GKM diaries: How our travel journal went from wild idea to worldwide seller (Part 1)
Author: Emma Higgins | January 11th 2017
It’s October 2014 and I’m sitting on the floor of a hotel room in Bangkok. I’m on Skype to my three best blogging buddies and we’re doing our usual monthly catch-up. These are the three women I feel most comfortable sounding out my ideas to. They are my bouncing boards, and I know that anything I say to them is met with encouragement and total trust in my capabilities. It was during this conversation that I say these words for the first time: “I want to put something into print.”
Now I’d said it, I knew it was going to happen. Any of my friends and family will tell you that when I’ve got my heart set on something, there’s no going back. That’s not to say I don’t have worries or freak outs along the way – believe me, I have plenty. I had one this morning about my next project – but regardless of this hesitation I reach that end goal.
It never happens in the way I imagine, of course, and that’s certainly the case when it came to my book. If you told me then, in that room in Bangkok, what A Year in the UK & Ireland would turn out to be, I’d be gobsmacked. And wondering how the hell I manage to pull it off.
The girls loved my idea and urged me to begin. In the days that followed I was at a conference and told more people about my print dreams and they too cheered me on. A few thought I was crazy, putting something onto paper in a digital age, but that was a put-down I had anticipated.
I buy print magazines all the time. I have a stack right next to me now. My laptop is atop five as I write this (admittedly for posture reasons but I’ve read them all, I promise). It was easy to brush aside those first nay-sayers because they weren’t my audience – they weren’t my people. I was well aware of the resurgence of print publications, so I knew there was room for more. Along with the rise of digital detox tourism and hygge fever, now more than ever people are retreating back to tradition and simpler ways of living. I wanted to be part of that movement.
When I got back home a few weeks later, I started to ask myself questions. What do I want this publication to be? How do I go about the design, typesetting, printing, and distribution? And where on earth am I going to get the money from? I knew those last two were impossible to answer at that time, but the first I could at least nail down.
Honing in on A Year in the UK & Ireland
The actual forming of what A Year in the UK & Ireland would be was based around my own feelings about print travel publishing. I knew I wanted to make an antidote to conventional travel magazines, which contain pages of ads, lots of short pieces (Your first 24 hours in Tokyo! How to avoid malaria!), and perhaps two or three long features.
The thing I find about putting quick guides in travel magazines is that it’s all well and good telling me what to do in my first day in Tokyo, but what if I’m not going to Tokyo any time soon? I’ll probably skim over that page, and I’ll also jump right past the adverts before and after it too.
However, if one of the longer features were about something new and interesting happening in Tokyo, I’d probably read it. Because as an avid bookworm, writer, and passionate traveller, I like reading quality stories that transport me to a place and walk me through it. It could be about anywhere – from outer Mongolia to a street in San Francisco – the point is that it’s a long, colourful, sit-down-with-a-cup-of-tea-and-escape-from-the-world story. I crave those stories – lots of us crave those stories, especially now we’re confronted with superficial, click-bait articles on what seems like an hourly basis.
I wanted to make something that would be all long-form features, where every page would be relevant to every reader. Something the audience finds value in from cover to cover.
So that mantra is at the root of my print journal – immersive travel stories. But why did I choose the UK and Ireland? Quite simple; I just happened to be here. I’d just come back from three years of constant travel, and I was tired. I decided it was time to get to know my own country, with the benefit of having seen the rest of the world with a curious eye.
I started close to home (which is why Bath is the first piece in the journal – it’s an hour from where I live) and went from there. I’d never been to Ireland, so there seemed no better time to tick it off my list. I wanted to see more than just the usual London, Dublin, Edinburgh tourist circuit, and I wanted the journal to be a way of bringing the readers along for the ride.
Dealing with doubt
The moment I actually put my ideas about the journal’s core beliefs together with the UK and Ireland as its focus came in around April 2015, because I spent the first few months of the year hesitating and doubting myself. I was telling select people about the idea, but not really taking any steps to move forward with it. I was stalling because I knew that once I started I would have to continue, and money was the biggest concern lurking in the back of my mind.
Something happened around this time that I thought wouldn’t have much bearing on my journey, but the experience has helped me every step of the way. I’m part of a Facebook group of entrepreneurial women run by my friend Phoebe, and around this time she ran a giveaway. A few prizes were handed out, and by a stroke of luck I won a one-hour phone call with a business coach. I’d never had one before and I thought it might be a little too ya-ya for my liking, but I figured it could do no harm.
This coach’s name is Lamisha Serf-Walls, and I’m not sure the book would exist without her. We started chatting over Skype and I explained my idea. As she was a total stranger to me I had nothing to lose, so I told her all about my worries, no holds barred – how I didn’t have enough money, how I didn’t know how to choose the right designer, how I didn’t understand anything about printing, how I wasn’t sure if it would be any good, how I didn’t even know where to start. The first thing Lamisha said was, “Emma, let it be easy.”
Cue my strong exhale of relief. It was clear to Lamisha, and to myself once I had voiced all my concerns out loud, just how badly I was getting in my own way. It took telling someone my doubts and Lamisha giving me permission to make it simple for me to realise that. My anxiety was making it ten times harder than it all needed to be, and Lamisha’s words, those first few and others through the call, brought clarity and a rush of new determination.
I think it’s something we all do. When we think about our goals, we also imagine the barriers in the way – the things that stand between us and success. It’s a knee-jerk reaction and we think we’re just being realistic. Some of these obstacles are real, but others – most, in fact – are only as bad as we make them out to be, almost imaginary. So if we can create these blockades and impose them on ourselves, can’t we change them too? Or erase them altogether?
As I picked out my own barriers between me and this book one-by-one – self-doubt, money, time, fear of failure – I began to re-imagine them as steps, and part of the journey. I filed the practical ones in my ‘learning curve’ folder, things that I knew I could figure out along the way. I put the personal hesitations in my ‘sod off’ folder. Those were the ones I has made up and imposed on myself, so I knew they had to be shunned.
For the practical hurdles, Lamisha had more words of wisdon: “Make a list of everything you need to do, from right now up until the book is on the shelves, and just tick it off point-by-point.” Beforehand, this project seemed too monumental to complete with a basic to-do list, but after she said it I knew Lamisha was right. Simple advice, but at that time I desperately needed to hear it from someone else and Lamisha was that perfect someone. I took two major things from our call – take it day-by-day, and don’t make it harder than it has to be.
A couple of days after that I was chatting to one of best blogging buddies again and she mentioned these words: ‘start before you’re ready’. It was the icing on the cake. The perfect snippet of wisdom I needed to hear before I set out to make this dream a reality. I needed to stop waiting for a time when I felt ready because that time would never come. No one ever feels completely ready to risk everything they have.
So I made that list, and after that it didn’t seem half as scary. Number one: find the stories. Number two: write the stories. Those two I knew I could do with my eyes shut. With my mindset finally in check, I got on a plane to Ireland; poised, energised, and ready for my book to come to life.