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.

damon
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.

helen
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.

I just popped in to see what condition the human condition is in

800px-S_F-E-CAMERON_EGYPT_2005_RAMASEUM_01294

I began this week by thinking of the ways that writing my own work leads me back so often to the books I have read and loved over the years. Following this, I selected a few to share on social media. I thought that what they have in common was an exploration of the human condition. That is a phrase, that though it is almost meaningless with careless or sentimental over-use, seems not to have a fresh or as simply understood equivalent that can replace it. So I decided I should at least investigate what I mean when I use it.

There is a sliding scale that takes ordinary human behaviour from the catastrophically bad to the sublimely good.  Though each one of us could be considered a connection between them, it is impossible to fully understand the extremes from the position of hovering somewhere up or down the scale that runs seamlessly between.

There is beauty in this stoney land, the arid scree, the spat out insides of the earth frozen in stone, sliding slowly down to the sea, sea that in turn slides all the way to the Sahara. It would not take much of a curve through that sea, an easy tack, to miss Africa and go from dry heat to frozen Antarctic cold. Equator to sun, pole to sun, so small a difference between the two. It is 93 million miles to the sun, this equator to pole difference is a tiny fraction of that great distance, only that of our earth’s radius, a minuscule percentage that marks for most the possible extremes. What other binary flat lines exist on a scale that we cannot really understand; that which we currently experience as ends of a scale in reality denoting only an insignificant, tightly angled section in the middle of the spectrum. Good and evil bounded by our human imagination of heaven and hell. Heavy and light have expressions that expand or crush into oblivion, not knowable with our bodily reckoning. The calibrations made in space dwarf our arm spans and thumbs of measurement. Perhaps it is this intuited, groping recognition of the limited span of our experience that means our stories to explain the inexplicably crazy chance of our being here at all often start with the limitless sky and its perpetrator gods.

Twice the Speed of Dark, Chapter 10

Absurdity becomes a logical mode with which to engage with our grotesque human failures and enchanting victories.  We are repellant, glorious, frail, beguiling, weak and marvellous. We are often many of these at once. It is absurd to try to decide where on that line we place ourselves, absurd to claim we belong only at the end that expresses victory, absurder still to place ourselves entirely within the realm of failure.

Though it was this uncomfortable, impossible balance that interested me when working as a visual artist, even then, I found the most cogent examination of this confounded, simultaneous glory and failure best expressed or explained through literature.  The tragedies of Shakespeare, the theatre of Beckett, the characters of Achilles, Ozymandias, Antigone, all these are the most successful and thus influential, manifestations of expressing what for me is the central problem of being human.  How can we have such potential and yet fail so miserably, so many times?

The built environment informed much of my work as an artist.  I was interested in the way it holds traces of the human world that built it and the natural world that eventually leads to its decay and desolation.  Not nature as it invented itself but none-the-less the natural process of entropy.  Buildings hold information as well as having functions.  The study of them gave me a strategy for exploring the human occupation of the world, without engaging necessarily in figurative work.  It was a way of exploring human strategies, dreams, mistakes,  ideals in a general way, without needing to narrow the gaze to any one individual. When it comes to writing, there is a similar usefulness that exists in the presentation of place, the stage on which the drama is set. I have utilised it in the quote above. It acts for me as an Ozymandian reminder that the stage, even in its most temporary manifestations, will last longer than the players. This has a connection to the aspect of the human condition that implies something without end even in its short-lived sparks, its rotation of players and timeless, universally understood stories.

We make a life of bombastic false promise, dirty happy accident, searing achievement and humble faltering progress.  Our ingenuity defies gravity and our baseness anchors us. In a small way, my interest in both visual art and writing explores some of the manifestations of this insolvable, permanent imbalance.

Let’s hear it for the hard-core

If I was going to be a business entrepreneur I would set up an employment agency called Plan D. All of the workers would be artists, actors, writers, film makers etc, all doing humble work to fund Plan A – their chosen art form. Because if you care about plan A, (art, theatre, dance etc) you cannot engage safely with Plan B (drama teacher, arts administrator.) Plan B will suck all your energy away from Plan A. Skip it, and to be on the safe side, skip Plan C too. If you care about Plan A, go to Plan D (cleaner, driver, manual labour) for money, so that your head still has room for Plan A. It would be a practical system to support all the brilliant, creative people trying to pay the bills whilst juggling unpaid work and massive mental commitment that benefits the whole of society; a system unburdened by the various issues attached to arts council funding. Plus, all the people who hired gardeners and cleaners from Plan D would get a warm glow from direct, philanthropic support for artists.

A friend posted a reference to ‘The Cultural Elite’, making the point that almost all of the culturally active people he knew, be it film makers, writer, artists, were in such a precarious position that referring to them as an elite was ridiculous:

“they have no top level access to business or banks, they work hard and create work. They don’t live in a bubble, they live in cheap apartments, poor neighbourhoods and on people’s floors. Every time somebody says ‘cultural elite’ they are just admitting that they know nothing about creativity beyond the colour supplements and that year’s big show.”

Jack Sargeant, Author of Flesh and Excess

There is of course in any sphere of endeavour, an elite. They are by definition, more wealthy and in some ways more powerful. But in the arts, it is perhaps the sea of non-elites that make more of a contribution, certainly do more of the heavy lifting than the elite. And as Jack points out, most of them, like me, are chugging around doing several jobs, living pretty much hand to mouth simply in order to be able to make the work that on completion, society happily claims as culture.

I am not an entrepreneur. I’m an artist and writer. I have been a cleaner at several points in my life, for years here and there. It suits me to have work I don’t care about, is without the vexatious boredom of sitting still that office work would entail, and does not require me to be relentlessly pleasant to people who can be as rude as they like back. If I get a fantastic opportunity and don’t turn up, no one dies, a wealthier person than me just has dusty shelves for a little longer. It’s physical enough to be reasonably healthy and is also fairly well paid, as far as career-less work goes. It works pretty well, given the circumstances.

I haven’t always enjoyed, however, telling people that I am a cleaner. Sometimes I’ve mitigated the fact with a joke that is at least partially an observation  – I consider myself a high achiever who hasn’t achieved anything. Sometimes I say “I’m a cleaner, but….” with a following rush of brightly spoken words listing all the unpaid, or poorly paid arts-related activity I am engaged with.

It became a much easier thing to say when a friend I hadn’t seen for a long time flipped a switch for  me. She asked what I was doing, I said “writing, blah, but yeah, I’m a cleaner because it doesn’t get in the way.” She replied “Wow, cool, that’s so hard-core!” and suddenly I thought Yes! Damn right, it’s hard-core. I have chosen low status and low pay because I am hard-core enough to find other aspects of how I live and how I fill my time to be far more important than status and pay. It is after all, a triumph!

It became something I was able to pass on as encouragement to my daughter too, who is beginning her career as a dancer- choreographer. She is bold and uncompromising, a wonderful performer. She got a first in her degree and is making challenging work about blood and taboo and the beauty of being broken. I was glad to tell her that she shouldn’t fear being lost in a sea of brilliant recent graduates. Because over time, not all of them will be willing to go through what she will in order to have the career and the chances to dance that she is prepared to demand from her life. Not all of them will take the uncertainty, the rejection, the poverty, the sheer grind. But she will. She is hard-core – she’s a cleaner too. And I am grateful to her and to me and to all of the other people who make so much unrewarded and beloved work. Let’s hear it for the non-elites, let’s hear it for the hard-core.

It’s not what it’s about, but how it’s about?

https://unbound.com/books/twice-the-speed-of-dark

As it seems quite difficult to explain succinctly what my book is about, I have been trying to get people interested with these quotes – mainly because how I chose a book is I read a few random passages and persist from the beginning if they intrigue or make me interested. Or they just sound good. Or beautiful.

The plot, things that happen are important. Anna’s grief and anger, Caitlin’s black odyssey, the patterns of lives lead by the imaginary ghosts. But what is more important perhaps is what all of these thing infer. Maybe it is not up to the writer to sign post these inferences, but to hope that the reader finds a way, one that uses the plot as a vehicle to a more interesting place. That, any way, is the hope for me. Other writers, how do you see it?

 

vagabond-journeychristmas

 

wastrel

Gift a pledge

If you are stuck for a christmas present idea for the book lovers in your life, why not gift a pledge, so that as well as enjoying the book, they will have their name in it as a patron – one of the people who have helped bring the book to life.

On Unbound, you can make a pledge in anyone’s name, then if you contact me with the name of the person and any message, I will send you a personalised version of this certificate.

Anyone who pledges more than once will receive an extra reward too.

gift certificate.jpg