My ALLi author guest this episode is Guy Windsor, who is also known as “The Sword Guy.” He has taken his love for a very niche topic, which is researching medieval and Renaissance sword-fighting techniques and turned it into a successful business through books, online courses and crowdfunding campaigns. It's a model that other indie authors could follow.
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Inspirational Indie Author Interview. Guy Windsor: About the Author
Consulting Swordsman Dr. Guy Windsor is acclaimed and respected both as a teacher and a pioneering researcher of medieval and renaissance martial arts. He began his professional historical martial arts career when he founded The School of European Swordsmanship in Helsinki, Finland in 2001. Awarded a PhD by Edinburgh University for his seminal work recreating historical combat systems, Guy has written numerous books for historical martial artists, such as The Medieval Longsword: A Training Manual for , The Medieval Dagger, From Medieval Manuscript to Modern Practice, The Art of Sword Fighting in Earnest, The Duellist’s Companion, The Swordsman’s Companion, The Theory and Practice of Historical Martial Arts, The Rapier Workbook series, and The Armizare Workbook. He has also created a huge range of online courses, covering medieval knightly combat, sword and buckler, rapier, remedial training, and even how to train alone. Now, Guy splits his time between researching historical martial arts; writing books and creating online courses, teaching students all over the world; and working as a consulting expert for media and entertainment professionals. He runs the popular historical martial arts podcast The Sword Guy, interviewing historical martial artists and experts from a wide range of related disciplines. You can find him and his work online at swordschool.com
About the Host
Howard Lovy has been a journalist for more than 35 years, and now amplifies the voices of independent author-publishers and works with authors as a developmental editor. Howard is also a freelance writer specializing in Jewish issues whose work appears regularly in Publishers Weekly, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, and Longreads. Find Howard at howardlovy.com, LinkedIn and Twitter.
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Inspirational Indie Author Interview. Guy Windsor: Read the Transcript
Howard Lovy: My guest this episode is Guy Windsor, who is also known as The Sword Guy.
He has taken his love for a very niche topic, which is researching medieval and renaissance sword fighting techniques, and turned it into a successful career through books, online courses, and crowdfunding campaigns. It's a model that other indie authors could follow. I'll let Guy Windsor tell his story.
Guy Windsor: Hello, I'm Guy Windsor and my job is teaching people how to fight with swords. So, I find historical sources, interpret those sources, translate them if necessary, and create training syllabi from those, and of course, I write books about every stage of that process.
I grew up in, first five years, in a little village outside Cambridge in the UK, then we moved to Argentina for a couple of years. Then we moved to Botswana for five years, and then we moved to Peru for another six years. So, when I was 18, my parents moved back to the UK, and so when they moved to Scotland, I was coincidentally going to Edinburg University that same year. So, I've moved around an awful lot and honestly, it never really occurred to me to write a book until I was in my late twenties.
I did an English lit degree, so I like reading books, and books have been a huge part of my life since forever, but it wasn't until one of my students, when I was teaching them sword fighting, and they were like, Guy, you really ought to write this stuff down. And I was like, really? You think I should? Okay. So, I started writing what became four years later, my first book.
Howard Lovy: But before we go into his sword fighting in books, I ask Guy what it was like to have moved around so much when he was young.
Guy Windsor: Kids just, sort of, whatever childhood they experience they assume is normal. So, I remember being quite discombobulated when we moved from England to Argentina when I was five because it was a whole different country, and people spoke Spanish, and it struck me as absurdly unfair that I then had to go and learn Spanish to talk to people and whatnot.
Then we moved to Botswana, it was like just as we'd gotten really used to Argentina and that was home, then we moved to Botswana. We were in Botswana for long enough that it really did become home, and I missed the country, and my friends, and the place a lot when we moved to Peru. And again, for the first year we were in Peru, we absolutely had decided that we didn't like it because it was different and annoying, and it's like, this isn't home and this isn't where we're supposed to be and blah, blah, blah. But after six months, or a year, or whatever it was, we sort of got used to it.
Then when we left Peru six years later, that was really hard because having spent my teenage years in Peru, I had friends and social networks and whatnot, and this, of course, was before the internet, so it wasn't like you could just keep up with each other on Facebook, because we left Peru in 1992. And yeah, it was hard leaving. But then one thing that did give me is that, for me, home isn't really a place, it's people.
So, then when I went to Edinburgh, going to university was no big deal, and when I was at Edinburg, I did a year as exchange student in Finland, in Helsinki. So, for me, going and living in a different country for a year was no big deal. So, there were advantages there.
I still have friends from Peru days, and to a lesser extent, from Botswana days, but it is super hard keeping up a long-distance relationship as a child.
Howard Lovy: Guy went to the University of Edinburgh, and yes, he did take classes, but Guy's college life was all about his extracurricular activities.
Guy Windsor: Okay, I say I studied English Lit, that's what my degree was in, but in my first year I did minors in biology and English language, because you had to. In my second year I did minors in Spanish, because I already spoke it from living in Peru and physiology and pharmacology, just because I was interested, because I really liked biology. But really, Monday night was fencing. Tuesday night, Tai Chi. Wednesday night was fencing again. Thursday night was Tai Chi again. Friday night was Kabuto, Japanese weapons stuff. Saturday was Karate. Sunday, there was usually some kind of martial arts thing going on. Then Wednesday mornings in my second year, somebody started up a little Aikido group, so I was doing that at eight o'clock in the morning on Wednesdays. Then after about, I guess towards the end of my second year, me and some friends started a club called the Dawn Dueller Society, which is still going now.
Howard Lovy: You can probably detect a theme in Guy's life. So, why all the interest in martial arts?
Guy Windsor: Really? I had a big brother who wasn't very nice to me, and he's four years older than me. So, when you are five, that's a big difference, and I came across a book when we were living in Argentina, The Twelve Tasks of Asterix. One of the tasks is, this little judo chap comes along, and Obelix goes, ah, yes, of course, I'll take this one, and bash, bash, bash, bash, bash. And of course, the little, tiny Japanese chap in a judo gear with a black belt is throwing Obelix around the place and sort of dusting the ground with him, and then Asterix goes, how do you do that? Oh, that's really cool, how do you do that? And he tricks the guy into giving him a lesson. And during that lesson, of course, Asterix immobilizes the teacher. Which is of course, completely, you know, that wouldn't happen in real life, but what it did is it gave me this idea, firstly, that skill can beat strength and cleverness can beat skill.
That is the fundamental idea behind martial arts. It's that basically training works, and the fundamental idea behind weapons is they're an equaliser. You don't have to be bigger and stronger than the other person to defeat them in combat if you have the right weapons.
Howard Lovy: So, that's how Guy got into martial arts, and then historical martial arts using swords. It hadn't really occurred to him to write a book about all this until he began writing some notes just to organize his thoughts.
Guy Windsor: I graduated in '96, and I started writing my first book in '99, so shortly before I went off to Finland to start my school.
It honestly hadn't occurred to me to write a book, because I just didn't have any idea of how to do it or what. But once the idea was planted, it actually became, as I was doing the research and finding out how these historical martial arts worked and everything, it became this super useful tool for organizing my thinking, and organizing my research approach, and taking these techniques and ideas and things from these old books, and experience from my students and from teaching my students, and sort of, how do you take all of these different things and make them into something that's actually a system that people can practice while writing a book, is a great way of organizing my thoughts.
Howard Lovy: Guy's research into historical martial arts, and the books he wrote about them, also helped him earn a PhD.
Guy Windsor: The bulk of my PhD is my book, Medieval Dagger, which is based on, basically it's an analysis of Fiore's Dagger Material, that's from the 1400 manuscript. My book, The Duellist's Companion, which is basically my training method based on Capoferro, and I did a translation of a medieval manuscript, it was written in about 1480 by a guy called Filippo Vadi called De Arte Gladiatoria Dimicandi, which is The Art of Sword-Fighting in Earnest, and I crowdfunded a translation of that. So, I did the translation work and I crowdfunded making it into a book.
It's very, very difficult to get qualified feedback on these things, so I applied to Edinburgh University for what's called a PhD by research publications, where they take stuff you've already published and you write a great long essay about why it constitutes a PhD, and you send that off and they examine you based on that.
My translation work wasn't up to scratch, so I actually got some really, really useful feedback on how to improve that work. So, I went away for a couple of years, and I re-did that entire translation and republished it as, The Art of Sword-Fighting in Earnest, and then went back and got examined again and passed, and that's how I got my PhD.
Howard Lovy: Guy's first three books were traditionally published. Then he decided to go indie.
Guy Windsor: The publisher of my first two books, so The Swordsman's Companion and the Dueller's Companion, some years later, eight authors, including me, initiated a class action suit against the publishers, because they'd never paid any royalties, and there is a non-defamation clause in the final settlement, which means I shouldn't really go into any more details because I'll start frothing at the mouth. So then after that, a friend of mine started a publishing company specializing in this sort of thing, and so I gave them my next book, and that was The Medieval Dagger. They published that and then they sat on the manuscript of my Medieval Long-Sword book for two years, and eventually I got my agent to break the contract because it was like, I just can't afford to wait two years for a book to not come out. It's like, this is my livelihood. I mean, books weren't my livelihood from an income perspective at this point, but they were certainly part of my professional offerings, and for people in my sort of field, having books out serve as qualifications because there are no qualifications in my field. But you know, if you've written the book on something, people confuse author with authority. I also self-published the two books I got back in the settlement from the first publisher.
So, I had, should we say, in the machinery of self-publishing, I already had. So, I had a layout person, then I had a Lightning Source account, and I had a KDP account, and all that sort of stuff. So, I had all the machinery there, and so when I broke the contract with the other publisher, I crowdfunded the money to pay for the layout and pay for all that sort of thing, and I actually did pretty well, I raised about £12,000, something like that.
Howard Lovy: Along the way, Guy became a successful crowd funder, and he has a few tips to give other authors on the right way to do it.
Guy Windsor: The key thing about crowdfunding is a successful crowdfunding campaign, especially these days, it was easier in the early days when there were far fewer of them, but these days, a successful crowdfunding campaign is the last 5% of a marketing campaign, or a publicity campaign, or some kind of thing you do that gets a whole bunch of people listening to about a particular topic.
I've spent the last 20 years teaching classes and traveling around the world, teaching seminars all over the place, and by this point social media was a thing and I had a social media following, although I've never really taken social media terribly seriously. It's not really my thing.
The thing is also, when you are in a very specific and easily defined niche, it is very easy to get publicity in that niche. So, I'm writing books primarily on Italian martial arts, specifically Fiore, Vadi, and Capoferro, those three particular authors or sources that I'm working on.
So, people who are into Fiore are easy to find because within martial arts as a big audience, within that, there's sword arts, within that there's Italian sword art, or a medieval sword art, depending how you want to classify it, and then within that, there is this particular treatise in this particular subject. So, the people who are interested in that tend to be easy to target because the target is very, very precise.
A useful idea around this is that the target is not the market. The target is the people you can easily reach who are definitely interested in exactly what you're talking about, and if you serve that target well, the influence will spread out from it because they will tell their friends who maybe aren't quite in the target, but if what you're doing is sufficiently interesting, it will spread beyond the target. So, even if the target is only 500 people, you might actually have a market of 5,000 people because each one of those 500 tell 10 of their friends.
Howard Lovy: But it's not the sale of books that make up most of Guys' income. He teaches online courses, which is a far more lucrative endeavour.
Guy Windsor: I have loads of online courses. I've been producing one big one and one small one every year since 2016. So, I have big courses on Medieval Longsword, Medieval Dagger, Rapier, sort of fencing with a rapier, solo training, which did really well during the pandemic, partly because I dropped the price by 95% so that people could afford it during difficult times.
I've got my most recent courses on how to teach. I also have courses, and actually writers who are listening to this, you may find this useful, I have a free online course called Human Maintenance, which includes how to look after your forearms, because I am susceptible to tendonitis. 24 years ago, or something, a friend of mine taught me these exercises, and massage, and various other things to prevent tendonitis, and when I keep up my exercises, I don't get tendonitis at all, and if I neglect my exercises for a couple of weeks, the tendonitis comes back.
So, I put that stuff in a free online course because I need people to be healthy. I need my students to be healthy.
Howard Lovy: So, between books, online courses, and speaking engagements, Guy Windsor is a kind of poster boy for indie publishing. He doesn't just write books, he has his own brand, and as The Sword Guy, he owns his niche, and his readers and students know exactly what to expect from him.
It's a model that could work also for other authors.
Guy Windsor: Here's a thought. This is based on research I heard about that was done into dating websites. On a dating website, you should be a little bit more yourself than you normally are, and a slightly exaggerated version of yourself so that plenty of people will go, no, definitely not, but the people who go, oh yeah, that looks good, they really like it. So, you want to have lots of no's, lots of yes's and no, eh.
The same is true when you are trying to make a living as a writer or a historical martial arts instructor, or in any kind of field where it's a niche, own it. Just be the sword person, or be the, you know, whatever your niche happens to be, don't apologize for it. Just be as much of it as you can be whilst remaining your authentic self.