Writing a SUP Adventure Guidebook
Jo Moseley tells the story of creating a Stand Up Paddleboarding guidebook for Great Britain. From a scary and exciting dream through pitching, planning, practical research, writing and publication.
Have you ever huddled in your tent with the wind howling thinking, “this would make a great story?” Perhaps you’ve witnessed such beautiful sunrises and sunsets you felt moved to put pen to paper? Or maybe you have a really powerful personal history that would inspire others to be braver?
Have you always dreamt of writing a book? It’s a scary, exciting and compelling dream isn’t it?
Living the Author’s Dream
On 2nd June 2022, my first book Stand Up Paddleboarding in Great Britain: Beautiful Places to Paddleboard in England, Scotland and Wales was launched with award winning publisher, Vertebrate Publishing. Thanks to pre-orders it flew off into the world as a bestseller in canoeing and kayaking - we don’t have our own paddleboarding category just yet!
There have been wonderful reviews and feedback from new and experienced paddleboarders, SUP authors, experts and instructors. I’ve been in the press, on TV, radio and podcasts. We had cake at my book launch at The Grove Bookshop in Ilkley and I travelled to Leeds for an evening with the Canal and River Trust. My first book festival in Lowdham was such a thrill - as was speaking at The Yes Tribe’s Yestival this year.
Writing and launching SUP Great Britain has been an exciting, terrifying and exhausting rollercoaster of emotions that I simply did not anticipate. Brutiful – beautiful and brutal, as the author Glennon Doyle says.
Since then, I’ve been asked how I was commissioned to write a book by such a prestigious adventure and outdoors publisher. I thought it might be helpful to share some of the behind-the-scenes steps, in the hope it will encourage you to share your work with the world.
Knowing Your Why
I wrote my proposal for Stand Up Paddleboarding in Great Britain in the summer of 2020. I’d noticed a huge explosion in paddleboarding during the pandemic and yet that there were very few SUP-specific UK-based books, never mind guidebooks. I felt we deserved more.
Personally, paddleboarding has changed my life, bringing so much joy, hope and adventure. I wanted others to experience that too.
Having very much enjoyed the personal storytelling in Suzanna Cruikshank’s Swimming Wild in the Lake District, my vision was to interweave stories of beautiful places and paddleboarding adventures, environmental thoughtfulness and the kindness of the SUP community. My goal was for the reader to feel they were on the journey with us experiencing the wonder together and to be inspired to go there themselves, armed with the practical and safety information they would need to know in advance.
This vision became my ‘why’ and I am eternally grateful that my editor at Vertebrate, Kirsty, was willing to take a leap of faith and back it.
How To Write a Successful Book Proposal
I don’t have an agent, but I knew that Vertebrate were one of the few publishers that accepted pitches directly. My proposal was detailed with a focus on:
the inspiring, informative, community and environmental elements
the quality of my writing, research and photography and
a keen eye to the commercial too.
Publishers are businesses and however much they love your adventures, if there isn’t a market to buy the book, they may be hard pressed to commission you. I noted the market, the growth of SUP, other books in the genre and who I believed my audience would be.
I also recognised that as a first time author my efforts in promoting SUP Great Britain would be important. I included my social media activity, website, contacts and networks and my commitment to sharing, perhaps even selling, the book myself. As Brene Brown said on Elizabeth Day’s podcast How To Fail, when talking about her early writing career: “If you’re not going to toot your own horn, then don’t join the band.” I had to be prepared to toot!
I recalled a quote from a character in the film We Bought a Zoo:
“You know, sometimes all you need is twenty seconds of insane courage. Just literally twenty seconds of just embarrassing bravery. And I promise you, something great will come of it.”
Having pitched a very different book concept to other publishers a couple of years before, I knew that there was the very real possibility of rejection. However, all I needed was twenty seconds of embarrassing bravery to press ‘send’. I felt sick as I did it, but I knew that if I didn’t, I would always regret not trying. Life is short and precious and can change in an instant. If you have an inkling of a dream, I believe you should pursue it.
Writing a Travel Book When You Can’t Travel!
The book was commissioned in early autumn 2020 with a year until delivery. I hoped that the new year would bring an opportunity to travel. However, as January 2021 arrived we went into lockdown three in England, with specific restrictions in Wales and Scotland.
Whilst I couldn’t physically travel, I could read, research and talk to paddlers! I was really keen to show a wide variety of bodies of water – canals, rivers, the coast, salt marshes, lakes, lochs, harbours, estuaries and docks. I wanted to show the beauty of SUP in the city and rural idylls, plus routes that could be reached by public transport as well as by car. I bought a huge map, lay it on my kitchen floor and placed stickers of my initial ideas. I walked round and round checking, moving the dots, going back to my research.
I asked for recommendations on social media and had conversations with paddleboarding guides and experts around the country about the routes they loved. I narrowed it down to 32 places spread around England, Scotland and Wales, with a couple of possibilities if things didn’t go to plan. I would have loved to have included more but word count and deadlines didn’t allow it.
On Christmas Eve 2020 I launched my podcast The Joy of SUP: the Paddleboarding Sunshine Podcast, helping me feel connected to the SUP community whilst I lived alone on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales. In March 2021, the film Brave Enough: A Journey Home to Joy was released about my 2019 coast to coast SUP adventure. Frit Tam of Passion Fruit Pictures and I saw our film receive a very warm welcome and critical acclaim.
Sharing both the film and podcast became a lifeline to the outside world for me and, I understand, for many of our viewers and listeners. Community and friendship are such a huge part of paddleboarding. The response showed me that there was an audience for my vision and hope for the book.
Despite this, my self-belief was slipping as a result of living alone and working from home. Doubts began to creep in and I even considered writing to my editor to tell her the project was too much for me.
Ready, Steady, Go!
With the roll out of the vaccine programme, I started to believe that I might finally be able to travel. Some people suggested that I could do so in lockdown three, as writing was essentially ‘my job’ now, but it simply didn’t feel right.
Once I had had my first vaccination and the world began opening up in May 2021, I travelled to Liverpool and then to London for my first research trips. I will be honest, the pandemic had taken its toll on my confidence. I felt unsure being around people and travelling around the country seemed overwhelming at times.
However, I decided it was time for 20 seconds of bravery, a deep breath and to take the next step and then the next.
Writer on Board
As summer drew on, I set off for Wales, Scotland and the South West. My little car was laden with my board Grace, a 12ft Bluefin SUP that had taken me coast to coast in 2019; Hope, my Bluefin 10ft 8ins backup board; a sleeping bag; my kit; notebooks and snacks. I tried to be as organised and time efficient as I could – practice from my days as a single Mum came in very handy!
However, researching a travel guide post-pandemic brought unexpected challenges. A staycation boom meant accommodation was really difficult to secure, especially in Devon and Cornwall. I was grateful that the Women’s Institute came to my rescue! Paddlers being ‘pinged’, getting Covid or understandably being eager to travel themselves added to the logistical juggling. High winds, flash floods and thunderstorms created their own challenges. The day before I was due to travel to the South West my car was deemed unsafe if I didn’t get a new clutch. I couldn’t delay, reached for my credit card and set off with some trepidation in a hire car for the very long journey ahead.
On the Road
I filled notebooks. I took photos of car park information, slipways and public toilets as reminders. Above all I asked questions, listened eagerly and looked with wonder and gratitude everywhere I went. I wanted to share that magic with my readers so they could feel it too.
Leave room for the serendipity was a lesson I learnt during my Coast to Coast. I decided to do the same with my research, saying yes to unexpected opportunities. I slept under the stars; saw dolphins, seals and huge jellyfish; went on a funicular for the first time; and experienced incredible sunsets, stunning rainbows and the whoosh of a saltmarsh adventure. I paddled with a Marine Ranger, RNLI and Coastguard volunteers and SUP superstars.
Paddlers opened their hearts and their homes with such generosity and kindness, sharing the vital local knowledge that was needed to make the trips safe, interesting and practical for others.
Writing to Guidebook
There is only one way to write a book, particularly to a deadline, and that is simply to write. Sentence by sentence, chapter by chapter, wrangling with words until I felt I had done a place justice. I went back to my early drafts, tore them up and started again. It took time, long walks in the hills and gallons of tea to find my voice with confidence. Adding the extra information, filling in gaps and working to Vertebrate’s inhouse style took more time. They are nothing if not relentlessly accurate and sometimes my head was bursting. What was the height of the barrier at the car park by the Thames again?
The Dream Becomes a Reality
When I saw a draft of the book for the first time with my photos and words together, I have to say I gasped at its beauty. Vertebrate had brought our adventures, photos and stories to life. It was a very proud moment when a couple of months later I gave my author copy to my Dad, to whom the book is dedicated.
When a reader messaged to say she felt she was on the water with us, my heart burst. Likewise, when a lovely woman said she and her friends had visited one of the routes and loved it, I was thrilled.
A dream I had held for 50 years had become a reality. More importantly, my hope that SUP Great Britain would bring joy and wonder to others was coming true too.
What Have I Learned That I Hope Will Help You?
Here are seven pointers to help you write and publish your own adventure book:
Get very clear on why. Why do you want to write a book? What impact do you want to have on your readers? Why should a publisher invest in you?
Be willing to face rejection. Don’t be disheartened. Keep believing in yourself, your work, your voice and try again.
Just like an adventure, enjoy the journey, don’t simply focus on the destination. Your attitude will be reflected in your research and writing.
Word by word, chapter by chapter. Keep on getting the work on the paper. On the days you want to and the days you don’t.
You don’t have to do it all by yourself: work with your editor to make it the best book it can be. Have some cheerleaders that you can turn to when things feel tough.
Look after yourself: go for walks, eat nourishing food, have breaks, get some sleep, dip in the sea, read a book for fun, watch a film and see friends. If the task feels too much, talk to someone.
Know that not everyone will love your work and that’s OK, your audience will. You may need to develop a slightly thicker skin than you are used to. For me that is worth it fore having the opportunity to share a message that could make a difference. The weight of not trying would have been too heavy to bear.
Above all, hold onto your dream, keep focused on your vision and write the best proposal you can. Remind yourself you only need 20 seconds of embarrassing bravery to make something great happen. Take a deep breath and press ‘send’. Be proud of yourself for that first courageous step. I’ll be here cheering you. I’d love to hear how you get on.
Jo Moseley is a single Mum of two grown-up sons living on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales. She calls herself a joy encourager, midlife adventurer and beach cleaner. In 2019, aged 54, Jo became the first woman to paddleboard coast to coast across the north of England picking up litter and raising money for the 2MinuteBeachClean charity and The Wave Project. A film about the adventure, Brave Enough - A Journey Home to Joy, has been screened at prestigious film festivals such as Kendal Mountain Film Festival and Sheffield Adventure Film Festival.
She is the host of the popular The Joy of SUP - the Paddleboarding Sunshine Podcast, sponsored by BluefinSUP. In June 2022, Jo released her first book with award winning adventure publishers Vertebrate Publishing called Stand Up Paddleboarding in Great Britain - Beautiful Places to Paddleboard in England, Scotland and Wales. A bestseller in its first weekend, it is her love letter to SUP, stunning places on our doorstep and the wonderful paddleboarding community, with a strong emphasis on safety and environmental responsibility.
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