What every expert needs, a book midwife

Mindy Gibbins-Klein talks to Margareta Pagano about the middle route between vanity and traditional publishing

Mindy Gibbins-Klein took 10 years to publish her first book,
A Dance in the Desert, a novel about a friend who, after suffering from epilepsy all his life, committed suicide. Writing about the experience was painful enough, but her book was turned down by agent after agent.

Most people would have given up and returned to the day job. Not Gibbins-Klein. She swallowed any remaining pride and found a publishing co-operative, a synthesis of traditional and vanity publishing, to finally print the book in September 2001 – only to preside over her own book launch without any books- all held in the depot because of the US terrorist attacks.

This telecoms marketing expert found the whole experience so frustrating that she went on to start a book-coaching business, The Book Midwife, and her own publishing co-operative, Ecademy Press.

"Enough is enough," she laughs. "After the 100th rejection I just thought the process of publishing needed a shake-up. The experience made me determined to see if I could use my marketing skills to change the way books are written, and published."

And she has. Since then, Gibbins-Klein has helped to write and publish 300 books with first-time authors ranging from neuro-linguists to gardeners. She's also written another three herself: Bookwise, published by Amazon; Your Book in 100 Days; and, her latest, 24 Carat BOLD. Right now she's helping Claire Young, the runner-up in the 2008 series of The Apprentice, to write a book aimed at encouraging more school-leavers to enter the business world.

Some of her authors go on to find homes with bigger publishers. Jeremy Lazarus, whose sports coaching book, Ahead of the Game, is used by coaches and athletes around the world, has just signed a deal with Amazon, and another of her babies has gone on to publish with Pearson.

For any expert or top business person, a book is part of their brand armoury, she says; it's as important as a website, a TV slot, a speech or a calling card. Her most successful author to date is Steve Glowinkowski, a world-wide guru on management and behavioural issues in the workplace. On the back of his book – It's Behaviour, Stupid! – he signed a £1.5m business deal. As Gibbins-Klein says: "Not bad at all. Every specialist should have a book – it's essential for overall branding and building a platform in a multi-media world. Once you've planned the book, it's an easy project. I tell my clients, 'Every good book answers a reader's big question. If you have that answer, you can write a successful book.'"

It doesn't come as a surprise that this lively 45-year-old American, who worked for Nortel telecoms, has also transformed herself into a well-known thought leadership mentor and speaker, advising people around the world on how best to market themselves. Now Gibbins-Klein wants to spread the word; she's looking for fledgling midwives to send out on the road. This year she wants to train 10 people to be Book Midwives, so creating a franchise. For £2,000, her Midwives receive her basic training, the literature, the methodology and the back-up for them to set up on their own.

Publishing books in this volatile economic climate, with the industry under attack from the supermarkets and online, is not as crazy as it seems, she says. According to The Bookseller, the publishing bible, co-operative and small self-publishers are becoming all the rage, and are starting to be used by big-name writers. In the US, award-winning author John Edgar Wideman will be releasing his new short stories via Lulu, a self-publishing firm that releases work either as an e-book or printed on demand. Wideman's will be one of the first works from an established author to bypass the mainstream industry entirely, while J A Konrath, another US author, has turned to the internet and self-published his Kindle e-book after being turned down by the mainstream. He has sold nearly 30,000 copies, and hopes to earn $43,800 this year from the e-book alone.

Gibbins-Klein predicts an even bigger revolution in book publishing. "At the moment, the industry works on fat advances and heavy advertising but costs are coming under pressure. Most would-be writers have to be big names before they get an advance so it's a Catch 22 situation; only the well-known – and, increasingly, celebrities – can get on the wheel." There are many other writers who need only to publish small print runs, but who are frozen out. But this is changing fast – there are now around 43,000 small publishing firms offering this more accessible approach.

Over the past five years, the UK book market has grown by around 32 per cent to £3.4bn last year, according to market researchers MBD, and is set to grow to £3.7bn over the next four years. Like the world's other big readers, the US, China and Russia, Britain produces more than 120,000 new and revised titles a year.

And a book can succeed without being a best-seller, says Gibbins-Klein. "Did you know there are only 10 books world-wide that sell more than a million copies? That 22 books sold about half a million, and 64 sold between a quarter and half a million? And how many sell between 50,000 and 100,000? Only 767. But the big number to remember is that in 2004 a million books sold fewer than 100 copies each."

As just about everyone wants to write a book, her supply side is endless. "Everyone says their dream is to write a book. Most people don't, because they lack the confidence, don't know how or think they haven't got time. If you estimate that about 12 million people in the UK say they want to write a book and only 150,000 do each year, then something is going wrong."

What Gibbins-Klein makes her writers do is think about how they want to use their books – as a calling card? A door-opener? Instead of writers biting their nails as they wait first for agents to come back to them, then for publishers to come back to their agents – as the industry has worked for decades – her Book Midwife course offers potential authors a coaching programme, then a publishing deal. You have to pay up front – £995 for a half-day's brainstorming and then £2,500 to £5,000 depending on how much hand-holding – if not an epidural – you want. "It's quite a tough process but it concentrates the mind and ensures people decide if they do really want to go through with the birth. It's certainly not vanity publishing."

Authors get more back than with traditional publishers, who pay 25p a copy. With Gibbins-Klein's publisher, EcademyPress, the writer gets £3 a copy because of the lower overheads.

Gibbins-Klein is a hard task-master. She wants her authors to write 40,000 words in three months, or 100 days. That's easily done, she says, if you're an expert and used to writing, then tapping out 1,000 words an hour shouldn't be too difficult. But even more important is the work to be done before a word is put to paper. Authors must figure out the target reader, down to education, pay and looks. "Tacking up a photo of your ideal reader – Jeremy Paxman, Vicky Pollard or whoever – really helps," she says. Then you decide how many books you want to sell and how you want it to be marketed.

Easy, really – just like giving birth.

Everyone has a book in them

Mindy Gibbins-Klein, above, helps aspiring authors such as Claire Young, right, who was runner-up in the 2008 series of The Apprentice

john cassidy; talkback

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