After struggling for ages to find a publisher for my novel Dolly Considine’s Hotel, friends asked “why not self-publish,” and I toyed with signing up to Amazon Direct Publishing.
I am of the generation of writers who were told that self-publishing (called “vanity publishing” in the 80s) would result in never being published by a “proper” publisher. But I was reluctant to join the millions signing up to Amazon, for other reasons, including a lingering doubt about the reasons traditional publishers would not take me on. More importantly, any sensible publisher will insist on edits and making the book more accessible to readers. I felt that to have any chance of success on Amazon I’d have to pay up-front for an editor and cover designers and marketing. And reading other writers’ Amazon experiences suggested that successful books fell into genres which had ready-made communities actively looking for reading opportunities in their genre. Buyers of literary novels don’t seem to search on Amazon. My fear was yes, I could upload my book and offer print on demand, but it would then sink without trace.
In 2016 I attended a writers’ conference and heard about the “crowd funding publishers” several of which had sprung up, among them Unbound.com.
How does it work? Writers submit in the normal way and, if Unbound likes the idea, they offer a contract. They estimate the fund needed to get to publication (including editing and marketing) and set up a dedicated page on their web site. They invite their “community” to pledge cash (minimum £10). The writer is expected to invite their friends, family, and community to join the campaign. In return, all subscribers receive a copy of the book (minimum) but for more generous donors there are bigger and better rewards. For example, the book club package will not only include ten copies of the book but might also include a visit by the writer to a club session. Or: currently there is a retired police officer (crowdfunding his own crime novel) who is offering to provide support for authors requiring help on police procedures for their own writing.
Large pledges are obviously welcome, but it is the individual small donors that generate the buzz that can help a book to go viral. Research in the U.S. suggests that friends, family and community account for more than two thirds of “arts” type crowdfunding. Less than one third comes from strangers.
Unbound.com say their “mission is to disrupt publishing with fresh ideas that don’t fit the mould.” To date, 221,397 subscribers in 201 countries have pledged £7,738,835 to fund 469 projects including Nikesh Shukla’s The Good Immigrant (Books are my Bag Readers’ Choice Award winner) and Paul Kingsnorth’s The Wake (longlisted for Mann Booker).
My first venture into pledging was for Matt Cain’s The Madonna of Bolton: “When Matt [an experienced writer and magazine editor] first started talking to publishers about this book, he was told that it was too working class, too Eighties, too immersed in pop culture, and too gay. Charlie’s is a story that anyone can empathise with. It’s Billy Elliot meets Beautiful Thing wearing a conical bra – a story for anyone who ever sang their heart out, looked for love, dreamed of more, or wanted a Soda Stream more than anything else in the world…”
My attention was drawn to one of the pledge “rewards”: a creative writing session with Matt. Matt is a former editor of a national LGBT magazine, and I thought it would do my career no harm to meet him.
Editor Kit de Waal’s Common People, An Anthology of Working Class Writers, was the second book I pledged for. As someone who grew up in inner city Clanbrassil Street, Dublin, I think it’s fair to say I had some personal interest in being identified with this book. Although (of course) I did ask (just myself) why I hadn’t been asked to contribute a story.
The Undiscovered Country by Aidan McQuade is a novel set during the War of Independence. “Why should people care about a murder during war time? Two men attempt to solve the killing of a young boy during the Irish War of Independence in 1920.”
My interest was caught because in Dolly Considine’s Hotel I have a back story involving a volunteer who was shot during an ambush on a British convoy during the same conflict; my mystery being that investigators discovered no guns had been discharged by the Black and Tans.
The above books were each oversubscribed and published. Below are two books I think are important (and have pledged to) which are currently on offer but may struggle to reach their targets. Success is not guaranteed.
Roz Kavaney is an important pioneer trans woman whose activism and poetry has inspired and supported trans people for many years. “Waking into Dream contains poems about being trans – celebratory poems about the new generation of trans and genderqueer people, and terrified poems about anti-trans violence and forced de-transition.”
Daniel O’Shaughnessy is a nutritionist and has written an important empowering book: “I know that the LGBTQ+ community has specific dietary and health needs. I work with individuals on matters you might expect: weight loss and muscle gain, addiction, fertility and digestive health issues. But I also work with many clients on more sensitive matters like nutrition for balancing hormones while transitioning; how to eat if you have a chronic condition; how to mitigate against the party/circuit lifestyle.”
Irish woman Hazel Hayes’ Out of Love has reached its Unbound target but will continue to take pledges (and gather momentum) until its allocated three months run out.
Of course, the reason I’ve written this article is to “drive traffic” (as they say in the industry) to the funding page for Dolly Considine’s Hotel. But I will understand if, once you get there, you find other opportunities that appeal more.
Please take a look. It went live at noon on 22nd July: https://unbound.com/books/dolly-considines-hotel/
(c) Eamon Somers