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.
9 thoughts on “The journey begins”
Fantastic first post! You’re on your way to being a (pretend) extrovert on the internet!
Thanks, Lisa. Still a way to go but getting there!
Ah, that strikes a few chords, Helen! My Unbound book is stuck at the very start of the funding process and I’m afraid won’t move on much from there. Seems to me it’s not so much crowdfunding as friends and family funding. You’re right that publishing does require a lot of ‘spreading the word’ bu authors – and that’s fair enough. But I think most people don’t wnat to fund a bok that maybe a year off publicaton – and I don’t blame them. To bridge the gap by making a personal ptich seems to undermine the supposed principle of Unbound – which is reades “vote for the books they want to read”.
So, like you, I’m a bit split on the model. Yes, it’s “rock and roll compared to traditional publishers” but there’s a lot of disappointed bands in the R&R world, and we only think about the successes…
Sorry for the delay replying. Been computer-less for a day or two. And sorry to hear you’re worried about your Unbound campaign.
I think it’s natural that when we start out on the process it’s friends and family that support us, but bit by bit the network will get wider. It’s going to take work to get the word out beyond the folk who have a personal connection to us. It certainly won’t happen all by itself. But Unbound have enough successes behind them to show that it can work.
Honestly, I’m really excited to be part of Unbound, and delighted that so many of my friends and family have supported me. And I’ve pledged for quite a few books myself and it is thrilling when they reach their targets and you know you were one of the people who helped get it there. And you’re name will be in the back as proof. It’s much much more than just buying a book.
Helen, I’m sure you’ll make it to 100% if this post is anything to go by. Just think of all the people on your side and the wonderful book awaiting at the end of this and press on till you get there! I funded my ebook Blind Side earlier this year and it was published in July, the first title out in Unbound’s new digital list. I was totally delighted at the quality of the book which resulted. Like you I have a doggedly introverted side and stubbornly left getting to grips with Twitter & blogging till way past everyone else. But despite that, the supporters came (with a little cajoling here and there). All that effort to get publicity via crowdfunding is a great way to overcome any residual shyness, and gives a big head start in one’s book promotion efforts – yes like it or not all us authors need to do that, somehow. All the best with funding your book!
It’s wonderful to have encouragement from someone who has gone through the process, Jennie. Thank you so much. And you’re right about the publicity overcoming residual shyness and preparing us for what’s ahead. To use Lisa’s term, I’m working on being a (pretend) internet extrovert. And although I still have some heart thumping moments, I’m secretly quite enjoying it.
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