• The Writers' Group

Crowdfunding Publishing - S. Dodson | The Writers' Group

Updated: Jul 16, 2019

We live in an era where the biggest publishing companies and media organisations are increasingly only concerned with stabilising profits for shareholders – and are prioritising making money over supporting originality and new creative ideas. This is strangling our modern culture – limiting us to a devastating cycle of reboots, sequels, prequels and franchises; where the only books we read are celebrity memoirs, or else novels that are essentially copies of previously commercially successful novels.

This risk-averse and profit-focused approach risks homogenising our culture; and limiting our exposure to new ways of thinking.

It also makes presents a somewhat monumental challenge for both aspiring writers and independent book publishers. Even though independent publishers are doing some of the best and most interesting work in publishing, there are a lot of “resource challenges” - to use an optimistic euphemism that essentially stands in for a severe lack of money in an industry that favours giant, corporate behemoths over small, independent businesses and entrepreneurs.

In a Catch-22 esque world where you can only get a book deal if you already have a book deal, writers are often left hurtling their manuscripts in a million simultaneous directions, hoping for someone to take a chance on their work. But, taking a chance means financial risk, and those most likely to support new writers and new ideas – independent publishers – are also those without the financial capital to take such a risk. What this means is that the only people able to actually support new writers and new writing (big, corporate publishers) are also those who are least inclined to do so.

This is bad for readers, too – if we assume that not everyone wants to read another biography from a semi-famous footballer or ex-contestant from Love Island.

Within this context, perhaps it is little wonder, then, that publishers, writers and readers are increasingly turning to one of the original models of publishing; patronage – or, to use its modern name: crowdfunding.

Once used by the likes of Samuel Pepys to fund his first ever English Dictionary, crowdfunding is on the rise in our digital age, with tens of millions of dollars pledged to fund the publication of books via sites like Kickstarter.

It’s also a model that is increasingly being adopted by book publishers. Perhaps the best example of this are UK publishing house Unbound – who made waves when they were founded in 2011; and truly announced their arrival as publishing heavyweights in 2014 when one of their novels was longlisted for the prodigious Man Booker Prize.

As a model it makes a lot of sense: by reducing the financial risk publishers have to take on a book before it’s published (not knowing whether people will buy the damn thing), independent publishers, like Unbound, are able to support books and authors that would otherwise have never made it past the submissions stage.

There are benefits for authors, too. Where a project of theirs has been rejected by selective publishing companies, they can go straight to readers directly – ignoring the middle men & women who would like to take huge chunks out of an author’s (already abject) income through agent fees and skewed publishing contracts with ever-diminishing advances.

And we can’t forget the most important people of all: readers themselves. Parting with your money for a book that you may not see for one or two years is quite the hard sell – and it’s critical that any authors thinking of going down this route remember this. But this can be seen as both a challenge and an opportunity: some people won’t want to hand over their hard earned cash until they can get something physical in return straight away – but for those who are willing to wait, crowdfunding provides an opportunity to genuinely be part of something creative and special. It’s a collective endeavour in which everyone who pledges is forever and always a part of that project. This doesn’t just mean getting their name in the back of the book (though of course, that’s a nice perk) but it also means the opportunity to be able to look at a finished piece of art and think that you helped make it happen. This feeling of collective ownership builds a genuine connection between writers and readers that has perhaps been lost amid the tidal wave of mass-produced sequels, prequels, and celebrity memoirs.

So, what do you need to keep in mind if you’re thinking of going down the crowdfunding route?

First things first, it’s important to recognise the scale of the task at hand. If an author chooses to crowdfund a book themselves, without the support of a publisher like Unbound, then they’re faced with a number of challenges once they raise the money. Namely, everything that publishing a book involves – typesetting and formatting; proof-reading; cover design; physical printing and – of course, distribution and marketing.

If you have a decent book that can make it past Unbound’s selective commissioning process, then the good news is that they’ll take care of all this for you. Once the money is raised, the rest of the publishing process proceeds just as it would with any other book publisher.

Of course, raising the money is easier than reaching for a worn-out cliché than actually doing it. Crowdfunding any project is hard work. Most projects on Unbound and Kickstarter usually have to raise easily in advance of £10,000 to cover the costs of all these associated costs. If you follow Dunbar’s number and agree that average person has 150 strong close connections, and each of these pledges £20 – you’re still only ever around going to be a third of the way to fully funding your project. This means you have to get creative in how you attract new backers, and raise awareness about your book.

This isn’t to say you must lose heart. The digital world has not only facilitated crowdfunding, but also the means to make projects successful: social media helps authors find and create new connections with potential backers, while the internet provides the perfect forum to share word of your project and get word of your book out there.

And just because there are challenges involved, doesn’t mean the end-result won’t be worth it. In fact, even the crowdfunding journey brings incredible moments of joy and gratitude. In the short time I’ve been raising funds for my book, ‘Philosophers’ Dogs’, through Unbound, I have been constantly amazed by people’s generosity and altruism (affirming my long-held belief that people – like dogs – are inherently good). If you ever want to do something that will confirm your faith in humanity – or a reminder that people, on the whole, want other people to succeed, and actually like and actively want new creative ideas to exist in this world – then get crowdfunding. (C) Samuel Dodson, 2019 You can find Sam's superb "Philosopher's Dogs", and help to fund further publishing efforts here: https://unbound.com/books/philosophers-dogs/

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