Tim Lewis: In this episode, I talk again to May King Tsang about her book writing journey and it’s mainly a story of not much progress. So now let’s get over to the interview.
Tim Lewis: Hello, May King. Welcome to the show.
May King: Hello, Tim. How are you?
Tim Lewis: I’m not too bad.
May King: Great.
Tim Lewis: I understand you’ve been ill for a little bit but you’re on the mend.
May King: I am, yes. Plenty of raiding of mom’s cupboard and then yes, I actually, because I’ve got a big gig coming up, I have the biggest gig of my career to date, I thought I would go to the pharmacy as well and get a few cough medicines and lozenges and that kind of stuff as well to [inaudible 00:01:10]. Yeah.
Tim Lewis: Okay. So you know the question I’m going to ask you. How are you getting on with your book writing project?
May King: My book writing project? Why? Am I writing a book?
Tim Lewis: Yes, you are!
May King: Well, I don’t know if you or your listeners remember, I said my book, the title of the book is From Making Mistakes to Making it Happen and, I have to admit, Tim, this week I’ve been prone to making mistakes and haven’t really progressed that much in my book, I’m afraid.
Tim Lewis: So progress wise, it’s … Have you made any progress since the last time I interviewed you?
May King: I have, yes. So I think at the last chat that we had, I think I’d completed two chapters and there’s 15, so I’ve got 13 to go. And I’ve completed another one chapter, another chapter. So I really wanted to drive it forward and get three done this time but that hasn’t happened because, as you mentioned, I’ve been ill. And I’ve also had a lot of client work come my way which has obviously taken priority and so with a combination of the client work, which I love, of course, and being ill, and also making a concerted effort to rest so that I can better quicker, it’s been a real slowdown, I’m afraid.
May King: But that said, I think about my book every day so even though I may not necessarily write stuff, I do think about what I’m going to feature in some of the chapters of the ones that I’ve been concentrating on and also I think about the layout which I mentioned in the last episode, that I’ve probably spent a little time which Tim, you mentioned, was a form of procrastination, about the design of it but I’ve been thinking about the format of it so I don’t think I went into too much detail last time but because this is a part biographical book and also with the intention of teaching people about running a business, I need to think about the chronological order of how I actually write the book and so that has been at the forefront of my mind, of chronological order but also actually the format and structure.
May King: Cause, ultimately, I would like people to see the mistakes that I’ve made but also the successes that I’ve made, where I’ve made it happen, so that people can learn from the mistakes that I’ve made and hopefully they won’t make them and guide them away from the mistakes that I’ve made. Hopefully, that they are able to make it happen straight away.
Tim Lewis: Okay. I mean, there is nothing wrong with basically changing the structure of your book as you go along, as long as you’re mindful that it’s gonna delay things and / or change potentially what your plan and things is for the book but on the other hand, sometimes you can think of something and you think this is really gonna make a big change and make the book so much better, as you’re in the process of writing the book. So I wouldn’t say, oh no, don’t make any changes and you have to keep everything to the same level at what it was but also don’t use it as an excuse to basically stop you from writing anything.
Tim Lewis: It’s hard to tell because you’ve been unwell, what rate of progress you would be having if you were well. It’s probably too slow anyway, at the moment. Though, of course, the thing about too slow is, if you get the project completed, then is it ever too slow? If you get it done by December or something like that, yeah, that’s gonna be late but on the other hand, if it’s complete, right, really, who cares, in a way?
May King: Well, that’s exactly right and in fact, I can’t remember who it was but I was listening to somebody, so memorable I can’t remember the name, but it was someone that I hold in high regard, and it took them two years to write their book and I thought, wow, that’s amazing. So although I have been beating myself up a little bit because I’ve been ill and because of the work that’s been happening, at the same time I’ve kept reminding myself but do you know what, May King, you’ve progressed further along in this book than any other writing attempts that you’ve had in the last seven years.
May King: And I think in the first episode we talked about how I have about seven, ten different titles, or seven different Google [inaudible 00:06:33] where I had a brainwave and so I wanted to write about it and then they’ve just ended remaining as one pages with nothing that has progressed because I haven’t prioritised my time on it. Now that, From Making Mistakes to Making it Happen, now that this book is, you know, we do have a deadline or I have a deadline, I’m accountable to you, which is great, I’ve got four chapters written which is way more than I’ve ever written. So I’m not gonna beat myself up. And there’s a reason why I’m ill. It’s probably because I’ve worked too hard and that kind of stuff and these things just happen. So at the start of my realisation that I’d slowed down, I was kind of beating myself up but recently I’ve been reflecting, thinking, no, actually it’s okay. Life does get in the way sometimes and those things happen. But, yeah, I have progressed even further than I ever have so I’m grateful for that.
Tim Lewis: Yeah. I mean there are a few things that I would say in terms of basically, book writing and book planning and just getting books done. One thing is that the problem with taking two years to write a book, in terms of the actual book writing process … I’m not saying two years in terms of researching a book and then writing it or two years where you’ve spent three months writing a book and then you’ve got 18 months of editing or something. That’s not quite the same. But actually, physically writing, two years writing a draught of a book, is that you will get this kind of disjointed feeling. It’s gonna need a lot more editing and things to cover up the fact that you will start writing something and by the time you get on to the next bit, you will have forgotten what you already wrote and you might write something that totally contradicts it or you repeat things and … Again, it depends a lot on the book and certainly from a fiction point of view, which is where I started, writing fiction books, you can forget exactly what the hell you’ve just done and it makes it really hard to pick something up again.
Tim Lewis: Now having a plan helps a lot in that regard because you’ve at least got some bullet points or some description of what the chapter’s supposed to be about. So if you can complete a chapter, say, each time you have a little writing spurt, so to speak, then that’s good because there’s going to be less crossover between the chapters.
May King: Yeah. And that was what I found really useful, Tim. Sorry to interrupt there. The fact that you talked about writing a tiny paragraph at the top of each chapter to remind yourself what it is you were gonna write and I found that incredibly useful. And as you say, if you do have time away from your book and you go back into it it’s almost like you need to start again in order to continue. But because I do know exactly what I’m gonna write at each chapter, it means that when I do prioritise and I do make the time, I can go in, launch straight in and then write a chapter which is what I’ve done with all three of the chapters actually.
May King: One other piece of advice that always is knocking around in my head, Tim, is that you said that if it was at all possible for anybody who’s thinking of writing a book is to set a time away, like two weeks away ideally, just to concentrate solely on writing the book, then the magic happens. And so I really wanted to … So those words resonated in my head for a while and I thought, right, okay, I’ve got to find two weeks, I’ve got to find two weeks and I just couldn’t find them. But what I have done is, I’ve deliberately tagged on a few days after Social Media Marketing World and so I will be, for five days, I think it is, I will be locking myself away in a hotel in sunny San Diego, and just finishing off some of those chapters. And plus, you know, I’ve got a lovely flight from Manchester to London, London to San Diego, so I’ll be able to do some work there as well and also on the flight back as well. So although I definitely haven’t got a full two weeks available, I do have about five days, maybe six days if you include the travel to … No, five and a half days
May King: But I had aimed to set one day aside each weekend or one day in the week, cause weekends don’t really exist to business owners. At least one day a week where I was going to set aside time and I haven’t quite managed that yet but it is something that I really want to do because I really do want to finish this book this year.
Tim Lewis: Yeah. I mean, another point that I would say, which is a positive thing, is that when you get into the habit of writing chapters, one after another, you will get quicker at doing it. So, when you get your flow going and you’re writing on the plane or whatever, the next chapter you write after that, in the hotel room or wherever beforehand, will be quicker than the one before.
May King: Okay.
Tim Lewis: So, I mean a lot depends on the … The chapters don’t need to be evenly sized. There will be some where you just write shorter and some where you have longer. You probably have some idea in your head about the relative sizes of the later chapters in your book. So it may be the case that you’re actually closer to finishing it than you think, as long as you can put the time in.
May King: Woo!
Tim Lewis: To actually get there. So it might be 2025, rather than 2022, when you actually finish.
May King: Cheeky!
Tim Lewis: Yeah. So, yeah. This is the thing. You get into habit. You get into this rhythm of writing. I mean, I’ve noticed that. Well, three of my books I did in Nano Rhino which is this US based, we have it in the UK as well, where people try and write a book in a month.
May King: Wow.
Tim Lewis: So, in November, there’s a whole community of novel writers and I’ve done it and won it three times.
May King: Wow.
Tim Lewis: Where you write 50,000 words in November and it’s the accountability thing, really, because you share your word count publicly. So it can certainly be done. You can certainly … But each of those I did, I had already had a plan written ready with the description, what I was gonna do in each chapter.
Tim Lewis: So I think having a plan helps because otherwise you get to your chapter and you’re like, well, what on earth is this chapter about? That’s where the whole thinking and you’re thinking about the book and stuff comes in. So you can certainly write quickly once you’ve got a plan, as long as your plan describes what’s gonna be in that chapter of the book. So I think you may be able to catch up quite a bit quicker than maybe you think.
May King: Great.
Tim Lewis: So maybe the 7th of June or whenever we said you’d get the book would done, is still possible. I mean, you don’t know.
May King: Okay. Yeah.
Tim Lewis: I wouldn’t think you’re gonna be late. If you’re late, you’re late. As long as you can keep going because the reason I try and encourage people to do a plan and write as fast as possible is it’s so easy to just put it down and never come back to it and then when you come back to it, especially if you’re in the middle of a chapter or something like that, you’re like, well, I can’t be bothered to re-read what I wrote and you end up procrastinating and you never pick the book project up again. So that’s why there is really no time limit to writing a book but you need to keep the progress going because if you stop then there’s a big chance you’ll never come back to it and it’ll be just another thing in the drawer. I’ve probably still got them somewhere, really like five or six half finished, not even a quarter finished, novels.
May King: Right.
Tim Lewis: That’s cause I didn’t have a plan for them. I wrote brilliant stuff and then I was like, well, what happens now? I’ve no idea.
May King: Have you tried mashing two books together to see what happens?
Tim Lewis: Yeah. Well there’s all sorts of stuff I could do. There’s a screenplay I actually finished which I then started re-writing and it’s half re-written but I don’t wanna go into a thing of pitching screenplays. This is when I switched over from … Cause I didn’t really know too much about self-publishing.
May King: Right.
Tim Lewis: But as soon as I realised you can self-publish fiction and you don’t need to go through a middleman, I switched over from writing screenplays which actually I think I’m better at writing screenplays cause I’m a very visual person, in terms of how I write, in terms of fiction, anyway.
May King: Right.
Tim Lewis: Switched over to writing novels and it’s quite a different way of thinking. Anyway. I don’t know where I was going with that.
May King: No. Since the last time we spoke, I think I fired a gazillion questions at you cause I was thinking ahead, jumping ahead and so on and of course, I’m nowhere near that yet so I probably need to rewind it back. Now, I think I may have asked this question last chat because we asked so many questions, I’m gonna ask again. When I think that it’s the time to start thinking about choosing someone to look at my, to proofread it, I suppose, that will be the first … At one point do I look at hiring somebody? Is it when I’m three quarters of the book forward or when I’ve finished it or halfway through or … ? What are your recommendations?
Tim Lewis: Well, knowing editors, I know a lot of them, I’ve generally not really used many of them cause I’ve tended to get my mom to edit by books, but the advice I’ve always been given is, the more lead time you can have the better because the very best editors and people are booked up months ahead. So if you leave it right to the last minute, then you’re gonna have the problem of who’s available. Now that’s not so bad for proofreading but when we’re talking about more the editing process, which is more about having somebody look at the structure of your book and basically, how you phrase things and seeing if there’s any common, for example, if I say ‘like’ at the front of every sentence in the whole chapter or something along those lines, while that’s not grammatically wrong, it’s annoying to the reader. That’s the sort of thing that a good editor will pick up on.
May King: Okay.
Tim Lewis: And similarly, if you can find an editor who has edited your kind of non-fiction book before, so I don’t really know what you will classify but autobiographical, self-help, or something like that, then that is going to help because they’ll know the kind of things that you should … They’ll say, maybe you shouldn’t include a case study here or something along those lines.
May King: Yeah, okay.
Tim Lewis: Now, on the other hand, if you book in an editor, say for May or something, then that is another accountability thing because-
May King: That’s true.
Tim Lewis: You’ll have to move it but you may get into problems if you then slip and they may say, well, we’re not available till September or something along those lines.
May King: Yeah, okay.
Tim Lewis: So that’s the flip side of it. But there’s nothing to stop you looking for editors now. I know there’ll be a couple at ATOMICON, you can talk to. One of them is fiction but one of them does non-fiction books and they may have recommendations of people they know and then you can just start seeing how much people cost, what they can do. I mean, editing is labour intensive and expensive and it isn’t just proofreading. Proofreading is one level. The majority of books by people that we know are largely, a lot of them are just proofread but editing can make a big difference to a book, especially your first book that you write because the more books you write, the more you know about the structure of how books should be determined because you’ve found out in your previous books, from user comments and the like. So it may be the case that once you start getting a bit better and you think, I’m making progress here, that’s when you start looking for editors and start approaching people and saying when are you available.
May King: Okay.
Tim Lewis: And we can have that as an accountability thing.
May King: Yeah, okay. That’s a really good idea. So there’s a couple of editors coming to the event soon, which is ATOMICON you mentioned, although by the time this has gone out, ATOMICON will have already finished, I suppose.
Tim Lewis: Yes, but I’m talking to you now, at this time, which is before this is aired and it’s you I’m talking to. So, yeah. Anybody else, they’re not going to be able to go to ATOMICON and … But you will be because we’re still in the present day in this interview.
May King: Right, okay.
Tim Lewis: This old time shift thing’s a bit meta, isn’t it really?
May King: It’s good to know. It’s good to know that there’s going to be a few editors to talk to at ATOMICON and yeah, that’ll be great. So I think that’s a great idea, to really … I mean, I’ve already been accountable to you although I didn’t quite manage what I wanted to achieve by this talk but being accountable to two people would be amazing actually. So I think that might be a good approach to go and I’ll have a chat with these editors and that’s a great idea. Yeah. Okay.
Tim Lewis: Yeah. So-
May King: Sorry.
Tim Lewis: I was just going to say, have you got anything else you want to ask?
May King: Yeah. So, as I say, in the last chapter I sort of went really, really ahead of myself and I guess the next question is really, what would be my two steps going forward, so that I’m aware about where I am in the planning stage, I suppose. So you mentioned that, I guess, my next step would be to consider looking at an editor. There’s different types of editors which we talked about at the last talk, the last chapter. What would be the next step after that then?
Tim Lewis: Well, you’ve got the cover of the book but that doesn’t necessarily need to take that long to get designed.
May King: Right.
Tim Lewis: That’s usually less time that the editing process but again, that’s something you might want to consider. You can do that at any time. The advantage to getting a cover done early is that you can then start using it in promotions and things like that and it makes everybody think that the book’s finished, even before it is.
May King: Yes.
Tim Lewis: The other option and I’ve said it to a few people, is that there are pre-designed covers where basically, there’s a website called, there’s a designer called damonza.com who are quite expensive, cost like $500 to get a custom design done.
May King: Oh my.
Tim Lewis: But they do pre-designed covers and it’s largely for fiction writers but my social media networking book, that’s a pre-designed Damonza cover and that was like $200.
May King: Oh, wow. Right. Okay. It’s a very good cover too.
Tim Lewis: Yeah. They basically have a whole site full of basically, covers with this book title here, kind of thing and then you buy it and you specify what your book title is and then you’ve got that e-book cover.
May King: Right.
Tim Lewis: And there are cheaper companies than Damonza that do pre-design book covers. So-
May King: Okay. Well, one of your guests, one of your other guests on your podcast, Ben Roberts, I saw a sneaky peak of his design, the front cover of his book, and I thought it was amazing. Do you have any idea where he had that done?
Tim Lewis: Well, you could listen to the podcast episode where he described it. He went for a local designer in Wales. He’s very much a homegrown, somebody who’s like a design student. That’s another option. You could ask Ben to contact the woman, I think it was a woman, or the guy, who did his book cover and ask them to do yours. I don’t think they were particularly expensive because this is their first design brief really. So there’s designers available for all sorts of costs and price ranges. There is a special skill to book cover design which is slightly different but on the other hand, it’s kind of like, well, if you’re saving money and you get a cover you like, then go for it. I mean-
May King: Could you expand on that a little bit? When you said that the design cover is quite an important aspect so … I’m sorry. You mentioned that it’s a skill to be able to execute that so can you go into that in a bit more detail?
Tim Lewis: Well, yes. I mean, in my experience, it helps if the person creating, and this maybe an argument for not buying a pre-designed book cover, but somebody who knows Amazon and the kind of book covers that work for a particular genre or particular type of book and also because a lot of it is to how your book looks as a miniature because on the Amazon site you’ll have, for the e-books, you’ll have tiny little miniature versions of the covers.
May King: Right.
Tim Lewis: So you’re seeing the charts and things and that’s where Damonza covers and things like that are very good because they’re very striking even shrunk down. And things like legibility of the fonts, so that you can see them from a distance. If you’ve got some fancy May King Tsang in weird cursive font, that make look lovely on a full size book but it would be totally unreadable on a small, shrunk down thing on a monitor, when you’re looking at Amazon and people think, what the hell is that book about? So there is a skill to it in terms of how the fonts are laid out and things like that.
May King: Okay.
Tim Lewis: I mean, how much does it matter? Not necessarily too much. There’s kind of hybrid approaches and things like that where you get the front cover done and then you do the rest of it yourself or you take one book cover and you just … One of my first time travel books, I bought the first cover, for the first book and then I just used Photoshop to change the colours on it for the later one, and the fonts.
May King: You naughty boy!
Tim Lewis: Well, yeah. Saved me a lot of cash, actually. So there are options for doing it.
May King: Sue him! Get him sued!
Tim Lewis: Yeah. And certainly, if you’re gonna have a range of books, then again, you can ask the designer, depending on if it’s a custom designer or not, but even if it’s a pre-book cover, you can say, can I have a version of the book cover without that book title on it so I can get somebody else … You just pay somebody on Fiverr to add in the same text for your next book and do a bit of work so that if you’ve got a series of books, you can kind of just pre-use the same cover you bought for all of them. So your Making Mistakes, Making it Happen book, and Making Even More Mistakes and Making it Happen book or whatever, you just do that as a process.
May King: Yeah. Okay.
Tim Lewis: Book covers are something to consider but it can be done pretty quickly actually, so.
May King: Yeah. Okay. Well, I actually have in mind the kind of book cover I want, maybe. I invested in myself and my business to have a brand bible, as it were, written up so this brand document outlines exactly what Making team logo looks like and so it’s got some vibrant colours in it, really interesting shapes. So I kind of wanted to use that as part of the cover because they’re so vibrant and you know this lovely lady already, Claire Jenks, who is amazing when it comes to design and it’s really funny, again, making mistakes, I did my speaking gig last year in Cambridge which you were also speaking at, Tim, and I thought, you know, my PowerPoint’s slides are pretty good and I asked for feedback on my talk, which I always do and I love receiving feedback. I’m not so interested in the positive stuff but I’m more interested in the constructive stuff. I wanna improve. I wanna see where I went wrong, as it were, and see where I can improve. And one person came to me and said, well, your PowerPoint’s slides, they were okay but they weren’t brilliant. And I said thank you very much for your feedback, went home and cried for a week.
May King: But I approached Claire, actually, we just got chatting, and she does their brand design, and I mentioned, oh, can you do PowerPoint slides too? and she said yeah, which was fantastic and when she did it, oh my gosh, I just could not believe the huge difference that it made on my branding. I mean, with my initial PowerPoint slides which I delivered in Cambridge Social Day, it was a Google Slides template but it was using corporate colours which I thought was pretty swanky, being clever. Then after Claire had rebranded it so that I could use it to deliver work in Birmingham this year, the change was just phenomenal, absolutely phenomenal. So I kind of wanted to possibly use Claire, if she is available, for her to look at her for book cover design or maybe someone that she can highly recommend because I think she is amazing [i
Tim Lewis: Yeah. Well, certainly ask her then. She may either not do book covers or she may not have done many before or something along those lines so it’s kind of … Yeah. If you’ve got somebody who’s already done all your … knows you and knows your design ethos then that’s an ideal choice for a book cover designer.
May King: Yeah, okay.
Tim Lewis: Yeah.
May King: Great. Great. So I’ve half completed one of the two tasks then. Are your ears burning Claire?
Tim Lewis: Yeah. So I think that’s probably enough for you to be … There’s things like marketing the book and formatting but they’re much further down the line.
May King: Yeah.
Tim Lewis: And you’re nowhere near that really, at the moment.
May King: No.
Tim Lewis: So those are the kind of biggest things to worry about. So I think we’re probably done, he says looking at the clock on the timer.
May King: Fantastic.
Tim Lewis: Probably start talking about what success means again or going on to some tangent, so …
May King: Thank you so much for your time, Tim. Yeah. I think that, as I say, the last chapter, I just fired so many questions at you. I think in reality, when you think about what needs to happen, that I can also wear you into procrastination as well because you go into a space of overwhelm don’t you? So I think with this chapter I did generally learn the next steps going forward so that I know where I’m going and I don’t go into a place of overwhelm. So thank you for that.
Tim Lewis: Okay. Well, it was great to have you on the show and I’ll see you … Well, I’ll talk to you probably … Well, I’ll see you in person in a few days time at ATOMICON Conference but on the show, you’ll probably be back some time in April, I guess. So …
May King: Lovely.
Tim Lewis: So I shall talk to you then.
May King: All right.
Tim Lewis: Yeah.
May King: Great. We’ll see you in April.
Tim Lewis: Bye.
May King: Bye now.