Motorsport 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.
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.
Can 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.
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.
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.