It is almost a year ago now since I met Rachael Kerr, Unbound’s Editor-at-Large, at a National Creative Writing Graduate Fair at Manchester Metropolitan University. She was one of several industry professionals speaking at the fair and I was immediately taken by the whole idea of Unbound. They seemed pretty rock and roll compared to traditional publishers. Adventurous, innovative, and totally down with the digital age. Qualities I’d love to say that I shared but a body of evidence the size of a hairy mammoth pretty much proves the opposite.
Technologically challenged, a late adopter, insecure and hideously introverted would be perhaps to understate my defining characteristics. Not ideal when Unbound’s model relies on crowdfunding, on gathering supporters to pledge to buy the book in advance. As soon as a project has enough support, the book goes into production—special editions for the supporters alongside a commercial print run (in conjunction with Penguin Random House). But to find that support, the authors have to do a large part of the marketing themselves.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m more than willing to work hard (so long as the hard work doesn’t involve picking tatties—worst job ever by the way). But I have issues asking people to sponsor me for a charity run, never mind ask them to pledge for my book.
So, back at the conference, I chatted with Rachael, pitched my idea and she seemed to like it. The basic synopsis of THE BACKSTREETS OF PURGATORY is as follows: Caravaggio arrives in present day Glasgow to help out a struggling art student and things get messy. Rachael asked me to email her the manuscript. Result.
But I didn’t. Not for a few months. Even though I was sure that Unbound was the spiritual home for my novel. They seemed effortlessly cool—cool but professional—turning out top quality, exciting, left-field works like one of the good indie record labels from back in the day. And I desperately wanted to be part of it.
So why didn’t I send the manuscript? Because I was scared. Scared of the whole publicity-crowdfunding-showing-my-face-in-public malarky. Scared Unbound wouldn’t take it. Scared they would.
Only, as time went on, I realised that any publisher these days expects a lot from their authors. Perhaps not the crowdfunding in advance, but the equivalent type of publicity campaign afterwards (yeah, yeah, I know I’m a bit slow off the mark but I’d been coddled in the land of Masters degrees and novel writing and hadn’t had the headspace, not to mention the confidence, to think about the next step). If I wanted anyone to read my book, I was going to have to drag myself out from behind my computer screen and overflowing notebooks and sell the thing.
So I finally did it. I plucked up courage and sent the manuscript. And was utterly thrilled when Rachael said Unbound wanted to take it.
Which they have.
And it turns out that, after all, I am able to do this crowdfunding thing, to send out hundreds of emails and Facebook messages and hand-written letters and everything else it entails. It’s tough (at the time of this post I’m pushing but haven’t quite made the 50% mark) and maybe I don’t always do it quite the right way, maybe I overdid the buy-my-book tweets at the beginning (of course I did but I thought that’s what I was meant to do), and maybe sometimes I’ve found it hard to frame the proposition in a way that leaves someone free to pledge or not without feeling either obligation or guilt, but at least I have been able to give it a go. Because, as I tried to explain at a recent reading event in my home town (with chin tremors and a suppressed sniffle or two) I’m proud of my novel, because I love my characters, and because I’ve written the book that I’d set out to write.
But don’t tell anyone I said so.