I can’t act and I don’t know much about brewing. These are significant handicaps if I am ever to describe myself as ‘Robert Middleton: author, actor and brewer’. I have at least written a book, but that doesn’t really qualify me as an ‘author’. Not in my book. But, of these three noble professions, writing is my best shot at success for now. However, my ability to shift units has thus far been lame at best and entirely dependent on friends and family. Nonetheless, pride and curiosity drove me to scour the available sales stats for any signs of life.

I had almost forgotten that I had earlier taken advantage of the ‘free promotion’ option on Amazon where your Kindle book is offered with a 100% discount (sounds better than ‘free’) for a period of five days. This seemed like a good marketing ploy so I triggered the promo and thought no more about it. After some trial and error surfing on the Kindle site, I found all my stats including what felt like a Golden Ticket. Until now I had been labouring under the impression of my sales crawling painfully into double figures. If you will permit me to count a freebie as a sale then these now numbered in the hundreds. The promo had worked…and some.

[Warning: this short paragraph contains a fair amount of numerical analysis.] I was soon feverishly counting up the worldwide sales and found that I had shifted 304 free units as well as selling 53 ebooks and 13 paperbacks. So, not yet time to reveal myself as being another JK Rowling in disguise, but not bad. 189 of the £0.00 sales came from the UK, 92 from the US, 15 from Germany (!) and the other 8 were scattered around the globe. While all of this did little for my pocket, it did warm my heart. It also led to one other happy moment that I shall later share.

I have myself purchased 74 copies as author (it’s cheaper), of which 25 are for my second cousin Craig in Canada, for onward distribution to golfing buddies. The 49 have recently arrived at Middleton Towers and so I can now decide which lucky blighters will be receiving them. There are a bunch of folk I need to thank with a copy and others where the apparent gift will mask an underlying, cunning marketing plan. Four of these books are however already earmarked for the British Guild of Beer Writers Awards, which I am entering with the same expectation of a winning outcome that I would attribute to buying a lottery ticket. You’ve got to be in it to win it though, as my mum used to say. On that note, I also learned just in time about the inaugural awards at the North American equivalent of our BGBW and managed to lob an electronic TLP over the Pond just ahead of deadline. You never know…

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I have some dark moments when I’m awake at night and thinking about the Orbit brewery. There’s something about the imposed sensory deprivation, with neither light nor sound, that brings my deepest fears to the surface. At these times I feel like running away from the whole idea of running a brewery. It seems nothing short of preposterous for an outsider like me to think he can make a success in an industry I know almost nothing about. Worse, I would be risking a six figure cash sum that could instead be nestling happily in my bank account. What am I playing at?! I can’t brew, I’ve never run a business and I’m trying to make this work all on my own. Madness, madness, they call it madness.

But I know that I can’t walk away, so I just have to find a way to make this work. That means walking before I try to run and having someone hold my hand as I take my first steps. I’m not going to discard my dreams of a cool brewery and bar, making and serving great lager with me at the decks playing vinyl records for the admiring crowd, but maybe that’s phase 2. Or 3. Time to figure out a sensible phase 1 business plan and get some help.

For every time I feel low about this project there’s at least a couple of times I feel pretty buoyant. One of these came when I visited five breweries in two days. The brewing world is full of lovely people ready to invite you in, hear your story, tell you theirs, wish you luck and send you off with a couple of free beers in your hands. How many industries do you know that treat a potential new competitor like that?! It’s like being able to ‘ask the audience’ on ‘I Want to be a Millionaire’ – a crowd hug. Seeing these breweries in action really sharpened my vision as well as soothing my fears.

My business coach once told me that leadership wasn’t about walking down a path; it was about hacking your way through the undergrowth to create a new path. That pretty neatly sums up how I’m feeling right now – just gotta keep going. Progress along this new path is like playing a video game where you sometimes get chased by monsters and sometimes find a treasure that helps you along. One treasure arrived in the form of news that my Brewlab ‘Start-Up Brewing’ course had been brought forward to September. Sunderland here I come! There’s also a wee bonus boost ahead with my first proper London Brewers’ Alliance meeting being held next week. But still, I was walking alone and not at all sure about my direction, so it was time to ‘phone a friend’.

After some brief research I found the brewery consultant who seemed to best match my needs and reflect my ethos. Paul came with tons of experience, a helpful website and a friendly face, so I got in touch and soon we were having our first chat on the phone. As well as making me feel a little better, this also galvanised me into getting on with my business plan and fine-tuning my elevator pitch. My plans still have plenty at stake, a fair amount of risk and could still fail, but I’ve toned it all down a bit. Somewhat like taking the ’50:50′ option when you’re not sure of the answer.

So, with my lifelines all used up, but some progress being promised ahead, I can look forward to September with a few more ounces of belief nestling in a corner of my man bag. Before we leave August behind though, I should share the other happy moment from my burgeoning/withering writing career. Reviews are the fuel of sales on Amazon and so far I had two, both from friends. Then, to my absolute delight and astonishment, a stranger gave me a really glowing review and four stars. I almost felt like a kosher writer, especially when he said “this is a really good read and just as enjoyable as anything by Bill Bryson”.

While this is no doubt a crushing blow to Bill’s ego, it brought a blushing glow to mine! Okay, it was just one guy, and he did confess that his interests included ale, Scotland and campervans, but it felt to me like getting an extra life on that video game, just before you were about to expire. Right now I need all the extra lives I can get, if I’m going to defeat all the scary monsters ahead.

Gotta get to the next level…

 

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