Crowdfunding? Does it work for books? Eighteen months ago this was a very real question for me. Now my crowdfunded memoir ‘Dead Babies And Seaside Towns’ is on Amazon and in bookshops. It has received great reviews in the UK press and is selling well – despite the controversial subject matter (baby loss and surrogacy).
So how did this happen? What exactly is involved in crowd funding a book – and would it work for you? Numerous companies now offer crowd funding for authors and each has its own approach. I can only tell you about my publishers, Unbound, who are the most high profile and successful of these companies.
Unbound are a ‘curated’ crowdfunding publisher. That means that they select carefully the books that go on their site. The reality is that they are as selective as any mainstream publisher. However, it is also the case that, because they are taking less financial risk, they are frequently more adventurous than other publishers.
So if Unbound agree to publish your book, what happens after that? First Unbound help you to make a video and write a pitch about your book. This then goes up on their website and then you, as the author, need to bring in pledges – which are effectively advanced sales of the book. In general, you need to raise around £10,000 which equates to around 500 people pledging £20 each.
In my case this took six months and it was hard going. I had to embrace social media which doesn’t really suit me. And I had to get over the embarrassment involved in e-mailing friends again and again to get them to sign up. However, I did get plenty of support from Unbound. I also comforted myself with the fact that everyone needs to publicise their book – I was simply doing the work before publication instead of after.
Once the money is raised, then Unbound operate in the same way as any other publisher. They work on editing, proof reading, cover design, printing, publicity, marketing and distribution. They pride themselves on high quality book production and this was important to me. I don’t really care who publishes a book but I hate cheap paper, curly covers, typos, garish book covers.
Did the book production process go smoothly? Yes, more or less. I had published with Simon and Schuster before and they, of course, have a thoroughly well-oiled machine which deals with all the the nuts and bolts of getting a book out. But as an author you are kept at arms length and can finish up feeling passive and peripheral.
Unbound, by comparison, are a new company who may be struggling not to be swept away by the tide of their own success. But equally they are fun, approachable and they listened to me. They took the editing process very seriously and when I said I didn’t like the first book cover they suggested, they immediately started work on another, no questions asked. Also their wonderful publicist was terrier-like in support of my book.
Now that the book is out, I don’t receive the normal 10% royalty. Instead I receive a 50% profit share. In my case, I am not taking this money. I’m giving it to Sands (The Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Charity). But that only makes this highly favourable financial arrangement even more important to me.
It is interesting to note that all the mainstream publishers talk long and loud about their profits. Unbound was set up by writers for writers and they talk about how much money they are returning to their writers. That’s got to be worth thinking about.
All this sounds wonderful but as you read this you are probably thinking, ‘Of course no-one publishes with Unbound if they’ve got another option.’ I am not embarrassed to admit that in my case this was true.
Although I’d published two novels with Simon and Schuster, and am represented by one of London’s top agents, my memoir had been turned down by mainstream publishers. They all made clear, unsurprisingly, that stillbirths just don’t sell (although actually it turns out that they do).
But the world of publishing is changing very fast. Just recently Unbound put a book up on their site by Danny Scheinmann. His first book was an international bestseller so he certainly didn’t have to choose Unbound. But he, like many others, had questions about the mainstream publishing industry and so decided to give crowdfunding a try. That 50% profit share alone will ensure that many others will soon follow him.
Finally the acid test question – would I do it again? Interestingly this is something I’m thinking hard about at the moment. As I’m coming towards the end of a new novel, I’ve got to decide which route to take. On balance, I think I would publish with Unbound again. Partly, this is because my new novel is another difficult book. If the mainstream publishes wouldn’t publish ‘Dead Babies And Seaside Towns,’ I don’t think there is much hope for this book. It just doesn’t fit any recognized mould.
But more significantly, Unbound tell me that they think I will find it easy to raise the subscriptions a second time. And this finally is what lies at the heart of their publishing model. They are all about building the direct relationship between writer and reader, with minimal mediation by the publisher. They know exactly which 500 people bought the memoir and they have got their e-mails. Working together, Unbound and I can immediately target that narrow group of people who are interested in my work. And that, finally, is what is most exciting about Unbound. No other publishers can offer me that.
(c) Alice Jolly
About Dead Babies and Seaside Towns
The world of dead babies is a silent and shuttered place. You do not know it exists until you find yourself there.
When Alice Jolly’s second child was stillborn and all subsequent attempts to have another baby failed, she began to consider every possible option, no matter how unorthodox.
Dead Babies and Seaside Towns is a savagely personal account of the search for an alternative way to create a family. As she battles through miscarriage, IVF and failed adoption attempts, Alice’s only solace from the pain is the faded charm of Britain’s crumbling seaside towns. Finally, this search leads her and her husband to a small town in Minnesota, and two remarkable women who offer to make the impossible possible.
In this beautiful book, shot through with humour and full of hope, Alice Jolly describes with a novelist’s skill events that woman live through every day – even if many feel compelled to keep them hidden. Her decision not to hide but to share them, without a trace of sentiment or self-pity, turns Dead Babies and Seaside Towns into a universal story: one that begins in tragedy but ends in joy.
“The miracle is that this powerfully written book is not only bearable but compulsively readable. It should be grim but it is absolutely not. Jolly’s resolute determination to tell the whole, exhausting truth, however searing, emotional, unfashionable, unpalatable or savagely humorous, keeps is turning the pages, well into the night, and cheering her on.” (Financial Times)
“Her account is astonishingly moving and her prose nothing short of hypnotic.” (Independent)
“Beautifully written and brutally honest.” (Sunday Times)
“So beautifully written that you can’t stop reading.” (Woman and Home)
“Alice’s writing is so precise and courageous it transforms her grief into a deeply powerful sense of hope and defiance.” (Rowan Pelling)