Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Michael Boxwell: The whirlwind ride of a new author

Four years ago, if someone told me that I would be a successful published author, I would have looked at them in disbelief. Other than writing a few technical reports, a handful of buyer's guides, and a short novel that was released as a free eBook in the late 1980s, I had never considered writing a 'proper book'.
That all changed in late 2008. One of my friends was writing his own book and his enthusiasm got me thinking about writing a book of my own, writing about subjects I know: namely, the environment and technology.
My background is technology. Over the past twenty years, I have been involved with mobile computer systems, electric vehicles, solar energy and digital camera technology. Along the way, I’ve also been involved with a number of different industries, including the energy sector.
Years of experience running my own businesses taught me that you cannot be successful unless you find a gap in the market. From my knowledge of solar energy, I knew this was a much misunderstood technology and that good introductory books on the subject were few and far between. It made obvious sense to me to tackle this subject and put the records straight.
As anyone who has tried it will tell you, writing a book is hard work. Whether you are writing fact or fiction, it is a very time consuming labour of love. Researching your subject, finding the best way to communicate it in an interesting, informative and fun way is never easy.
My book was published by a small local publisher in June 2009. Early sales did not promise much: I sold 35 copies of my book in my first month and 67 copies in the second. It did not appear that I would be troubling the best-sellers lists.
It was time to change. I hadn’t spent six months of hard toil just for my book to sit on the remaindered shelves. I set about marketing and promoting my book with gusto. I released new press releases, I spoke to magazines and newspapers, I wrote short articles based on the book for magazines and internet blogs, I created a new website and ensured my Amazon listing was as good as it could be. I pestered everyone for reviews for the Amazon, Waterstones, W.H. Smith and Borders web sites.
Slowly but surely, it began to work. I started receiving terrific feedback from reviewers and readers alike. My book started getting noticed, not just in the United Kingdom but elsewhere as well. Sales grew: first to a few hundred a month, then into the thousands. Within a few months, my book was constantly the best-selling book on solar energy listed on Amazon in the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Germany, Japan and France. I was receiving feedback and comments from customers all around the globe.
Six months after writing my solar book, I’d written an updated version, responding to the feedback I received from early readers. I’d also started another book: on the practicalities of owning and using an electric car.
Again, I chose to write a book on a subject I knew a lot about: I’ve owned and used an electric car for the past 5½ years and run one of the largest electric car clubs in the world. Prior to that, I ran a business that sold electric vehicles across the United Kingdom.
By now, I was getting approaches from larger publishing houses, and enquiries about translating and selling my books in Germany, Hungary, Japan and China.
At the same time, I was experiencing problems with my UK publisher. After talking to several publishers, I made the decision to switch to self-publishing: none of the big publishers were offering me anything that I couldn’t achieve myself. I decided that if I were going to put the effort in to promote and publicise the book, I should take the rewards myself.
It was a risk, but ultimately, it was the right decision. With my new book selling well, and my books printed and distributed through Lightning Source (owned by Ingram, the largest book publishers in the world), my income from books meant that I could change from full-time employment to part-time and spend more time on my writing. Since then, I have written four more books, written significant updates to both my solar and electric car books and had articles published by The Guardian.
It’s fair to say that I’ve become hooked on writing. It’s not a full time job, I’d probably fall out of love with it if it were, yet it is one of the most rewarding and fulfilling activities I do.
My books have also created new opportunities that I never thought possible. Car manufacturers fly me out to see their new electric cars before they are released, I get invited to speak at forums around the globe, I am regularly interviewed for radio and television programmes and have been on a pilot television show. This past month I met Prince Charles at a garden party at St. James’s Palace and talked to him about electric cars. It all seems a whirlwind ride.
What next? I don’t know. Writing has become my passion and my life. I would like to work on my own creative writing, and in the long term, have ideas about a humorous history book. In the meantime I’m working on another book to be released next spring and I’m co-editing an anthology to be released this November. The last few years have been a rollercoaster on my journey to becoming a writer. Long may it continue.


madwippitt said...

What a brilliant success story!
I remember my Dad being approached by a publisher to write a book about 'his' subject - he was an electrical engineer - and it was really weird having him ask me for advice, instead of the other way around - and to hear him plaintively say what hard work it was! At the same time it made me more aware of what he did for a living and the standing he had in the UK and Europe. Writing can be educational in ways you hadn't necessarily expected - and in your case seems to be setting your feet on yet another new path.

Becky said...

Fantastic. You did it yourself. It amazes me that this is possible but it heartens me also.

Susan Price said...

Thank you, Mike! As Becky says, truly encouraging - and very informative!

Dennis Hamley said...

Wow! is all I can say. brilliant. You're an example to us all