A little self-publishing tale, part 1

As a boost to tourism and an opportunity to do something worthwhile, way back in 2007 boyhood bestie Paul Irwin and I had an idea to design, produce and self-publish an independent guidebook to celebrate the town in which we grew up. We faced a few stumbling blocks at first, and no small amount of negativity, but we applied ourselves like men possessed and, immediately on publication, the guides flew out like s*** from a goose. With two editions issued over two summers, a very respectable 120,000 free copies were distributed.

I was so excited back then to share with everyone my first ever online presence and bumbling attempt at web design, and whitleybayinthe70s.com was and remains [2019 note: it is being relocated to a new online home] a site devoted to our childhood spent having adventures and getting up to mischief (as all kids should).

As a direct link to our vagabond youth and to provide reference material for the site, Paul and I built up a collection of old 1970s postcards and local tourist guides, mostly found on eBay. Those '70s annual council guides offered packed beaches, endless sunshine, and hot and cold water in every room. Pages of ads and colour photos recalled the smells and screams from the world famous Spanish City fairground—our own version of Coney Island—held all through the summer and right at the end of our street.

We had a strong yearning to recapture this somehow. But the town had long since changed, and so we wondered if such a guide could be published again but an up-to-date, gorgeous little booklet, pocket-sized this time, with things to read and foldy-out maps and info on where to eat or drink or stay overnight; a handy mini-guidebook that folks may wish to keep hold of.

Our first thoughts were to supply these to the DFDS cruise ships berthing on the River Tyne a few miles away… perhaps the passengers who disembark daily might like to come and spend their Euros in the shops and bars of our town rather than travel to the big city?

Initial designs were soon prepared with which we sought opinions from a helpful chap, the head of local Tourism, but also one individual who “represented” hotels in the town. Well it’s very nice but it won’t have much appeal, maybe produce a hundred or so copies, advised our hotelier chum. A few other assorted off-beat characters assured us it would never work, the town is finished, why bother, etc.

Now, never have we let a negative outlook put us off if we thought a project was beneficial and indeed, once we had presented our thoughts to the more enthusiastic Chamber of Trade, the idea of the guidebook grew to more widespread possibilities. It would serve not only as an introduction focused on things of interest for visitors to the area, but to provide as much info as to enlighten townsfolk to their surroundings, and a directory to keep beside the phone (or on the cistern if that was where you bettered yourself by reading).

We decided early on that 'added value' would come from features. If we approached various local writers to provide articles for inclusion, then this would elevate the guide from being just a list of businesses to something of lasting allure.

Design and artwork were handled by myself so no concerns about budgeting for those, just countless hours of gathering info on the town's offerings and amenities, sourcing images, fine-tuning. But how should we fund the vast printing costs? Our desired first run of 20,000 copies of a 62-page booklet in glorious full-colour was not going to be a dime a dozen.

Paul, owner of EastCoast Taxis and Tours, had no shortage of corporate contacts, and in no time we had a whole bunch of restaurants, shops, hotels, et al who were very willing to take out advertising space. We received some very kind funding from our friend at the Tourism board who also graciously agreed to help distribute the guide through their own channels and outlets. So with this and the ad revenue combined, most of our costs were taken care of in advance—this allowed us to forego any cover charge and give the guides out for free.

Then one day the first vanload of boxes showed up… 20,000 guides to chuck out there. Now this was exciting, they looked amazing we thought… but what would the people of Whitley Bay think?


Continue to A little self-publishing tale, part 2 >