Why Unbound? Why crowdfunding?

Observations from people who’ve been there

Funding my book with Unbound has been a fascinating process. There have been unexpected benefits that go beyond the buzz of having my book published.

Unbound came into being as a response to changes in the publishing industry. Good books were not getting published because their commercial success couldn’t be guaranteed. There has been a steady drift toward projects with TV or celebrity tie-ins, so whilst the business of books in general may have been in unexpectedly great shape, areas such as literary fiction have been struggling. Thus the clever people at Unbound came up with a way of addressing this. As well as a way of securing publication for a wide array of books that might not make it in the more commercial sector, it offers a fantastic connection between writer and audience.

Is it for you? Are you about to launch your own crowdfunded book, with Unbound or any other platform? Here, with a little help from my Unbound friends, are some tips and observations on crowdfunding. (Most of them work for promoting a book too.)

stevyn

Stevyn Colgan, author of A Murder To Die For

1)THE AUDIENCE IS ELUSIVE. It was very much harder than I had anticipated to reach the people that I didn’t already know.

2) TOUGH –  YOU MUST HUNT THEM DOWN. You will need strangers to buy your book so start looking for them early. The audience has no need of your words, there are millions of other words already out there that they could gorge on for all eternity. But they will pledge because you make yourself of interest to them, because you let them know you are there. Initially this will probably be because they love you or care about you. Very few will pledge because they happened to read your synopsis and think you are a genius. But you have to find ways to reach them any way.

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Damon Wakes, author of Ten Little Astronauts

3) FINDING YOUR VOICE IS DIFFICULT BUT YOU ONLY HAVE TO DO IT ONCE.  I don’t mean your writer’s voice, that bit is dealt with already. I mean your professional author voice. That is, if you want to get your book funded and subsequently aim to give up or cut back on the work you are doing to pay your way whilst you write.

Social media guilt starts to drag around behind you like a damp, mildewed cape hanging limp and heavy from your shoulders. Smart people who are good at selling books tell you to do it, do it hard, do it more. Every day, engage, build connections. It takes up a helluva lot of mindspace to even think of how that might work. But eventually you seem to find a kind of honest approach, one that doesn’t feel like a fake or an uncomfortable hard sell. Then it can be quite fun.

Apart from odd moments when you suspect all your friends hate you and wish your computer would break.

4) IT HELPS ENORMOUSLY that Unbound have selected the manuscript. It shouldn’t matter, the selection does not of course, suddenly make it a better book than if I had self-published, but it gives people confidence in it.

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Helen M Taylor, author of The Backstreets of Purgatory

5) MAKE NEW FRIENDS. I have come into a fabulous, not exactly secret, but almost, back-stage community. A number of other Unbound writers get together on a regular basis via the medium of Facebook to share tips, moan, high-five, amuse each other and become friends. I’ve even met some of them and hope to do so again. It is wonderful support. A kind of unofficial, ad-hoc scaffold built from the finest materials. There are many different writers, a magically wide array of books (some of which I have made pledges for myself) all come together into a helpful and supportive community. A great resource. It is sometimes the only place you can go to off-load anxiety or boredom or disappointment with progress. You can’t actually tell a friend who has been generous enough to back your project that you are fed up with how slowly it seems to be moving without it sounding like a barely-disguised wheedle.

It has been so valuable and mood-lifting, informative and smart. It is great to know that when someone feels hollow or disappointed by small rewards gained from huge effort, a group of cheery and funny people who totally get the feeling will gather round (temporarily taking a break from penning the next masterpiece/suspiciously ready to engage in an easy online-distraction) to tell them how well they are doing and that they shouldn’t give up.

Ian

Ian Skewis, author of A Murder Of Crows

6) LOVE YOUR OLD FRIENDS. Most wonderful of all is how generous friends, colleagues and family are. I have had so much support. Way more than I expected. Which is incredibly lucky, because see 1). People have been amazingly generous. Like other authors,  I have found that it has been by far the bulk of my backing. None of them had to pledge, there is no obligation. It is generosity that makes people pledge, a generous desire to help, a generous desire to fund the arts, a generous desire to make something happen. It is humbling and up-lifting. And, unexpectedly, it made this process, though it has sometimes been difficult, scary and definitely hard work, one that is ultimately very rewarding.

Of course I will never know if my book would have eventually been published by a conventional publisher, but probably not. So I am deeply, immensely grateful to Unbound for making it possible. The opportunity to invest in books that may not make a great deal of money is precious for all of us. And in all my dealings the people at Unbound have been unfailingly kind, helpful and engaged.

It feels great that so many people have invested in my book, even the ones who intended to pledge but never got round to it. The openness of the process has made them aware of what I am doing and interested enough to talk to me about it and that is an investment.

james

James Ellis, author of The Wrong Story

Crowdfunding, asking for help or support, finding people to invest in your work is daunting, it can be very hard work. But it is also uplifting and exciting, and possibly the only option if you don’t want to go it alone. I am very happy with the story so far.

My book Twice the Speed of Dark will be coming out on Unbound later this year.

The flicker of lights

Shades 1 aperture

Short story

As outlined in this post Twice the Speed of Dark began as a project in which I wrote portraits to imagine what the real lives might be of the people who died in terror attacks overseas, whose stories were presumed to be uninteresting to us, or irrelevant. I wanted to engage with the complexities and tender beauties of ordinary lives that had been suddenly and brutally ended, then ignored. The aim was to look at the life of that person, not their death, so as to attempt an understanding of what had been ended. (In Twice the Speed of Dark, Anna writes the portraits, some of which can be found in the book. You can still make a pledge for Twice the Speed of Dark, and get your name in the back as a thank you for being a supporter, if you would like to.)

I decided yesterday that I would revisit the portraits I wrote during that project and write short/very short stories to expand on the few sentences I had written as an outline. This story is about the first portrait I wrote.

#1. Aperture

She sighs, stretches backward, gratified by the small, responsive click in her back. She pulls back her elbows hoping to coax another snap from her tired spine. Bending forward once more to complete the job, she digs around the roots of the ungainly plant with a trowel. Once the soil is loosened she grasps the thickened stem, coaxing gently so as to ease out the whole root system in one. A gentle, insistent tug, a come with me. Soon the plant is out of the ground, almost whole, its growth flayed out, mirrored at each end of the brown thickening of the stem. It lies on the ground. A pair of lungs on a tilted axis, one to breath air, one water.

Standing back, she looks at the flower bed, at the wall behind, painted some years ago a powder blue, turned chalky under steady sun. Where the plant had ranged against the wall is a patch of pale yellow, the colour before.

Her brother had painted the walls in the back yard for her, at a time when she had become fragile. Her youngest son a tiny soul in limbo, unsure of his way in the world as she withdrew, crushed under the confusion of post-natal depression. Her husband, always a busy man, had called in a roster of family, there to love his son until she found her way back, there to love his wife until she remembered that she loved them too. The garden, made cheerful, was part of their medicine.

Since those days she has sat out in the garden, a habit formed in bleak times but now imbued with a measure of restorative peace. She sits on a metal stool, gazing at the patch of yellow that sinks like a feeble sun into the earth, into the blue of the wall.

It marks a greater absence. A few days after painting the yard her brother had come by to take the three children out to the park, left his sister sitting quietly in the sun in the back yard. On his return they had argued, an old family wound. The argument was well worn, a scar, no longer an injury. But memories of pain had prompted their fight. She had told him to leave. Three days later he had drowned whilst fishing at dusk in a small boat that gently washed back onto the dark shore without him.

Instead of replacing the plant with a new flowering shrub, she leaves the empty space. The boundary between yellow and blue, the mark of absence revealed the presence of a brother she had loved deeply and mourned properly only years after his death. She had not noticed him in the walls, in the completion of a job well done. But in this aperture, this incomplete detail, she finds the hand of the worker, she finds her brother. She tamps down the soil.

Which Way is Up?

 

camus 1

 

I am currently reading the book my husband got me last Valentines day. It is our tradition, to mark the day with a gift to each other of a book. Mine from him was The Rebel by Albert Camus.

camus 2

Camus tells us that revolt is inevitable, an inherent part of the human state. And that a second inevitability is that the rebel become in turn the despot. Many examples in history demonstrate the truth of this. Camus refers most often to the French Revolution where perhaps the tendency of rebel to evolve into despot was most vividly, theatrically expressed. I imagine it thus; though the circle, implied in the root of the word revolution may be endless in its durational aspect, actually is an oval, created of two parts, above and below, oppressor and oppressed. It is an oval, like the link in a chain, that flips now and then to give the other side temporary dominion.

In so many political struggles the cry of the collective “Give us power!” is remarkably quickly trumped by the whisper, then the shout “Give me power!” Only a passing knowledge of the human psyche is needed to understand this. The power hungry need a base. They need an engine; the passion and the anger of the oppressed is that engine. Leadership in any field is likely to draw those whose souls are fed by the supplication or the love of others. It is part of our collective flaw.

On a day when Theresa May signs and sends the trigger for Article 50 and reflecting on The Rebel, it struck me that part of the reason that rebellion leads so inevitably to tyranny is that in times when life is shaken up, peace becomes more difficult to achieve as people are woken to their dissatisfactions more generally and thus tyranny is grasped for as a solution. It would be absurd to link our leaving of the EU to revolutions of history that have caused mayhem, death and destruction.  But a shimmer is visible. Whilst it is easy to believe the claim of our inherently revolutionary nature, I would add that most humans are reactionary. There are those on top, there are those underneath and there are the majority in between, the long sides of the chain loop, the oval, reacting. Threatened, they too can become active. But being active is not the same as being revolutionary.

I have wondered recently if the border-patrolling nationalism spearheaded by Trump’s narcissistic panderings and May’s opportunistic, hard-Brexit jingoism has come about as a fear reaction to Isis/Daesh. Not because we are able to blame them for it but because fear is the quickest trigger to reactionary action as opposed to revolutionary action. It is easy, even if it is statistically illogical, to feel threatened by a force that specifically desires your harm. Once aggravated, a few decades of grumbling peace becomes more difficult to achieve.

For years, there have been people fed up with the EU. There has been near constant complaint and dissatisfaction from many, including from remainers such as myself who would not have dreamed of voting to leave. Life went on. Not perhaps in tyranny but for many there was a depth of dissatisfaction and a sense of grievance that quietly hummed away. It is hard to imagine, now the shouting headlines of The Daily Mail and the embarrassing jingoistic stunts of The Sun have proclaimed the expanded bounty of freedom that any such quiet rumbling along will be possible in the near future. As well, the masked Anti-Fas will continue to protest, Black Lives will be protested and protected with no decrease in rage, logically, as no decrease in the very real peril is evidenced, no recompense for astounding historic harms is offered. And the long sides of the chain will continue to react, pushing more and more into one or other camp. Oppressor or oppressed. There is no handshake at the end of the game to tell the losing side they should revert to their quiet, possibly grumbling holding role. The victor will, as victors always do, bear down.

So, which way is up?

camus 3

Map Reading

placeHow much does a story change when the location is changed? Some books rely entirely on the place in which they are set, such as Room by Emma Donoghue, the fact of the mother and son’s imprisonment being the core of the narrative as well as the inventive drive behind the ideas that thread through that narrative. Others would falter without the location, though the action of the book could just as readily happen elsewhere. Wuthering Heights is an example, when the moors  are so woven into the love between Cathy and Heathcliff, being almost an extension of their own wild souls, that though we know such destructive, hungry relationships grow in other parts of the world, it is impossible to imagine the transplanted story being told in the same way.

“Heathcliff, make the world stop right here. Make everything stop and stand still and never move again. Make the moors never change and you and I never change.”

Other books use places as a metaphor to highlight a current theme. The heath in King Lear, the jungle that slowly engulfs Tony in A Handful of Dust.

And of course there is both travel writing and historical or biographical writing that cannot be taken out of its homeland, even when the book is fiction such as the wonderful A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James or one of my recent top fivers, The Wake by Paul Kingsnorth. In these instances, the places can be both a matter of unavoidable fact and an amplifier of mood and theme.

Plays regularly relocate in time and place, always making a claim that a new light is thrown onto both the original text and the alternate context in which it is played. The same is true of written stories and literary classics, though it is more common for the update to appear as a film and usually it seems that the transformation of interest is the one of time rather than place.

When writing Caitlin’s odyssey through the realms of death, though I hadn’t yet decided the reality of Caitlin, I had confirmed the necessity of her voice and had a clear sense of the setting. Milton’s Paradise Lost had lodged in my imagination as a place of enormous, glittering blackness, the thick dark black of etching ink, waxy, dense. Groundless, with enough intent to form a location made of speed and direction. It was this sense of place that was the key. Not heaven or hell,  but a vast cosmos driven by unknowable extremes of energy that carve out its changing forms in the blackness.

I pull against the blackness that would once more fling me out past the centurion path of comets, further than the space-bound eyes of man can reach. I don’t want to disappoint but there is nothing to tell. There is more of the same. There is still no place in which I may claim to be. I don’t want to disappoint but I have seen nothing that seems to be a heaven. Only earth with her kind sky and her care-giving cradle of gravity and her beautiful sun. How blessed I am when I find her again. How hard I cling.

ch 7, Twice the Speed of Dark

The beech woods, a gentler, earth-bound contrast, perform a similar role for Anna, a location for her thoughts. In the same way that the vast unknowable extremes of space worked to undo Caitlin so that she could reclaim herself again, the beech woods are so familiar to Anna that they allow her thoughts to reach beyond the location into imaginary worlds, populated with invented souls. It is through this act of imagination that Anna is able to unbind the grief that has crippled her. The landscape is where she frames her thoughts and also where she is able finally to confront her memories.

Let the trees sooth out these wrinkles whilst you walk among them. Let them shield and shelter, let them be beautiful enough to sooth. And she walks in the woods, the echoing emptiness of a cold day is comforting. The glimmers of her ghosts still glide between the trunks, they too seem soothed and a part of this landscape.

ch 18, Twice the speed of Dark

Place remains central to the book I am currently writing too. Not because I chose it but because in hindsight and overview, I notice that it is so. In this instance it is the spaces that operate between, the edges of things. The eeriness of incomplete human presence. Though often chosen seemingly at random as one writes, it is curious how often a look back reveals that the place of the writing has offered something that maps the story to its soul, connects the characters to the subtler themes that live in the undercurrents of the words.

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