Alison Jones Q and A Interview
Can you share your back story with us, a bit about your childhood?
The dedication in This Book Means Business reads: ‘To Dad, who taught me how to make the perfect cup of tea.’ It’s more significant than you might think. My father had a tumor in his spine that gradually paralysed him throughout my childhood: he was bedridden for the last few years before he died aged 48, just before my 14th birthday.
Like most north-of-England men he required regular inputs of strong tea, and I made it my job to make them for him. It took a while, but he finally trained me up to make the perfect cuppa – the secret is to use fresh water and pour it when it’s just hit a rolling boil. (You’ll have to read the book to find out how that translates into writing a business book!)
He might have been confined to bed, but his intelligence and curiosity, always looking outwards and engaging, despite what must have been dreadful pain, inspired me then and still does today. And I think of him every time I make a cup of tea.
Were you a determined child or has that developed?
I’m not sure I was determined, exactly: I liked to be praised, so I worked hard. It took until my 40s before I realised I could be determined on my own account, setting my own goals rather than working towards someone else’s. I love seeing young people ‘get’ that so much more quickly than I did. My son is quite clear that he’s going to run his own business one day.
Can you share something about yourself that is not widely known?
One of my goals for this year is to deadlift 100kg – I’m nearly there!
How and when did you know you wanted to become an entrepreneur?
I’d talked about it, in a general way, for years, especially once I’d done my MBA. But honestly I don’t think it would ever have happened if Macmillan hadn’t announced they were going to relocate all Basingstoke staff to London. I had two years’ notice of the move, and over that time I worked hard to turn that vague sense of ‘One day I’d love to start a business…’ into reality.
Tell us about your business…
I’m a publishing partner for businesses and organisations. I don’t just publish books, I help the authors clarify their distinctive intellectual property, build their platform and content strategy, and embed the book into the business so that it supports their products and services effectively. When I started back in 2014 it really was just me: now I have a team that includes an assistant, a development editor, a marketing manager, a publicity manager, a fabulous team of editors and designers who see the books through production, a rights team who sell translation rights on my behalf globally, and distribution partners worldwide.
There are so many charlatans in the world of ‘assisted publishing’, so creating an ethical model was important to me: when my authors pay to publish with me they retain full rights in their work, they can buy their own books at cost plus a 10% handling fee, and they receive 90% of the revenues from sales. Where I publish books under the traditional model, authors receive 25% net receipt royalties, which compares well to the standard industry rate.
To me publishing is one of the most exciting industries in the world: you get to help shape new ideas and bring them into the world, and it’s such a gratifying mix of the creative and the commercial. I want to stay at the forefront of innovation and make the model work better for authors and their businesses.
Alongside the publishing I do other fun stuff, like my 10-day Business Book Proposal Challenge, which takes you from a standing start to a full, professional book proposal in just two weeks, coaching programmes such as my six-month mentorship scheme, which includes a writing coach and a marketing expert as well as my own input, and hosting The Extraordinary Business Book Club podcast.
What did you give up to get to where you are today? What did you have to sacrifice?
Sleep, mainly! I wake up ridiculously early and rather than lying in bed I get up and work, because I find those early hours of the day easily my most productive. But what I wouldn’t give for an occasional lie in…
What’s the hardest thing you’ve had to do?
Ironically enough, write my own book! I’ve written several before but this one was SO hard, because I was writing a book about writing a book to build your business to build my business. If you think about it too much – and I did – it can drive you nuts. The self-consciousness was crippling. There was all the usual stuff too: spending all my time on other people’s books, feeling guilty at taking time away from family, getting distracted by the need to put a wash on. In the end I got it done by doing it in public: interviewing people for the podcast to discuss the ideas, blogging and speaking about my methodology, putting the full table of contents up for comment, and committing to a publication date. You get to a point where so many people are asking about it that you HAVE to finish it. But I had to basically leave my family (temporarily) to get it done: two Airbnb weekends in the middle of nowhere and a few days housesitting with a friend in Devon allowed me to do the deep, focused work of pulling it all together.
What are your goals for 2018 and beyond?
So many goals! Right now I’m focusing on getting an audiobooks partner in place so that I can benefit from the growth in digital audio and get my books to new readers. I’m also implementing a new digital asset distribution system that will allow all my ebooks (and audio books, once they’re done!) to be distributed to every major retail and library partner around the world, which is very exciting. I’m also working with distribution partners in the UK and US to increase bookshop sales. And I’ve got exciting plans for working with authors post-publication: I can tell you, but I’d have to kill you….
Where do you see yourself in 5 years time? Do you have any big Goals?
I’d like to be able to go on holiday without my laptop, but I can’t imagine that will ever happen! (And if it did, I’d probably be miserable.) The plan is for Practical Inspiration Publishing to have developed into one of the preeminent independent publishers in the UK, and for that model of supporting authors to create books that create business success to be embedded as the norm in the industry. Which means I’ll need a new way of differentiating myself, of course…
Can you share 3 #BizTips for Women in Business
1) Make time to keep fit. I run and go to the gym regularly: it keeps my energy levels high and gives me headspace. I always come back from a run with a new idea, or at least a new perspective.
2)Writing isn’t just for communicating with other people, it’s a great private thinking tool. When you’re stuck, grab a scruffy bit of paper, set a timer for 10 minutes, and start writing about the problem. Just keep writing, no matter what comes out, and you’ll find the insights and answers appearing.
3)You do it by doing it. Plan, by all means, but as soon as you possibly can, start implementing. Reach out to someone, put up that landing page, write that email, have that conversation, start that podcast. You can only steer a car when it’s moving, so get moving.
How can people best connect with you online?
I’m on Twitter, @bookstothesky, or LinkedIn, https://www.linkedin.com/in/alison-jones-9b09893/, and my website is www.alisonjones.com. You can find the Extraordinary Business Book Club podcast at www.extraordinarybusinessbooks.com.
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