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The Long and Winding Road to Publication

In 2014 I had an idea for a book that I wanted to write. Having coined the term Holistic Learning to describe an approach that involved engaging the body, mind heart and spirit of learners in order to create meaningful, memorable, transformative learning experiences, I was running courses and workshops to help other trainers and facilitators to incorporate this approach into their own training. There was clearly an appetite for ideas and inspiration in this area, and I had already created a series of free factsheets on various aspects of Holistic Learning, so putting it all into book format and sharing it with others seemed like a great idea.

Having decided on The Holistic Learning Handbook as a title, I was clear that it should be a really practical guide which people could dip into for ideas and inspiration that they could easily put into practice. I also wanted it to be a very visual book – ideally fully illustrated – and I had started to search online to find an illustrator to work with.

Not long after this, I was introduced to Lauren by a mutual connection. She took part in some of the courses I ran, and it was here that I noticed her creating beautiful visual notes to record learning in her notebook. I was really taken by Lauren’s style and the way she integrated the words with the pictures, so I asked her if she’d be interested in illustrating The Holistic Learning Handbook. She said yes and so our journey together got under way.

In 2015 we created a set of sample chapters and a comprehensive proposal to send to publishers. I had received really valuable advice and support from friend and colleague John Henden, himself a published author, and I followed his advice to identify a number of publishers to approach with the book proposal.

We were fully prepared to receive plenty of rejections before finding a publisher, so we were thrilled when the first publishing company we contacted - Jessica Kingsley Publishers (JKP) - said they loved the book and wanted to publish it. It was fantastic to get this validation not only of the book’s content but also its visual presentation style.

We then had a couple of years of stop-start activity as we tried to complete the rest of the book while fitting it in around all the other things that both Lauren and myself had going on in our lives. In late 2018 we finally completed it and I excitedly sent it to JKP, thinking that it would now be a straightforward path to publication, but sadly this wasn’t the case.

JKP hadn’t published illustrated books before so this was a new journey for them too, and they decided that they needed us to replace all the handwritten text, which Lauren had beautifully woven into the images, with a computer font that looked like handwritten text. This was very disappointing news but we dutifully tried to do our best: Lauren created a font based on her own handwriting, and stripped the text out of the images, and I began the process of trying to fit the computer font text into all the spaces left by the missing handwriting. This proved to be such a long-winded, tedious, and fiddly task that I ended up paying my teenage son Silas to complete it for us during the summer holiday. Despite all of our best efforts, the book just didn’t look as good as the original handwritten version, but we sent it to JKP in September 2019 with a huge sigh of relief that the work was finally done. However this was by no means the end of the story.

Just before Christmas, JKP advised us that they weren’t happy with the visual quality of the pages we’d produced (hence enabling them to cancel the publishing contract we had signed), and also told us that they had been taken over by another publishing company which had a policy of not publishing any illustrated books.

This felt like a huge blow, particularly as it came at a time when I was still reeling from what had been a really difficult year full of loss and grief: My dad had died and then 7 weeks later my partner’s dad died, and at the same time our tenancy at the Salthouse (a training and wellbeing venue that we’d been running for 8 years) was terminated as our landlord had died and the family wanted to sell the property. I’d had months of dealing with hospitals, deaths, funerals, house-clearing, and closing down the Salthouse, all whilst working on a contract with Oxfam which caused me to be away from home a lot, so I was exhausted and ready for a complete break over the Christmas/New Year holiday. I determined to forget about the book until the new year, when I knew I’d have more emotional energy to deal with it. So in January 2020 I picked myself up, dusted myself down, and looked at the options with Lauren – do we find another publisher or do we self-publish?

I’d always been reluctant to self-publish as I felt it was important to have the credibility and validation that an established publishing house provides. Having received this from JKP, even if they didn’t go ahead and publish, I looked at self-publishing as an option and discovered Matador, which is the self-publishing arm of Troubadour Publishing Ltd. Unlike most self-publishing companies, they only publish books that meet their publication standards for quality of content and quality of presentation so I sent The Holistic Learning Handbook, in its original form with Lauren’s handwritten text, to them and we were thrilled that they agreed to publish it in this format.

Then overnight the world changed due to Coronavirus and although this has created delays, it has also given me a fantastic opportunity to explore and develop ways to apply the Holistic Learning approach in an online setting. I’ve really enjoyed creating and running a series of workshops on how to create Holistic Online Learning and it’s been really exciting and affirming to discover that the principles, ideas and techniques outlined in The Holistic Learning Handbook can be applied just as well in the online environment as in a face-to-face training or classroom.

Little did Lauren and I realise back in 2015 how long we’d be working together on this project. There are various people I want to thank for their help and support along the way, but my biggest gratitude and loving appreciation definitely goes to Lauren – it’s been a delight working with her and I feel privileged and proud to have shared this journey with her – so “THANK YOU LAUREN for being so amazing!”

Huge thanks are also due to Hannah Dakin and Joe Shillitoe at Matador for their patience and support whilst guiding us through the publication process. I cannot recommend Matador highly enough - their ranking as best self-publishing company by the Independent Publishing Magazine is well-deserved. My son Silas also deserves recognition for his work on substituting computer font for handwriting (even if it didn’t get used in the end!) Appreciation and thanks also go to John Henden for his sterling advice on how to get a book published, and to Rod Webb, Stella Collins, and Peter Barnes for reading the book, spotting a few typos that we’d missed, and writing such wonderfully positive and encouraging endorsements.

SO – we have finally reached our destination - all we have to do now is sell some books! If you buy a copy, we hope you’ll enjoy reading and using it as much as we’ve enjoyed working together on it. Please do let us have your feedback – we’d love to hear from you. Meanwhile, I seem to have caught the book-writing bug, and book number 2 is already formulating in my mind so watch this space for further news!

Nicki Davey, author, The Holistic Learning Handbook

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