Friday, May 2, 2014

How Planning My Wedding Affected My Book by Samantha Birch!

The High-Street Bride’s Guide author Samantha Birch
on how saying ‘I do’ affected getting to ‘The End’

I'm thrilled to have the beautiful and uber talented Samantha Birth visiting Tattered Pages today, with a blog post every bride to be should read! (And pretty much anyone who has ever gotten married or is planning to get married! LOL) Take it away, Sam!

Back in January 2013, a work colleague emailed me in a panic: “I’ve found my dream wedding dress!!” she said. “But I have NO idea who it’s by!!” Not long out of my job at You & Your Wedding, I recognised the picture straight away—I’d written about Alfred Angelo often enough. I pinged her a link back, and a few minutes later her reply came through: “Amazing, thanks Sam! You should write a book!”

I’d thought about writing a wedding book before, but I was well aware how hard it is to get published, and HarperImpulse—who would take it on a few months later—didn’t even exist at the time. But my friend had it all figured out: I could do it myself, she suggested. It was easy: just publish it on Amazon.

Do it myself! I liked that. But one glance at my phone calendar and it slowly dawned: we were in the middle of peak proposal time. I’d already missed the November to Christmas/New Year window. It was January, and I was going to have to get this out by Valentine’s Day. As if that wasn’t enough, at the same time, after three years of saving up, my now-husband and I were just on the cusp of having the money to start planning our own wedding. It was going to be a busy few weeks…

The Name of the Game
It was obvious what I wanted to write about from the start. When you’ve spent three years with a ring your finger and not so much as a set-date to show for it, you start to feel like something’s not right. Our budget was holding us back, and we couldn’t be the only ones.

We’d been saving up all this time on the proviso that we’d do our wedding on a budget, and I knew I had ways of making it happen from the time I’d spent at You & Your Wedding, writing for Cosmo Bride and subsequently Brides, and from the—did I mention this?—three years I’d had ruminating on how to do it.

So there it was: I knew I knew ways of doing a wedding on a budget, I knew a lot of the big wedding outlets didn’t talk about them, and I knew the £22,500 average that a lot of readers of the big, bi-monthly wedding magazines spent on their big days was a pipedream for a lot of us. So someone else out there must be baulking at the prices of everything from dresses to DJs and wondering if they were ever going to get married. And I knew I wanted to help them avoid putting it off and putting it off, to help them avoid spending a house deposit on one day of their lives, and to help them avoid what I’d seen one couple among our friends do: getting into five years’ worth of debt so they could finally do it. That night, I wrote five words on a Post-It note next to my bed: The High-Street Bride’s Guide.
Roughing It
I planned the book out first. That was different for me. When I write fiction I find planning restrictive, but this was a project that had more similarities to my article-writing for GLAMOUR and co. than any fiction I’d written. A good, solid plan was the way to go—especially if I was going to get this thing written inside a month.

I started big: I knew the big spend on our big day would be the wedding venue—between the venue hire, the food and the drink—and the same applied to everyone else. Start with the big savers, I thought, and be straight-up with people, and they’d know from the off whether my book was for them. Hopefully they’d think: ‘Hey, if that’s how much I’ve saved in the first two pages, imagine what I could save in the rest of the book!’

I’d flicked through the odd wedding planning book before, for our own do, and generally woken up drooling with my head stuck to the pages. Lots of dry instructions and bullet points and panic-inducing timescales that beat you over the head with a kind of ‘What do you mean you haven’t sent out your save-the-dates, coaxed your hair into growing an extra five inches and toned your arms to within an inch of their life? You’ve only got TWO YEARS!’ approach. This with me would not wash.

No, I was going to have to try something else. Something relaxed, interesting, entertaining, maybe even something funny. Not in a this-book-is-secretly-my-memoirs-masquerading-as-being-helpful-to-you way that some call-themselves-wedding-guides do. Y’know the ones: where the writer spends 50 pages agonising over how they chose their perfect little dress with Mandy and Gillian and Louise in that little boutique where the 4,000-word anecdote happened that in no way helps you with your actual wedding dress dilemma.

And then it hit me: here I was, a relatively relaxed bride in the middle of helping my best friend step away from her terrifying wedding guide and plan her wedding without tearing her hair out. I needed to write this thing like I was talking to my best friend: it needed to be honest, open-minded, not boss people around but give them choices, and I needed to relax and write like me. Yes, even if that meant the odd occasional—short! And hopefully witty—reference to White Fang and Dylan Moran and the M&S adverts in a book that was mostly about flowers and dresses and wedding cakes. Because come on, brides aren’t only brides, they’re people, right?

Gowning Around
So I had the tone, and I had the ideas, and I was well away. And that’s when we did the maths and realised we were just a few months off me being able to finally buy my wedding dress! Texts went out and it was all arranged: after all those years of scrimping and waiting I’d soon be standing in a real bridal shop with my real mum and nearly-mother-in-law and bridesmaids. This was going to require research.

By now basically a veteran bride-to-be, research had featured heavily in maintaining my sanity over the years. My groom wasn’t interested in poring over wedding magazines and making mood boards for a wedding he knew was way, way off, so I satisfied my craving writing for bridal magazines and browsing over blogs and Pinterest and endless wedding dress designers’ websites.

I’d stuffed my aisle-addled mind with every nuptial detail known to man, but it was as I was racking my brain trying to think what that shop was on the corner next to Warehouse that I realised I needed a reference list. Something I could just glance at with the names of everywhere I could think of to get wedding dresses and bridesmaid dresses and grooms’ outfits that didn’t cost the earth. And so did The High-Street Bride’s Guide.

Weeks later, the first version of the book was up on Amazon, and the orders started… trickling in. Strangely, my flawless marketing strategy of the occasional tweet and Facebook post and even a little piece on You & Your Wedding and only helped for the first couple of weeks. In the meantime, our wedding was powering ahead: we actually set the actual date at an actual venue that May, and our lives descended into Planning Mode for the big day in November. The book slipped onto the backburner.

Better Days
After ‘Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God, I’m getting published… By HarperCollins!’, the first thing that occurred to me after I put the phone down to Charlotte at Impulse that August was that the book was going to need a rework—partly to bring it up to date, and partly to pack in all the extra stuff I’d already picked up planning our wedding.

Like negotiating. I’m not a big haggler in real life, but over email, where I can turn the bartering over to my typing fingers, I’d sussed out some strategies that were saving us some serious moolah. It was time to add a Negotiating section and help other people whose first instinct was to nod mutely at the off-the-leaflet quote they got from every supplier.

Photography was another biggie: most of the snappers we liked for our wedding were asking for about £1,600, but there was another way: we’d asked the few premium photographers who wouldn’t budge on their budget whether they knew anyone—especially their own supporting shooters—who could work for under our numbers. We ended up with the album of our dreams by a woman who cost a third of what her more experienced ex-boss had been quoting. That one had to go in.

But it wasn’t all one way, I realised, as November got closer: I didn’t only learn stuff as I went along that I added to The High-Street Bride’s Guide—I was also using the first draft to help us plan our wedding. When the name of that obscure little place I liked for style details was on the tip of my tongue, I flicked back through the book. When it came to picking our wedding rings, we went straight to one place—I’d already done all the research for the Rings chapter.

In the end we paid £6,000 for our wedding plus £2,500 combined from our parents—less than a third of what those readers of the big bi-monthly wedding mags were forking out. And now I’ve got friends and acquaintances using it: one just used it to find some cute first-night undies, one to find her affordable boho wedding dress, and six couples are reading it to help plan their whole wedding, from ceremony to slow-dance!

It was exciting when the first version came out back in February last year, but it’s even more exciting this April: I know it works, because I used it, and our budget wedding in November was perfect.


Brides-to-be, this one’s for you!
You can say your vows in a catwalk gown so beautiful it reduces your mum to tears (and not because she paid for it).
You can style a reception so stunning your guests won’t believe you didn’t hire an A-list planner.
And you can sprinkle the day with personal touches that make everyone feel like you gave them special attention before they even got there. Without spending a house deposit on it. Honest.

Samantha Birch has written for GLAMOUR, Brides, You & Your Wedding and Cosmopolitan Bride. She knows a thing or two about planning a wedding on a budget, how much you can expect to pay for everything and where to go to get it for less. And she’s put it all down here.


AJ Nuest said...

So happy to have you here today, Samantha! I love this story and think you are fabulous beyond measure for sharing all this wonderful information with the world!

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