.
But very important part of your financial independence, I guess, is the books income, is it now?
Anna McNuff: Massively. And it is actually of the three things. I really enjoy all three things. And I think when you're the kind of person that enjoys having a smorgasbord career, but the writing is my happy place. It's what I absolutely love. If you took it away from me and said, you can never write another book, I would just feel devastated. I feel it's what I'm supposed to be doing.
My happy place is between my brain and my fingertips and a cup of coffee and I'm away. So I'm basically trying to shift the balance to make more and more from my books as the years go on so that I can sit in my shed office and just be marryied and think of adventure.
James Blatch: Yeah. Well that sounds ideal.
Let's talk about Llama Drama, then this is book that caught the judge's attention of the Kindle Storyteller Award. And this was a South American journey back on the pink bike.
Anna McNuff: Yeah, no, actually got different bikes for this one for very boring technical reasons that Boudica couldn't really cope with the terrain that we were going to be facing in the Andes. And I took a friend this time and we spent six months cycling from La Paz in Bolivia all the way down to the Southern tip of South America. So it's about two thirds of the South American section. And we decided rather than take the straightest routes, we would go up as many mountain passes as we possibly could on our bikes in six months.
James Blatch: Wow. That's some pretty steep mountain passes in that part of the world?
Anna McNuff: Yeah. I mean, apparently yeah, they absolutely are. A lot of the time we were above 4,000 metres above sea levels.
James Blatch: So you're perfect with it.
Anna McNuff: And again, just a little bit. I had never been I think above 2000 metres before I landed into La Paz airport and wondered who'd stolen my oxygen and what was going on. Something like a baptism by fire.
James Blatch: Yeah. Fantastic. Also I've got to ask the question about security because it sounds both the American holiday in the wilderness by yourself and this holiday even though there's two of you.
How much thought did you put into safety and planning for that?
Anna McNuff: That's a really good question because that is a fear that a lot of people have that I think stops them from travelling. And I will be completely honest in that I had that fear as well. And even though it had been a little bit calmed by the America trip and the New Zealand trip I'd done by myself, before we went on this journey, my friend Faye, and I, we said, right, what are your top three fears? Let's lay them out. Let's get them out in the open, just put them down a page in black and white. And then they seem less scary.
One of our fears still was what if we get mugged or held at gunpoint or something, because of course we spend a lot of time watching Netflix and Narcos and all of that stuff. And you think, oh my gosh, South America.
James Blatch: Of course, that's exactly what's it's like everyday, every place you go to.
Anna McNuff: Exactly. It's crazy, isn't it? But I thought, well, even if you're thinking it, you're allowed to think it. But we had absolutely none of that experience. I think when you're travelling, trusting your gut is a cliché, but it's so true. You feel when you're in a dangerous situation and actually I've hardly ever found myself in a dangerous situation because of people.
I've met some strange individuals, but the only time I've ever felt in real danger is either at the hands of mother nature. So I'm up a mountain and the snow's coming in or something or it's because there's weather or there's loads of trucks on the road and I'm on a busy main road and I can't control those cars and what's going on or whether they're on their phone or not. So never at the hands of people, but I think that's a real fear and one you shouldn't ignore, I think you need to address it, but also know that once you get out of there, people are lovely. I mean, they just will look after you and feed you. It's great.
James Blatch: Yeah. Again in fact it was that serious in the UK. They've done two seasons, so I haven't done the second one was in South America. I'm struggling to think of the name of it, but I've watched-
Anna McNuff: Is the Charlie Burman one?
James Blatch: Not that one actually, the one where individuals compete, they're not allowed to fly. What's it called?
Anna McNuff: Is it called A Race around the World or A Human Race
James Blatch: I think something like that. Anyway, the last one was in South America and exactly the points you were making, first of all, safety is a consideration. And despite Narcos being an exaggeration there are some murder capitals in that part of the world, unfortunately. So that featured there, but just the people whose houses when they were desperate, knocked on the door and suddenly they're having dinner with the family making lifelong friends. And that's incredible to see.
That of course is much more representative of humanity, isn't it than almost anything else we see, as you were telling us.
Anna McNuff: 100%. I genuinely believe that. I genuinely believe we're out to look after one another and I think because a lot of us live in cities, we base living in a city on what the whole rest of the world is like. And actually there are vast expanses of nothingness and those people are so excited to see you because they have many visitors come by and they will absolutely look after you and take you in just like the travellers of old rock up at the end and someone would give you a tank of meat or something.
James Blatch: Again, that difference between the cities and the urban and the rural areas, which you noticed in America is obviously quite a stark thing. Isn't it? It feels like that's becoming even more pronounced as time goes on. The culture, lifestyle in the urban area is very different from the countryside.
Anna McNuff: Yeah, absolutely. I think it's a completely different mindset because if you're living in a city, if you thought, what would you do if someone knocked on your door now and said, "I've bust my bike, can I spend the night with you?" You'd probably look at them and think, are you for real? But then of course, if you're in the middle of nowhere and they've cycled from the middle of nowhere and they knock on your door, of course they're in trouble and need your help.
James Blatch: Yeah. Very good point. Okay. So the book, get back to the book.
Anna McNuff: Yeah, let's talk the book.
James Blatch: Llama Drama, again is a kind of semi journals, semi funny stories.
Anna McNuff: Yes. I've been bowled over by the feedback that everyone seems to say, it's hilarious, it makes them laugh, which is great, because it makes me laugh while I'm writing it. But you never know whether it's just your sense of humour in your head.
I think because I really enjoyed writing this one because it was different to the other books because there were two characters, and I sometimes I feel like I am writing fiction even though I've been through it because I'm trying to pick out the best stories.
Faye who went with me, she's got a cracking sense of humour. So some of the conversations we'd have, they just have me fits and giggles. I think at my darkest moment at the top of a mountain pass, when I was melting into tears and struggling with the altitude, she just cracked open a bag of cheesy poofs and offered me 120 calories worth of cheesy poofs. And then everything was right in the world, stuff like that.
James Blatch: Sometimes that's all you it takes.
Anna McNuff: That's all you need, just a bag of cheesy poofs.
James Blatch: How was it by the way, travelling with somebody else, quite a departure from your previous experiences?
Anna McNuff: It's a massive departure. And I think that's one of the reasons I found the book probably more challenging to write than the other ones, because when you're on your own in the middle of nowhere and you're exhausted and you're sleep deprived and you're tired and you've got to keep going, you can throw an absolute hissy and swear and shout and scream and it doesn't affect anyone else.
She was a very good friend, but you spend six months and 24 hours a day in someone's company. And I want you to imagine doing that with someone in your life. There are of course times when you absolutely just want to ring their neck and they want to do the same to you.
So when I wrote the book, I thought, I don't want to write this book as if it was just all sunshine and roses and rainbows and lollipops. And then we have the best time because we have the most amazing experience, but that doesn't necessarily mean that there weren't really difficult conversations we had to have. And there was a lot of honesty and there weren't arguments. So I was trying to find a way to put those in the book and be honest about the journey warts and all, and make sure that Faye was comfortable with it as well. So that was a nerve wracking moment when she read the draft.
James Blatch: Interesting. Again, I wish I could name this programme, but I did... It's easy when you've got this helicopter view, watching these people, they were related, but travelling together, sometimes, husband, wives, a mother, daughter, mother, son, and so on. But sometimes people were just in a bad mood, they were tired. They just wanted to be grumpy. And the successful relationship was where the other person understood that and allowed them to be grumpy and the unsuccessful relationship where the other person's trying to fix them.
Anna McNuff: That's exactly it. Yeah. I think there's a section of the book where I said... Because I have one of those days where I was just miserable when I'm being really unreasonable. And when you can't start at yourself and you think, oh, I don't like myself as a human being at the moment, but I can't get myself out of it just yet. And I remember just realising that what a wonderful friend Faye was because she held that space for me. She just let me ping around, being miserable, grumpy. When I wanted to return to being a decent human being, she was just there ready to chat.
James Blatch: Yeah. It's definitely a lesson for relationships in there somewhere.
Anna McNuff: Yeah, isn't it?
James Blatch: So Llama Drama released, and again, marketing wise, had you changed your methodology from the early books?
Anna McNuff: A fair bit more planned definitely. So I had a bit more notice in launching the book and I've done things like send the book out to, I guess influences. So people who were going to share the book and talk about it as well, because that's one thing I realised is the only times you can tell your own audience that something is out and please buy it. But actually I needed other people's audiences to help me.
There's quite a nice community. And that sense of, I know a lot of people that go on adventures and write books. So whenever a book comes out, we send the other person that book and sort of amplify our audience in that way. So there was a bit more planning. I started playing around with ads actually in the last few years, because I did your ads course, which is fantastic.
I've been enjoying the recent update. A few years ago actually had a fight with my boyfriend in a car as we were going across Canada because I'd spent the money on the course. And at this point and I hadn't told him, and then I'd just done it because I just felt like I needed to do it. But it didn't make sense at the time, because I only have one book out then. And it was so funny and we talked about that, now he just says, God, it's the best money you've ever spent actually.
James Blatch: You should never have joint accounts.
Anna McNuff: No I see it, exactly. Yeah. So it was a bit more strategic this time. I'd love to be, but that said, I am not one of these people that start planning my launch six months out, life just gets in the way, I just sort of tumbled towards it and I try and make the most of it. And then I think, right, well, for me, like I said, the biggest challenge is to keep writing the books because I write them slowly. So I just think actually the marketing will probably come into more benefit when I've got more products to sell, so.
James Blatch: And what's next?
Anna McNuff: Well, of course I've got so many books in my head that I need to write and I'm working on a couple of them at the moment, adventure books. And then I'm going to a kids book series, which it will be basically fictional versions of my own adventures, but with a female protagonist who is like a female Indiana Jones. She's going to be awesome.
James Blatch: Just on that note, you've had a children's book traditionally published. Is that right?
Anna McNuff: I have, yes. I have children's book traditionally published, which is like a reference book, 100 Adventure ideas. So it's been interesting as well to compare the two processes. That came out at the start of lockdown in the UK, which was a great time to launch the book. So that's still in relatively early stages, so I'm enjoying watching that unfold, but yeah, lots more books and I'm eight months pregnant now. So I am having a small Christmas elf very soon. And that will be a whole new adventure and hopefully she'll content for new books.
James Blatch: In terms of adventures, you mentioned boyfriend, baby, these change a little bit, that where in the world it's not quite the same as being in your 20s and disappearing more for a year.
Anna McNuff: Yeah, absolutely. I think we're very realistic in that. We absolutely will keep adventuring. They're just going to be different adventures. It's going to be all about making sure the kids are happy. We're going to get an adventure waggon probably going to take off around the world for a few years and live out of it. But my boyfriend, Jamie, he does the same thing. He runs across countries dressed as a superhero called Adventure Man because that's what adults do.
James Blatch: Great.
Anna McNuff: Yeah, exactly. So we both said a few years ago let's get these big solo adventures out of our system and then it'll be time to start a family. And again, no idea what direction we're going to go in, but hopefully it's all going to work out and we'll just have new stories to tell.
James Blatch: Yeah. Fantastic. So it's whirlwind talking to you and like a hurricane blowing a gale of adventure, which is amazing. I can sort of feed off your energy a bit. So yeah, we better tell people where they can find you. I think you do have your own domain. Do you not with?
Anna McNuff: I do. Yes I am. If you put into Google or search Anna McNuff I will pop up because I'm the only Anna McNuff in the world like I said. I'm on all the social media platforms that's the best way to find me.
James Blatch: Brilliant, Well, thank you so much, indeed, for joining us. Very, very best of luck with your new adventure. Some might say your biggest adventure yet, which is having your Christmas elf. Is it literally Christmas time to you?
Anna McNuff: December 11th? Yeah, it's my first one. So apparently they're late, apparently they turn of little bit late to the party, but we'll see.
James Blatch: We'll see. Yeah, it'd be locked down, won't it? If it's a little early as well, so yeah. Good luck with that. Let's stay in touch. Let's talk in a couple of years' time and see how you're getting on with your adventure books on your adventures. Anna thank you so much, indeed, for joining us.
Anna McNuff: Brilliant. Thank you with having me on, it's been a pleasure.
James Blatch: There you go, lovely to talk to Anna. I was really intrigued in some of the sort of practicalities of living that type of life. And obviously she's now looking at babies and home and so life changes a little bit for her necessarily, but it won't be long, I think before she's out travelling again. And this felt to me like an unusual choice Mark, because I was expecting it to be another fiction book, not necessarily a very commercial genre fiction book. It could have been a slightly out there literary fiction book, but this was just felt a little bit out of left field for the award.
Mark Dawson: Yeah, it was. I'm not going to say too much about it, I'm going to say anything at all about the actual judging process because I can only speak for my own feelings about it. And it was a good crop of nominees, I think, five books we read. And for me Anna's was the best by... They're all good. I enjoyed them all, but Anna's was the best by good distance for me. I really enjoyed it. Really good writer.
She can really write, she's got a lovely turn of phrase. And the book is funny. It's interesting. It's sad. It really does run the gamut of emotions as you read it. I loved it and Mrs. Dawson read it as well. She really loved it. She may or may not have been badgering me to make sure that Anna was well represented when we starting the judging, but I'd already decided by that stage that it was my favourite too.
So it was lovely to see that book come out on top and then it was a bit funny this year because normally the actual presentation is live. So we had last year's winners, not Anna before was in Sainsbury. And that was fun to actually watch his face and his wife's face as he discovered that he was 25,000 pounds richer and his publishing life was going to change a little bit. That was amazing. And this was very different because it was all virtual with Claudia Winkelman as the presenter in a studio in London. I think Darren Hardy was hovering around in the background. And they had cardboard cutouts of the authors and big standouts of their books.
And they had a split Zoom screen as Claudia announced the winner and Anna's face was a picture. And then her boyfriend, fiance, husband, I think fiance kind of jumped on camera and gave her a big kiss and it was really lovely. I was delighted for her. It was well-deserved, she's a really good writer.
James Blatch: Llama Drama is the name of the book and it's self-published which is not necessarily always the case with Kindle Storyteller, I guess.
Mark Dawson: I think they're all self published.
James Blatch: Could a small indie publisher enter their books.
Mark Dawson: I don't know. I'm not sure about that.
James Blatch: Anyway, but yeah, self published in July this year and it's done really well. I think just organically has really taken off and yeah, lovely. She's a natural enthusiast for life. And I think you probably need a bit of that to survive in your own company in some fairly arduous situations. So that probably goes hand in hand.
Mark Dawson: And have a good friend to go with you because she didn't travel on her own. She was with a friend and was like, there's no way I go to South America with you, James.
James Blatch: I remember reading Ranulph Fiennes' book about travelling to the Arctic. And he said there were reasonable periods of time where he tracked behind his friend, plotting his death.
Mark Dawson: Thinking about eating him probably.
James Blatch: Probably eating him. I think when you travel with somebody, even if you are really good friends, I think Anna said this actually as well. There are moments when you really do fall out. But I think knowing that's probably the key is understanding when to give somebody space and allow them to be angry and grumpy and shout at you for a bit. But there you go. That was part of what we talked about in the interview, which was wide ranging and really enjoyable.
So well done to Anna. Fantastic for you and Kindle Storyteller which we'll no doubt be running again next year. And I can't see the updated rules for 2021, maybe they're not published yet, but last year your book had to be published between the 1st of May, the 31st of August. And you had to put that keyword in Kindle Storyteller 2021. So keep an eye on Kindle Storyteller, Kindle at Amazon. And this is the.co.uk store that we're specifically talking about.
Do they run an equivalent to .com?
Mark Dawson: No, I don't think they do, but I think you don't have to be a UK author to publish. I think anyone can enter, I think, again, just check the small print and you contract.
James Blatch: Yeah. 20,000 pounds first prize, $25,000. Very nice indeed. Well done Anna.
Good, right. That's it. I'm going to let you go off and sleep and recover from a fairly arduous week of your own in the last seven days. We will be back next week on Christmas day, we expect you all to get up an hour early on Christmas day before the children. So if you've got young children, that's at 3:00 AM and make sure that you've listened to the podcast before the day gets going, because we require that of all listeners. Do we know?
Mark Dawson: I suppose we do. Yes. I'm not sure. Well, I can guess you at least tell us that you've done that and will be pleased with that. That's what we can ask for.
James Blatch: Well, do some spot checks just for maybe 10% of the audience to make sure that it has actually happened.
Mark Dawson: Things will be coming down your chimney.
James Blatch: That sounds like a terrible euphemism. Right. Thank you very much indeed. All the remains to say is it as a goodbye from him.
Mark Dawson: And a good bye from me.
James Blatch: Good bye.
Mark Dawson: Good bye.
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