Sally Gutteridge has found her niche and she has a tribe: she makes a living writing about dogs for people who love dogs as much as she does. Her first non-fiction book went to number one in the Amazon dog care section the day it was released. It has sold 17,328 copies to date. She went on to write eight more books, all on dogs, within a year. In total, 42,374 copies of her books have been sold through Kindle Direct Publishing.
In this Q&A with the Writers College, Sally discusses her journey from being a dog trainer to putting her dog obsession into writing, and she shares her top three secrets for becoming an Amazon best-selling author.
How did you become a writer?
I had always wanted to become a writer. I thought all writing was storytelling earlier on though. I had never even thought about writing non-fiction and never did any qualifications at school. When I used to write letters and passages for fun, each page was a single sentence long.
I have also always been obsessed with dogs. They are central to my life and existence. I just adore dogs. I’m qualified as a clinical dog behaviourist. I was a British Army dog trainer, hearing dog trainer and worked in rescue before I started writing seriously.
After a bereavement and reactive depression as an adult, my mind went back to writing. I enrolled on an online writing course which covered fiction and non-fiction. The study was exactly what I needed: I could put my love of dogs into my writing. My first paid writing job was a reader’s letter photograph in Take a Break magazine of my husband with my little dog in a rucksack on his back. I became a freelancer on a website that was called Elance. For my first job, I wrote a 5,000-word document on ‘How to show your dog you love them’. I was paid $50.
Over the three years, I earned well writing about dogs. Next, I decided to write dog behaviour courses. My husband and I built a business called Canine Principles, which is now five years old. We sell online courses in dog care, welfare and behaviour. We have recently been approved to deliver Ofqual qualifications.
After we had around 30 courses on sale, I took the time to write my first book about helping dogs cope with the fast-paced life around them and dedicated it to my anxious dog, Chips. It’s called Inspiring Resilience in Fearful and Reactive Dogs. I started at the beginning and wrote to the end, which was a completely unplanned work. By that point, I had gathered quite a big social media following with the students of Canine Principles, who were looking forward to the book.
How did you go about publishing your first book?
I self-published on the Amazon platform. My husband made the cover, another writer proofread, and a freelancer designed the book’s inside. I chose self-publishing because the platform was simple, and I thought there was no point in finding a publisher when I already had an audience for my book.
The Kindle Direct Publishing (https://kdp.amazon.com/en_US/) platform is superb for writers. They help you every step of the way. I haven’t looked at any others because KDP did everything I needed. You can publish Kindle books, paperbacks and hardbacks there with no outlay. You get a good sales dashboard. The customer buys, Amazon takes their cost/fees, and you get monthly royalties for two months in arrears.
After you publish a book on Amazon, you can set it up on ACX (https://www.acx.com/) and find a narrator to get your book on Audible too. You can either pay them or enter a royalty share agreement for all copies sold. I think that KDP has opened the world up for us writers to get our work directly to the audience without having to approach publishers.
How do you promote your work?
My books are all promoted through my Facebook business page and our Canine Principles site. Plus, many of my reviewers are dog trainers, so they recommend my books to their clients. I don’t pay to advertise them anywhere, and people tend to buy them all when they have read and enjoyed one.
What are your three top tips for self-publishing success?
Tip 1: To successfully self-publish, you need to grow a tribe of people. People who don’t get their audience ready for a book find that once family and friends have bought it, the book gets lost in the Amazon world. If you’re going to self-publish, grow your tribe even before your book starts. Write blogs, build your brand (even if that brand is you) and converse with people. Get as many email addresses as possible from potential readers, and remind them whenever you have a new blog out or find something they might like.
If they know you’re there and like your stuff, you have an audience ready when your book is ready.
Tip 2: Use a proofreader; poor grammar and spelling will kill your book before it even sees the world. Two other readers independently proofread mine, and some reviewers still complain about the grammar.
Tip 3: Get a proper professional cover made. It’s worth the money; people judge a book by its cover. And by its formatting. There are two pirated versions of my first book on Amazon at the moment, and that doesn’t bother me too much because the covers are terrible. I can’t imagine anyone will buy them.
What is your advice to aspiring writers?
It’s vital to remember that you don’t get hugely successful with the first thing you write. You have to throw lots of writing away because it’s rubbish. Writing is not glamorous, and it’s not due to talent alone. It can be arduous work.
It’s not all work though; it’s also happily losing hours and hours because you have got into the flow of something. It’s putting what you know and love onto a page for someone else to benefit from, and it’s putting something into the world that will be there long after you have left it.
If it were easy, everyone would be doing it.
Sally, you’re branching out from non-fiction and working on your first novel, as a student on the Write a Novel Course. What is your writing routine?
I write in my office at home. My dogs surround me, and I’m most productive in my PJs before midday. I’m working on my first novel, which is not an easy task, but with Alex Smith, my Writers College tutor helping, I’m getting a bit better every day (I hope). I’m writing my novel daily for a couple of hours. The rest of the time, I still teach people about dogs.
Find Sally on Facebook, Amazon and on her two websites: