Saturday, 21 February 2015

Altitude Training Options: Australia

Australia is the flattest continent and is not particularly well known for its mountains  However, there a few ski resorts at or slightly above 1,600m in the more mountainous parts of Victoria and New South Wales. The southern hemisphere summer, and early track season makes it an attractive training destination for Europeans. Falls Creek is the best known of Australia's altitude training destinations, and many top European runners, including Irish legend Sonia O'Sullivan, have trained there over the years.

Despite not having a track, Falls Creek is well equipped for high performance training.  There are a variety of trails, with flat trails running alongside aqueducts, and more challenging routes crossing the surrounding hills and valleys.  The views are always spectacular, and the resort peaceful, if somewhat isolated.

There is a small gym in the town, lots of self catering accommodation, and a few friendly eating establishments.

Falls Creek is a popular refreshment stop among cyclists making their way around the 230 km Bogong Alpine Way or recovering form the uphill ride from Mount Beauty.

Falls Creek is also a great spot for mountain biking and a number of purpose-built mountain bike courses have recently been opened in the resort.

Mount Buller (Victoria; 1,600m), Charlotte Pass (New South Wales; 1,837m) and Mount Hotham (Victoria; 1,861m) are some of the other options available.

Falls Creek is just one of 15 venues detailed in Notes from Higher Grounds: An Altitude Training Guide for Endurance Athletes. The book, which includes photos, maps, trail details, travel information and lots of useful advice is available via Amazon.

Saturday, 14 February 2015

Altitude Training Options: Mexico

Mexico is a large country stretching from the southern border of the US down to central America. While the country's tourism is centred around it's seaside resorts, a large portion of the country is actually situated above 1,500m of altitude.  Two major mountain ranges - the Sierra Madre Oriental and the Sierra Madre Occidental - run practically the full length of the country, and the elevated plateau that links them contains many places with potential for altitude training.  San Luis Potosi and Mexico City are the most used of these.

San Luis Potosi, a city of approximately 1 million people, has an altitude of 1,860 metres.  It's altitude training offer is based largely around Centro Deportivo La Loma.  La Loma is particularly well equipped for swimmers, and has hosted swim teams from across the world.  It also has facilities for athletics, tennis, boxing, judo and other martial arts, squash, volleyball, basketball and Olympic handball.

Guests stay in an adjacent apartment block, and three meals are included in the daily rate.

Parque Tangamanga I, a large park on the southern of the city, offers some running options, but those looking to clock up high mileage may need to travel to some of the rural areas outside the city.

Mexico City is one of the largest cities in the world.  The sprawling city has an estimated population of approximately 9 million (city proper; metropolitan area population of more than 21 million), and due to this, along with geographical factors, has major air pollution issues.  If you can see beyond the crowds, the pollution and the inevitable traffic jams, Mexico City has a lot to offer in terms of altitude training.

Mexico City is a particularly good place to visit if you want to combine a holiday or cultural trip with some running.  A number of the city's parks are suitable for running, and the large forested areas on the south west of the city make welcome relief from the city.  There is always something to see or do, cost of living is low, and though speaking Spanish is an advantage, it is less important than in other parts of Mexico.

Toluca de Lerdo, at 2,680m above sea level, is the highest city in North America, and is also a well known altitude training spot. It is situated just 66 kilometres from the capital, but is considerably less polluted, cooler, and less crowded than Mexico City.  Some of the best training spots on the south west of Mexico City are also accessible from Toluca.

Mexico City and San Luis Potosi are just two of the fifteen venues featured in Notes from Higher Grounds: An Altitude Training Guide for Endurance Athletes.  The book can be purchased through Amazon for just £20.

Friday, 6 February 2015

A novice's guide to self publishing

I've been sharing my relative wisdom recently with a few individuals who are thinking about going down the self publishing route.  The process of writing, editing and publishing a book was probably the most ambitious project that I ever embarked on, but also one of the more enjoyable experiences I've ever had.  It was a very steep learning curve, and of course there are a few things that I would do differently, but, for me, self publishing was undoubtedly the best way to make Notes from Higher Grounds a reality.

It's just over a year ago since I picked up the first copies of my first book from the printers. In this post I'll share my experiences in getting to that point, and give some advice to those setting out on the book writing process.

1. Is self-publishing the best option for you?

Every aspiring writer will have a few options open to them.  The best option for you will depend on the type of book you're writing (fiction or non-fiction), who your target audience is and how far and wide they are likely to be spread, your skills and abilities, and your ambitions for the book.  Self-publishing gives you considerably more freedom in relation to what you can include, and how you lay out the book, but you must remember the additional work involved in the writing, editing, design and publicity stages of the self publishing process, compared with writing for a publisher.

Money does come into it, but that shouldn't be your only consideration.  If the quality of the book is important to you, you should also consider the skills you already have, and those you feel comfortable in picking up along the way.

I had a very clear idea of how I wanted the book to look from the very beginning and felt that there were things that I wanted to include which may not sit well with a publisher.  I also felt that with such a niche market, I was very unlikely to get the backing of a traditional publisher.   Full colour photos form a key part of my finished product and, therefore, print-on-demand type publishing was never going to be an option (as each copy would cost far too much to publish).  I knew that I could pick up the design skills that I needed along the way, and relished the challenge that came with self-publishing.  I never set about writing the book to make money, and it was always going to be more about the journey and the destination; though the destination was very pleasant indeed.

In reality, there is nothing that a publisher would do that you can't do as a self-publisher.  However, the contacts and skills of an experienced publisher can be invaluable.  Consider all your options, especially the print-on-demand and other less traditional forms of publishing.

2. Everything takes longer than you think

Because I was doing everything myself, - writing, fact checking, layout, editing, images and illustrations, cover design and publishing - there was quite a lot of work to get through, and quite a lot to learn along the way.  While I wouldn't like to admit that I underestimated the work involved, there were definitely times when I forgot that I was doing the work of 5 or 6 people.  When I'd finished writing what I wanted to write, I was only about halfway through the whole process.  The layout and editing in particular took a lot longer than I expected.

Try not to underestimate the work involved, and consider the progress that you're making rather than how much you have left to do.

3. Start editing early

I spent a lot of time deciding whether I should write 'euro' or 'euros' (or indeed 'Euro'), whether or not 'check-in' should have a hyphen, and if the past tense of 'dream' was 'dreamed' or 'dreamt'. Of course, any of these would have been correct; I just had to make a decision and keep it consistent throughout. In the end, I put together a spreadsheet  detailing each of my decisions, which was a useful reference when I came to make similar decisions, or to doublecheck what I'd decided, and it will be a great starting point for my next book.  In hindsight I would have started this spreadsheet at the very beginning, and included any word that I was unsure of right from the start.

Two very useful books, particularly if you decided to use Oxford English, are the New Oxford Dictionary for Writers and Editors and New Hart's Rules.  I found these books invaluable, and would strongly recommend that any new writer invests in a copy of each.  The Oxford online Dictionary was also very helpful and Perfect Punctuation has helped solve some of my punctuation confusion.

Since finishing the book, I have started a Proofreading and Copy Editing course with the Writers Bureau which I am finding invaluable. I am so much more aware of the idiosyncrasies of the English spelling, grammar and punctuation than I was before.

4. Use social media

I have found social media a useful way to network, but I do find myself spending too much time on it. I set up my blog when I started the project, and the bits that I was writing all along were very useful when it came to put the book together.  In fact, I already had about 10,000 words written without realising it.  Knowing that people were reading about my experiences, and enjoying what I had to say, gave me a lot of confidence when it came to write the book.  I set up my website quite soon afterwards, and though it doesn't change much, embedding the blog into it means that I have relatively new material on there on a regular basis.

I also set up a twitter account at an early stage and had grown a considerable audience long before the book was published.  I have had real sales through Twitter, as well as offers of support from other camps.   I am still undecided about whether I should tweet as myself, or as my project.  My account is Altitude Training Camps, my handle is @egansadventures (which came from my blog title: Egan's Altitude Adventures), and I have included my name in my biog.  But there are advantages and disadvantages to this.  Sometimes people that I know can't find me, but using the brand does keep me focused on the purpose of my account. While I originally only used Twitter from the altitude perspective, I have recently connected with the self publishing world, which as an independent author, working on my own, is something that I have found invaluable, and wish I'd done sooner.

I didn't set up my Facebook page until the book was published; having never used Facebook for personal purposes, I was a little uncomfortable with using it.  I found it a little easier to promote/grow my page once I actually had a finished product.  What I would say is that you should set up a 'Page', rather than a 'Profile', when promoting anything on Facebook.  Though the page is linked to your personal profile, nobody viewing the page knows that (though you can invite your friends to 'like' your page), and you don't have to be active on your profile to run a successful page. Embedding a Facebook feed into your website is another way to keep your web content fresh.

I toyed with the idea of using Pinterest, and Instragram would probably have been useful during my travels (but didn't really exist then - how quickly the social media world is evolving!).  I used LinkedIn to let everybody know when the book was published, but apart from that have found it of minimal benefit for this project.  I have a Google+ profile, but this is not something that I have invested too much time into.  I would say that Twitter and Facebook are definitely the big players, and would recommend focusing on them before spending time on any other form of social media.

The photos that I took along the way have been invaluable, not only in the book itself, but in the promotion work that I have done alongside it.  I took thousands of photos, and captured almost every moment of the research phase.  Some video footage would have been a great addition.

4. Start a distribution list early

As you work through the writing process, you will come up with ideas of where you can promote it. By the time you're ready to distribute your press release, you'll have forgotten all the great ideas you had along the way.  Start a spreadsheet and start to jot down all your contacts and potential contacts as you think of them.

5. Don't stress about the actual publishing step

Publishing a book is actually very simple.  Once you know when you're going to publish your book, how long it's going to be, and a few other details, you apply and pay for a bunch of ISBNs from Nielsen. They'll then email you the numbers, and if you're printer is worth their salt, they'll be able to turn it into a barcode for the back of your book.  The information that you submit to Nielsen will automatically be added to book databases such as Amazon.  That's pretty much all that's involved in the publishing phase, and it will take a couple of weeks at the very longest.  Once published, you'll need to send a copy of your book to a couple of libraries.

5. Organise a launch event

The biggest single mistake that I made was not having a launch event.  I was unsure where or when would be best - as I thought that I my target audience was widely distributed.  The timing of publishing (a couple of days before Christmas) didn't help, but in the end I just ended up not having an event.  I have since been surprised by the amount of support I have got locally, and though the people of Wexford weren't my main target, a local launch event would have worked well.  The event doesn't have to be big, or cost a lot, but it will definitely help you spread the word.

Some other basics

Printed books at zero-rated for VAT purposes in both Ireland and the UK.  Printing of books is also zero-rated, but other aspects of the publishing process are not (ISBNs, promotional materials - including printing of flyers, Amazon selling fees, packaging etc.).  Standard postage stamps do not have VAT applied, though courier services do apply VAT. E-books are not zero-rated for VAT. You will not need to register for VAT unless you are likely to exceed the relevant annual income threshold for your government.

I found the following books useful in the editing process.

The following books are also part of my library and were useful reference points. Unfortunately, many of the self-publishing books are written in the US, and hence some parts are not applicable. The first book is UK-based.