Life is a Circus – The Story Behind Choose a Way Amsterdam

 

If you’ve come to grab a copy of Choose a Way Amsterdam click here. Otherwise, if you’ve come to find out the background story behind an amateur winging the completion of a guide book (and pulling it off nicely, I might add) then carry on for the show.

If you haven’t already heard by now that I have launched my FIRST EVER (e)-guide-book, Choose a Way Amsterdam,  what rock have you been hiding under?! (No, seriously, do tell! This has been one hell of a journey. Chillin’ under a rock would do wonders right about now!)

I warn you now, this post is looong and  there was no other way to do it, so grab a coffee or glass of wine and take a pew.  It’s full of heart, pure honesty and some ridiculous stories  with a hint of sarcasm in places so do bear that in mind. Plus I’ll spill the beans on how you too can write a book for the Choose a Way™ series. If I can, anyone can and hopefully I’ll teach you what NOT to do!

It’s been emotional, that’s for sure.

Centraal Station

Before I go into the details of the book itself, let me do a brief recap on some background history.

I’m a college drop-out. I was bored because guess what; I’d totally messed up at school and was retaking the exams I should have passed with flying colours 2 years before. There were various reasons and difficult circumstances but I don’t need to go into that. I wanted to see the world and earn my own money; more than any weekend student job could give me, so I packed in college and went out into the big wide world. Little did I know that would turn into a never ending cycle of a countless run of the mill jobs; some mundane, some exciting, some exhausting and others I can’t even remember. One thing is for sure; I’ve never held any long term passion or real pride for any of them and I’ve certainly never shouted about them – including my own small property business I have been running for the last 3 years, which is actually pretty sweet. I’ve always been involved and celebrated everyone else’s achievements, and I always will, but it’s rare that I’ll make a big deal of my own. Then, I had an epiphany last year; I love to travel and all I do is shout about it on various levels. It’s my passion and I’m sick of settling for second best – I want to live life to the full, live and breathe what I love and that’s when The Hardy Traveller was born in September 2014.

I don’t have many regrets in my life but I’ve certainly gone back a few times to tell off my 18 year old self for giving up back then, it has made things a lot harder that’s for sure. But the older I get, the less she frustrates me because with all that life has thrown at me, one thing I do have is a lot of drive, ambition, enthusiasm and determination. If I want something to happen, I’ll make damn sure it happens.

And maybe, just maybe those are the traits of my 18 year old self that has got me here eventually…

Chatting up the ducks at Vondelpark

The Book – how, where, and when

While attending TBEX (future of travel media conference) back in May, my friend Sarah told me about this mysterious guy who had created this series of cool interactive guide books. We immediately knew I had to do Amsterdam. I say he was mysterious because for two whole days I couldn’t find this dude anywhere! Finally, just as we were about to leave on the last night at the closing party, she spotted him! His name is Chris Backe, we chatted, he showed me his awesome idea, we exchanged business cards and the rest is history.

Why Amsterdam?

In many ways, I know Amsterdam better than I know my own home town of London. I’ve visited so many times I’ve now lost count and it’s my favourite city in the world. The Netherlands is my second home and one of these days we’ll be moving there, when the time is right.

And so the hard work begins…

So I get my guidelines and templates from Chris. I read thoroughly over and over again (just remember that bit). They seemed simple enough and with a heavy flow of energy and enthusiasm I got stuck in. This was going to be a piece of cake and really good fun!!!

A week goes by, I’ve listed all the places I want in the book from my previous experiences. I start putting the addresses, opening times and prices in the templates. I am still nonchalant. The descriptions can wait for my creative brain to kick in, for now let’s get the boring facts down.  I’ll definitely get all this done in a month!

For this to be top notch – I needed to go to Amsterdam…

There were still a few spaces for more activities and I wanted to make sure I experienced everything personally including getting the directions in order. It also dawned on me at this point that although I knew the city inside out, I had never actually paid full attention to the whereabouts of places, I had no idea how I ever got to them nor do I remember the name of most places I’ve eaten, drank in or briefly visited.  That’s not the naughty side of Amsterdam doing that – I am like that everywhere! I take things in and enjoy the important moments but unless I go out of my way to know the details, then I happily sail on in my own world. My thing about ‘wandering aimlessly’ is totally true, I have done so much of it and I am so familiar with the place that I can get myself from A-B easily with visual memory but to tell someone else on the spot would be impossible.

Ok, suddenly I was less blasé. I had a lot of work to do. It had started to become a little overwhelming and I realised I was winging it. I had no idea how to write a book or anything that went with it. But I soldiered on anyway.

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Amsterdam, she’s wise

Doing my first press pitch

I had a lot of trams to catch, places to see and photos to take. How was I going to afford this on top of a last minute activity-filled trip to Amsterdam?  Well, I thought, I’m helping the city out here by telling the world about the place… DUH….contact the city’s marketing department, I amsterdam. So, with a cringe amateur pitch and a lot of hope and glasses of wine to ease the embarrassment of expected rejection, they replied quickly and were excellent in arranging a card for both me and Mr Hardy Traveller along with entrance to other museums not included on the card. It may have worked out this time, but I’ve still got a lot of pitch work to do for the future that’s for sure!

And we’re off

We did A LOT and saw the city through totally different eyes. We went to new places that I hadn’t even considered adding into the book which I subsequently fell in love with and we revisited the old to update our knowledge. This was exciting; I started getting all the photos I needed (remember that later) but, oh wait…we don’t have the camera charger with us. Excellent, great news!!! No shop in town had one either. Phone pics it is then…

Oh and for some reason I felt it appropriate to try out a different hotel each night for a future business venture. Two birds with one stone right? Bad move and too distracting.

Me pissing about in a quirky hotel room when I should have been taking landscape pictures (but it was fun though!)

The real writing begins

The majority of writing the content was actually one of the easiest parts because it was coming from me and my knowledge, although it also took a hell of a long time to get right and was a massive mental energy thief. That property business I mentioned earlier is based on very strict attention to detail and somehow my brain is wired to ensure these things are done to perfection. Everything was thoroughly researched through various trusted sources including places I already knew well. Hour upon hour I’d go over old ground, deleting, tweaking, starting over or the worst one was adding more content. NOOOOO!!! I couldn’t go over 200 words unless I was finishing a point. Well that’s a lie with this edition because half of them are at least 250 words 😉 (yep I know, I talk too much.) But honestly, there are so many great things to talk about on the majority of subjects in this book that it was impossible to cut, and luckily the boss agreed.

Patience required: Let’s extend the deadline. Twice. Ok, technically thrice

During all of this, my business got hectic and was the busiest it’s ever been since it started. I snapped my little toe and I mean 90 degrees snapped (I’ll save that amusing story for another time). You may laugh – go ahead, but that shit’s debilitating and it slows down every little daily activity, so things just weren’t getting done and before I knew it I was sitting down to start writing when I should have been in bed. Don’t even get me started on how much I was neglecting my poor blog. I had family dramas and general life dramas. And although I knew it before, it has really sunk in that things always take double the time than I anticipate. Some of these things you just couldn’t make up and I’d always cringe before emailing to extend the deadline with a seemingly ridiculous story. That man’s patience and kindness is remarkable. Chris, just so you know, it was all 100% true and my cats definitely didn’t eat my homework 🙂

YEAH! We’re nearly there!

Wicked, it’s almost done. I got my bestie to go over it with a fine-tooth comb and sort out anything I’d missed (which is really easy to do when you read something over and over again for weeks). I started getting all the photos together and as I’d done throughout the last few weeks, I double checked the guidelines again – specifically the photo section.

Oh dear.  

The photos all needed to be in landscape not portrait and I only had half of the photos I needed because of that fact. Then, cut out the photos I thought I had from previous trips and they were no good either. WTF was what was I going to do!? No way on this earth was a book of mine going to go out with the majority of photos from someone else. This was MY book and it would have MY photos! (Except two. That still niggles me a little and probably always will, but I can just about live with it!)

Definitely my photo. Bloemenmarkt – the only floating flower market in the world

The time I learnt that rushing is no fun in Amsterdam. Part two

So with a broken toe in tow, I booked an over-night stay with a strict schedule of everything needed to finish the book – even that took me a good couple of hours in itself the night before. I also wanted to go back and take better photos of certain places which I’m pleased I did as they’re much better than the originals. But trying to quickly negotiate the small cobbled streets on a peak season weekend while dodging an unusual amount of worse-for-wear tourists just wasn’t a laughing matter. I love that city more than ever but never again would I want to experience that. Slow and aimless is always the way forward in ‘Dam!

And let’s not forget how well I had to wing it…as always

I amsterdam kindly arranged entrance to a few places we missed last time as I still had a couple of slots to fill if something was worthy. However, the majority of them had absolutely no record of us coming and like the intelligent woman I am, I of course forgot to bring my business cards so I had no leverage to explain our presence. Winged it. Touché.

I finally had all the photos, I tweaked the descriptions and added the extra items. IT WAS DONE!!!

But things change…

I originally put Zaanse Schans and Boat rides in but for very valid reasons these were taken out; Zaanse Schans is too time consuming for the concept of this particular book (but do visit if you ever get a chance) and the boat tours were just too vague as there are plenty of companies and so many options. Again, get on the water when you can! But they weren’t appropriate for the book and that totally makes sense.

So we had to add more. I added Vrolik Anatomical Museum, the only reason I’d not added it previously as I hadn’t managed to go back and get a photo.

Coffeeshop gate

Because one of my ‘things’ is trying to get people to see way beyond the hedonistic side of the city, I originally only added one item for coffeeshops with 3 tiny descriptions in the hope it wouldn’t be a big part of the book. Again, for very valid reasons, Chris felt we had to go more in depth on the coffeeshop front and explain some of the rules and regulations. To do this, it was all or nothing. If I was gonna do it – I was gonna it properly. That meant a full overview and 3 coffeeshops as their own separate activities.

“I’d be surprised if you needed more than 300 words for the overview” he said.

Pahahaha. 600 words later consisting mainly of thorough facts and tips with little fluff, it was only able to be cut down to roughly 580 words. See. All or nothing. And the coffeeshop choices are a nice mix for different travellers.

Paper memories in The Bulldog The First. Don’t be put of by the commercialism and popularity – they have got a lot of things spot on. Even some of my Dutch friends agree!

The 4am nightmare and sweaty edit

As I woke wide eyed in a sweat and panic all I could think was ‘that book can’t go out. There is WAY too much emphasis on the coffeeshop culture’. Major panic.  Frantic editing commences.

After yet MORE patience and virtual hugging from Chris, tweaks were made and he calmed me down. He was right, there were only a handful of activities based around that subject and the overview was important to give people thorough information.

Panic over.

All this time I expected a mid-September publication then 10 days beforehand,  I was told we were ready to go for 24th August publication…

Great! I was so excited. Then the nerves kicked in. Then I was excited again. I couldn’t believe I’d got this far, I was stoked!

So now it was time to market. Bring it on!

Oh wait, I have absolutely NO IDEA how to market a book and one of the biggest things I struggle with is self-promotion. I just hate it and it makes me want to crawl into a hole. If other people want to promote me – great! I’ll take that (but only if they’re promoting something worthwhile) but to casually beg people to look at my own achievement is not one of my greatest strengths.

Which is why you should take it from me – NEVER START A FACEBOOK GROUP MESSAGE. It will only end in tears…

As I was running out of time and other parts of the ‘marketing plan’ had taken a lot longer than expected, I decided it would be a great idea to send a group message to people who a) I didn’t have an email address for and b) might be interested in getting a free copy of the book. They’re on my FB for a reason after all and none of them were just randoms.  I’d never done one before and I’ll never do it again.

Please. Just don’t do it. And please don’t add me to one just to get me back!

It was the most embarrassing thing ever and I just wanted to delete the whole internet for a while. There were a lot more people on the group than I realised and with people commenting or giving a good old Facebook thumbs up, it was obviously notifying everyone else. It was carnage – some people didn’t understand why they were getting messages from people they didn’t know, others were deleting other people on the group they didn’t know, and some were voicing their departure because they were getting too many messages from …you guessed it…people they didn’t know. Sometimes mixing friends, family and acquaintances just doesn’t work. It was mayhem. It took a while to learn how to delete the whole thing so no one could see it and after individually removing the remaining few, I got there in the end. I’m still cringing and big apologies if you were on that message!

I’ll change the subject with a couple of superb musicians outside Rijksmuseum

So after all that, as always, I did it my way. I’d do it all again tomorrow – without the circus. Although maybe that’s what kept me on my (9) toes!

I never wrote this book with profit in mind, that was always a bonus for me and if I never even receive a penny, none of it would be a waste. I did it for a few reasons. When I attended TBEX back in May, I had no idea what the future would hold and I had no expectations. Since I started my blog, I’ve been so hungry to learn; from building the website to travel writing and everything in between. When this opportunity presented itself I thought it would be a great opportunity to hone my writing skills and put myself out there. I have also been planning to start a travel planning business to Amsterdam (it’s still in the very early stages) so it was a great thing to add to my portfolio. But now the finished product is out there for the world to see, there is so much more to it than that. I feel like I’ve done something significant, something to be really proud of and show to the world. It’s something that has already helped a lot of people plan their trip to Amsterdam or use while they’re there (seems there are a lot of travellers in Amsterdam this week who can’t wait to use it live!) and I LOVE that I am helping people see this wonderful city differently from the norm.

An alternative take on the author photo. Taken on our last visit in panic. Well I had to have a photo actually in Amsterdam, didn’t I!? Plus I had gone slightly mad through exhaustion by this point

Chris told me this was one of the best books he’s ever had the pleasure of producing.

Through the grind, struggles, laughter, huge satisfaction and nightmares this is my biggest achievement to date and the fact he said that, and meant it, means more than I could ever explain.

SO…. If I can do it, so can you! Do you fancy being part of the Choose a Way family?

Chris Backe, the editor and producer of this series is a really great guy to work with. No matter your level, if you’re willing to put the work in he will be behind you all the way.  If you’re an expert on a destination, get in touch with him quick before someone else nabs it! All the info you need is on the Choose a Way website.

If you haven’t downloaded your free copy yet, head over here.

And there we have it! Have you read the book yet? I’d love to know what you think in the comments below!

5 Comments

  1. Paula Morgan

    Great read Amy – I am weeks away from finishing the Sydney one and could relate to almost every sentence you wrote – I am still panicing that I may not have included everything I should have! The photo thing got me too – I needed to go out and take new photos for lots of places because I did not have enough landscape shots.

    You should be proud of the final product, it’s really great – I wish I had it when I was in Amsterdam.

    Good luck with the launch – I have shared to far and wide 🙂

    Reply
    1. The Hardy Traveller (Post author)

      Thank you Paula! Honestly, I’ve learned to live with the fact that I will ALWAYS think I’ve missed something out. I think of something new every day 🙂 I’m really looking forward to your guide, it’s been years since I was in Aus so it’s well overdue, and of course a trip to Sydney would be great 🙂 Good luck with it all

      Reply
  2. Oyster

    Wow sounds like awesome chaos! So cool how you pulled it all together! These guides look pretty awesome! Thanks for sharing!

    Reply
    1. The Hardy Traveller (Post author)

      I’m pretty stoked I pulled it off! If you ever go to Amsterdam, check out the guide – I hope to help people enjoy the city as much as I do 🙂

      Reply
  3. Dan

    Thanks for the great perspective . Good info for aspiring travel writers. Sounds like a hectic but rewarding job. I am considering writing a choose a way book .

    1 question I had that you didn’t address : was this a viable way for you to make money ? Were Chris and you able to sell many copies of the book?

    Thanks for the article, and the well written book. They really helped me!

    Reply

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