How my small ad in a parish magazine led to sales of 25,000 books

You are almost certainly worth more than you think.

After 35 years as a practising veterinary surgeon my intermittent episodes of depression became more frequent. This meant that I could now longer pull my weight in my practice of four other vets and decided to take early retirement. I sold the practice to my senior assistant but retained the premises, the rent of which contributed to my pension. I was only 61 and,apart from continually getting under my wife’s feet, I had to find something useful to do.

For many years computing had been one of my many hobbies. In fact the veterinary practice was one of the first in the UK to fully computerise its records. At that time, nearly 20 years ago, children were far more adept at the use of the home computer than their parents and, especially, the grandparents. So I placed a small ad in our village’s Parish Magazine offering home tuition on the basic uses of home computers.

I had no agenda or curriculum. I simply asked the pupil what they wanted to do on their computer. There were all the expected answers like Google, email, word processing, shopping and social media with occasional unexpected requests such as making friends with other ShihTzu owners on Facebook and editing digital photos. An hour was about the right length of time for these lessons. I began to recognise the glazed expressions when more was obviously leaking out than going in.

After a few weeks I realised that about 70% of what I had taught them had gone from their minds within an hour of my leaving. To overcome this I began to make notes on the various subjects that had been taught and copied them to a CD so that I could print the subject notes out on the specific subject on the client’s computer for later reference.

A few months after my new teaching career had started, a number of my clients were asking if I could recommend a useful textbook on basic home computing. After spending three days in the large local library. I realised that all such books were written in ‘American’ with, and I am sorry to say it but, weak American humour, acronyms by the bucket load and pages of ‘computerspeak’. I could only find one English textbook which took three pages to instruct the reader on how to wire up a three-pin electric plug!

That was my lightbulb moment. There seemed to be a large gap in the publishing market so I gathered all my accumulated notes, assembled them in an rationale order and created my first book which I provisionally entitled “Computing for Grannies — and Gramps”.

John Wiley and Sons and Blackwell’s were the leading publishers of that type of book so, nothing ventured, nothing gained, I followed their rules and guides to publications and sent off the manuscript together with the inevitable stamped self-addressed envelope to John Wiley (who later took over Blackwell’s) — and waited.

· Even the smallest thread can lead to the biggest hawser.

I kept telling myself that Joseph Heller had 22 rejections for Catch 22; William Golding, 21 rejections for Lord of the Flies; Richard Hooker, author of MASH had the same number while Anne Frank’s Diary of a Young Girl got 15 rejections. Here was ‘lil’ ole me’ with just one submission. Hopes were not high when, 3 weeks later, the thin self-addressed letter came through the letterbox. My scream of delight must have been heard half a mile down the street as I hugged my wife. “They want to see the rest of it!”

To cut a long and exciting story quite short, John Wiley and Sons accepted the book; created a new ‘genre’ rather like the Dummies Guides or the ‘for Idiots’ collection, called “… for the Older and Wiser” and asked me to write three more books which, to date, have sold over 25,000 copies. The emails are drying up now but for at least six years I was getting messages from Christchurch in New Zealand, Calgary in Canada and Cleethorpes in England. The Public Lending Rights from the British and Irish libraries helped as well.

Being 82, modern computing technology is rapidly passing me by but I still contribute freelance columns on computing and veterinary subjects as well as publishing my veterinary memoir — A Veterinary Life — by Amazon.

What lessons have I learnt?

· Don’t judge yourself by other people.

· Keep an eye out for the most unlikely opportunities and, if you enjoy writing, put yourself out there.

· Even the smallest thread can lead to the biggest hawser.

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Adrian Arnold

Adrian Arnold

Retired veterinary surgeon now a collector of trivia. Married to a wonderful wife, four children and four grandchildren. Author of A Veterinary Life on Amazon.