A Look Behind The Book With Jess Shanahan.

jesstexlassqMotorsport is often seen as a glamorous, competitive, high octane world but what’s it like behind the scenes?

One person in the know is Jess Shanahan who not only works in the industry but has written a new book, Get Paid To Race, to help others hoping to succeed in the sport.

I interviewed Jess for a magazine article recently but couldn’t resist asking her to be my latest Behind The Book participant – especially as I had so many more questions I wanted to put to her.

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Why motorsport? How did you get hooked? What is it you love about that world?

I’ve always loved cars but it was the introduction to Formula One that really got me hooked. I loved the paddock drama and technical details just as much as I loved the racing. Because of this, I decided, as I do, that this was the industry I was going to get involved with.

You were a race team boss. What did that involve? Did you ever want to drive?

It was part hustling to find sponsors and part looking after everyone on race day. I helped the team get press coverage, updated our social channels, changed the odd wheel, took a lot of photographs and looked after special guests. It was a really varied role and every day was different.

Part of me wants to try my hand behind the wheel. I’ve had some on-track instruction, which was so much fun but I worry that I’d just be terrible. I’m horribly competitive so I feel the whole thing would just leave me in tears!

It’s an obvious question but motorsport appears to be a fairly male-dominated industry, has that ever caused you any problems? Have you seen a change over the years you’ve been involved?

I wouldn’t say it’s ever caused me problems but I definitely feel I have to work harder than a man might in my position. I’ve found that when I’m at race tracks in my regular clothing and not teamwear, I’m pretty much ignored. I have to fight to join in conversations about suspension or racing lines. It’s frustrating.

This makes it very hard to get my authority across. I need people to trust that I’m an expert and while I can put my experience across when asked a direct question, I get laughed at if I offer to help a man who is struggling to change a wheel.

Final front coverCan you tell us about your book? What is it about, who is it for and what made you want to write it?

Get Paid to Race is the ultimate guide to motorsport sponsorship and it was written for any racing driver who needs to bring in sponsorship to climb the motorsport ladder. It’s just as relevant to amateur racers just looking for a little cash to fund an expensive hobby, as it is to professional drivers who need five or six figures to get to the next level.

I wanted to write it for the same reason I set up my motorsport coaching business, Racing Mentor, back in 2016. I saw how few drivers were actually taking a business-focused approach to sponsorship. For most, if a driver doesn’t get sponsorship, they can’t keep racing and that’s a real shame.

I wanted to write the book as another avenue to help racers get on track and stay there because I hate seeing driving talent wasted.

You’ve got so many strings to your bow (freelance journalist, presenter, fashion editor and PR to name a few). How on earth did you find time to write it?

I am very efficient with my time. I automate a lot of what I do so it frees me up to write. That being said, I’ve scaled back my automotive PR business over the last year or so to give me time to focus on Racing Mentor and helping drivers. Writing Get Paid to Race just seemed to fit in quite nicely.

I did have a few weeks where I was writing over evenings and weekends but I know this content like the back of my hand. It was just a case of getting it all out of my head and onto paper.

Now that the book is finished, I’m stepping up my presenting work once again because I love reviewing cars and have missed it so much.

What about publishing. Can you talk about why you picked the route you did? Did you learn anything in the process?

I already have an audience in place so it made sense to me to choose the route that would get the book in their hands as quickly as possible. I did also think about the numbers, it didn’t make sense to me to accept a small advance from a publisher then only get a small percentage of sales in royalties when I’d already built the audience that would buy the book.

Instead, I decided to self-publish. This allowed me to pre-sell copies of the book and seek sponsorship for it as proof of concept. I made enough money to more than cover the cost of printing the first run of 400 books.

I worked with Alexa Whitten of The Book Refinery because I wanted a professionally produced book that didn’t look self-published. She is an expert who is definitely to thank for the high-quality look and feel of the finished book!

With your skills, I’m sure you were confident you could market your book. Any tips for authors who perhaps don’t have experience in that field for getting their work out there?

Build an audience first. You probably already know who might be interested in what you’re writing about, so seek them out. Start sharing your wisdom or stories with them so they buy into who you are and what you do.

This is obviously a lot easier if you’re writing non-fiction but it works for fiction writers too. If you can build even a small audience before you finish your book, you’ll have buyers ready and waiting.

I’d also suggest seeking out press coverage for your book both before and after it’s been published.

jessshanquote

What books do you enjoy reading?

I love a book that makes me think. I read a lot of personal development and business books but my escape is fiction. If I’ve had a hard day, I love nothing better than diving into some sci-fi or horror. When people ask me what books I read, I tend just to say, ‘weird ones’.

Any plans to write more books in the future? How about fiction?

I’m actually in the process of negotiating with a traditional publisher about an automotive book. I can’t really say anything more than that at this stage but I feel I’ve opened the floodgates now. I’ve certainly got more ideas for non-fiction books aimed at my motorsport audience.

I did actually write a fiction book when I was 20 but never sought out an agent or publisher. Even though I completed what I thought, at the time, were my last edits, I do kind of want to go back to it for another polish. It’s a post-apocalyptic horror with a very character-driven storyline of love and betryal, with a few monsters thrown in for good effect.

Fiction writing, like reading, is another escape for me and I write every day in that respect. I have seven journals full of handwritten stories. There are at least two novels within those notebooks but I can’t see me getting around to writing any of them up any time soon.

Do you have any top tips for people wanting to write non-fiction?

Firstly, just do it. Take your expertise and just write it up. That’s the biggest hurdle. If you’re really stuck, consider the questions people are always asking you. What’s their pain point? What are they desperate to know? This can help you form a strong outline for your non-fiction book.

Secondly, believe in yourself and your expertise. I had so many doubts about myself during the writing process and I know they’re completely unfounded because I have the results to show myself and the world that I know what I’m talking about. I’d guess that most writers think like this at one point or another.

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Fantastic tips from Jess, I can see why she’s a successful mentor – I feel inspired. A huge thank you to her for taking part in Behind The Book and best wishes for the success of Get Paid To Race, which is out now.

You can find out more about Jess through her website or follow her on Twitter. Details of her book can be found here.

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A Look Behind The Book With Tom Albrighton.

Copywriter (noun): A person who writes the text of advertisements or publicity material.

Oxford English Dictionary.

Tom-Albrighton-mono-500pxWhile this definition is correct, I can’t help but feel it doesn’t do justice to the skill and talent involved in writing that ‘text’, which not only informs but often has to sell too.

One man who knows just what it takes is Tom Albrighton, who has been successfully doing the job for more than 12 years.

He’s also written a book, entitled Copywriting Made Simple, imparting some of his expertise in a bid to help other people wanting to break into this field.

I was delighted to be able to quiz Tom, who is based in Norwich, for my latest Behind The Book post.

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Can you tell us a bit about you and your writing background?

As a child I loved reading and writing stories. I did an English degree at the University of East Anglia and worked at Jarrold Publishing, then at a small agency.

I went freelance about 12 years ago, and since then I’ve written copy for brands of all sizes, in the UK and beyond, and I also do academic editing.

In 2012 I co-founded ProCopywriters, the UK alliance for commercial writers. I stepped down from running it in 2016.

How is copywriting different from journalism?

For me, the biggest contrast is with publishing, since that’s my background. But both books and newspapers are about giving readers something interesting, valuable or fun that they’ll seek out and (hopefully) buy. In contrast, copywriting is about grabbing their attention and cultivating their interest or desire, so they’ll seek out and buy something else. So as I say in the book, it’s writing with purpose.

What made you want to write your book? Who is it aimed at? Aren’t you helping the competition, in a way?

I wanted to write a simple, accessible guide to copywriting that anyone could find useful, even if they didn’t write for a living. I felt that many of the books out there mainly focused on one type of copywriting (whether they admitted it or not), and I wanted mine to be as universal as possible.

I suppose I am helping the competition, but when it comes to writing work, I try to have an ‘abundance mindset’. There are plenty of copywriting clients and jobs out there, and we can all find our niche.

tom quoteReading my book won’t turn you into me, but I hope it will help you find yourself as a copywriter.

Did you have any worries about writing a book about writing?

Well, the biggest worry is making your advice consistent with itself. I’d be mortified if someone said, ‘On page 123 you say this, but then on page 234 you write this!!’ That’s why I spent ages editing the book – far longer than the initial writing.

I think, from the outside, many people think writing is easy (in my experience, especially journalism) and anyone can do it. What’s your take?

I think this is because nearly everybody writes as part of their work, using the same tools as the professional. So there’s no barrier to entry, no cloud of mystique around the act of writing.

Also, when you see something well written, whether it’s an ad or an article, it’s so easy to think, ‘Oh yeah, I could have done that,’ particularly when the finished text is short and simple. Then you try it yourself, and you realise that long and complex is a piece of cake, while short and simple is fiendishly hard.

CopywritingmadesimpleThe strapline for your book is “write powerful and persuasive copy that sells”. From a copywriting point of view, can you afford to take a stand against products/brands you might not agree with? Has that ever come up?

I wrote about a consumer credit product recently that gave me pause, although I still did the job. I’ve always thought that I I’d hate selling sugary food to kids – but nobody’s asked me yet. And I wouldn’t fancy writing about guns.

I’d applaud anyone who took a stand, but if you’re in a salaried post or supporting a family, that could be a tough call to make. You could argue, self-protectively, that it’s the companies and brands who are the real villains, and marketers are just messengers. Certainly, we can’t sell to people against their will. But at the same time, we are out to influence them. So we’re probably not without sin.

How did the idea for writing it come about? Did you pitch it to publishers before writing it? Or was it all done and dusted first?  

When I stepped down from running ProCopywriters a few years ago, I fancied a new challenge. Since I’m a generalist rather than a specialist, a basic introduction was a natural fit. Originally it was going to be a little ebook, but it kind of grew.

It’s self-published (by Troubador), so there wasn’t any pitching. With quite a few copywriting books out there already, and no plans to write further books, I didn’t fancy trying to convince an agent to take me on. I also wanted full control over the editorial, design and production, since the book is my professional calling card and I know something about creating a book from my previous life.

What about the process of writing it? Did you take time off from your day job to write it?

Nope, I just did it in spare moments, mostly while Strictly or Britain’s Got Talent was on in the lounge. I’ve always spent some time blogging, as a non-work writing outlet, so I just repurposed those bits of time. Start to finish, the writing took me about two years.

Ever thought about writing fiction?  

I thought this was a fiction assignment?

Do you have any top tips you can share for copywriters?

Be curious. Read widely. Take an interest in what’s going on, what people say, what they do. Think about how products or services work, and why people like them. That’s how you find the little things that bring copy to life.

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Thank you to Tom for his fantastic answers. You can follow him on Twitter here and find out more about his book, Copywriting Made Simple, (including details of how to buy) here.

I was particularly interested to hear what he said about taking a stand on certain brands/products from a personal point of view, not only as a journalist but also in terms of blogging. Sometimes, especially in the latter, it can seem like you need to sell your soul to make money. From a copywriting point of view, writing about meat products as a veggie is probably the closest I’ve come to that.

What about my fellow bloggers out there. How do you decide what you will and won’t write about, especially if you are reliant on blogging for income? 

Also, a big thanks to Anne for introducing Tom and I.

Book Review: Bloody Brilliant Women.

BloodybrillwomenMark recently bought Freya the children’s book, Fantastically Great Women Who Made History, written by Kate Pankhurst.

After reading it with her I remember thinking two things ‘yay for Mark’ and ‘I wish there was something like this for adults’.

BEHOLD, Bloody Brilliant Women.

Journalist and presenter Cathy Newman has plugged a gap in the market and I, for one, am incredibly grateful.

I can’t remember learning about any women in my humanities lessons, although I’m sure there were some – it was 30ish years ago and my memory isn’t what it was.

This book goes further, though, not just highlighting already well known women in Britain but “…the pioneers, revolutionaries and geniuses your history teacher forgot to mention”.

It’s a lively book that isn’t just readable but relatable. It’s also funny in places and definitely makes you think. Suggesting the Bayeux Tapestry could be a precursor to the Daily Mail’s ‘side bar of shame’ is just one example.

It reminds me of a book version of the fantastic programmes by Lucy Worsley or Kate Williams which are as engrossing as they are engaging. In fact, I hope it can somehow be made into a tele series. We need it.

Here’s the blurb:

A fresh, opinionated history of all the brilliant women you should have learned about in school but didn’t.

In this freewheeling history of modern Britain, Cathy Newman writes about the pioneering women who defied the odds to make careers for themselves and alter the course of modern history; women who achieved what they achieved while dismantling hostile, entrenched views about their place in society.

Their role in transforming Britain is fundamental, far greater than has generally been acknowledged, and not just in the arts or education but in fields like medicine, politics, law, engineering and the military.

While a few of the women in this book are now household names, many have faded into oblivion, their personal and collective achievements mere footnotes in history. We know of Emmeline Pankhurst, Vera Brittain, Marie Stopes and Beatrice Webb. But who remembers engineer and motorbike racer Beatrice Shilling, whose ingenious device for the Spitfires’ Rolls-Royce Merlin fixed an often-fatal flaw, allowing the RAF’s planes to beat the German in the Battle of Britain? Or Dorothy Lawrence, the journalist who achieved her ambition to become a WW1 correspondent by pretending to be a man? And developmental biologist Anne McLaren, whose work in genetics paved the way for in vitro fertilisation?

Were it not for women, significant features of modern Britain like council housing, municipal swimming pools and humane laws relating to property ownership, child custody and divorce wouldn’t exist in quite the same way. Women’s drive and talent for utopian thinking created new social and legislative agendas. The women in these pages blazed a trail from the 1918 Representation of the People Act – which allowed some women to vote – through to Margaret Thatcher’s ousting from Downing Street.

Blending meticulous research with information gleaned from memoirs, diaries, letters, novels and other secondary sources, Bloody Brilliant Women uses the stories of some extraordinary lives to tell the tale of 20th and 21st century Britain. It is a history for women and men. A history for our times.

Maybe, because I had been reading Freya’s book, I assumed it would take a similar format; an extended look at one woman at a time. That’s not the case. The eight chapters are on broad themes such as education, women between the wars and a final one bringing things up to the present.

Once I had worked out that I wasn’t just reading a really long introduction, it was fine, possibly even better because it features many, many more bloody brilliant women – although it did require a higher level of concentration than the hour before bed afforded.

As I was reading this book, I felt the might of their power behind me and, as a result, I felt empowered. I definitely think this should be required reading for high school students, of both sexes.

I will be getting a paper copy for Freya’s book shelf because, even if history lessons have improved since my day, I think it will be essential reading when she’s older.

Format: Kindle.

Price: £9.99.

My rating: Four and a half stars.

With thanks to Harper Collins UK/William Collins for the ARC (via NetGalley) in return for an honest review.