Publishing

Is crowdfunding the future of publishing?

Crowdfunding is becoming an increasingly common way to raise finance for an array of music, culture and arts ventures. Supporters donate what they can to develop a project and become a patron with a vested in its outcome.

Since the rise of Unbound and Kickstarting, crowdfunding is a legitimate option for authors who want to get published without a traditional publishing deal.

In this guest article, author Daniel James tells us why he chose to go down the crowdfunding route and what he’s gained from the experience.

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Daniel James
Daniel James, crowdfunding author

By the time you read this, I will be dead. Actually, that’s not true. I’m sorry. But it did make for a pretty dramatic opening line, didn’t it? The real truth is, by the time you read this I will be a Dead Ink author. Quite a big difference really. I’m sorry about that, but I am a writer after all and we writers have an interesting relationship with the truth. I can tell you honestly that we’re always lying. Believe me when I say this.

The truth is a theme I explore in depth throughout my debut novel, The Unauthorised Biography of Ezra Maas, which is crowdfunding right now here through Dead Ink Books. In fact, people have said my book will make you question everything you know about the truth. In the novel, I attempt to uncover the true story behind a reclusive artist through a maze of fiction and reality, fractured identities and sinister doubles.

I’ve never been involved in a crowdfunding project before so it’s a whole new experience for me. It’s very exciting, but also very daunting at the same time and it’s not something I expected to be doing when I first sat down to write the book. Thankfully I’m in very good hands with this particular publisher. One of the questions I’ve been asked quite often, since word got around about my book, is why I’ve chosen to go down the crowdfunding route rather than a traditional publisher? Well, let me clear up a few misconceptions and tell you why the future is Dead (Ink).

Crowdfunding is just one part of Dead Ink’s innovative business model, but it does come with a number of benefits for authors. When readers help make your book a reality they become more than just an audience to be sold to; they’re a collaborator. Or a ‘reader-maker’ as Dead Ink likes to say. In a sense, you’re bringing your readers along with you on your journey to publication and I think that’s really exciting. I don’t especially like thinking of readers as someone to sell to in any case even though publishing is a business. I don’t write to get people to hand over their money, I want to create books that people can get lost in, that take you out of the everyday and transport you to another world. I write books because I love reading and I want to give readers the experience which I have been so lucky to have had thanks to the work of so many great writers over the years.

For the first time author, crowdfunding is a chance to test the water and hopefully build a following before your debut novel has even come out. Crowdfunding should tell you whether there’s a demand for your idea, what works and what doesn’t when it comes to marketing your book, and it should provide an insight into the different kinds of people willing to buy your book, in terms of demographics.

Finally, if the crowdfunding is successful, the pre-order figures could well be used to leverage high street booksellers and online retailers to place bigger orders than they may have otherwise.  Yes, there’s a risk involved in crowdfunding – what if no one is willing to back my book? – but in many ways that’s the same risk every author takes when sending their work out into the world. We all need people to buy our book. Readers help make a book in more ways than one and crowdfunding gives you a chance to engage with readers long before the book is on the shelves. I think that’s incredibly valuable.

Dead Ink Books has a lot more to offer than just crowdfunding however. They are, for all intents and purposes, a traditional publisher in the sense that they offer full editorial, print and marketing support. In fact, I wasn’t even aware of the crowdfunding side to their business when I first approached them. I was attracted by the exciting stable of authors they were building and the obvious passion they had for books. They clearly chose the small number of books they published each year very carefully and the love and attention to detail they put into each publication was clear, from the gorgeous covers to the high production values. Even more importantly, they were taking chances on books that were ambitious and experimental, and which were potentially too challenging and avant-garde for mainstream publishers.  This meant they were working with some of the UK’s most exciting new and emerging authors. I wanted to be part of that. Dead Ink was the first and only publisher I contacted about The Unauthorised Biography of Ezra Maas and they felt like the perfect fit for both me and the novel from the very beginning.

Ezra  Maas

I haven’t experienced what it is like to work with a huge, mainstream publisher but I’ve heard a few horror stories about authors losing creative control and having to accept compromises that leave their books a shell of their former selves. I don’t know if these stories are true or not, but as a small, independent press, Dead Ink is the antithesis of a big, faceless corporation. From the outset, I’ve had one-on-one attention from Dead Ink’s publishing director and regular communication with them about every aspect of the process. Their relationships with their authors are clearly very important to them and, in my interactions with Dead Ink, I was reminded of the close, working relationships certain writers and publishers have had historically that I’ve read about and admired.

In March this year, they invited all of their authors to Liverpool for a weekend of author development in the form of an intensive two-day boot camp. This featured workshops on every aspect of being an author, with guest speakers from across the publishing industry giving those in attendance the benefit of their knowledge and expertise. This included sessions on the book trade, marketing and PR, social media, readings and events, and more. It was an ideal opportunity to meet the people behind Dead Ink, Nathan Connolly and Amelia Collingwood, and I was immediately impressed by their vision and enthusiasm.

The weekend was my first chance to meet my fellow authors in person too. I met SJ Bradley and Harry Gallon, who both recently made the longlist for the Guardian’s Not the Booker Prize with their second novels with Dead Ink this year, and I was introduced to fellow first-time authors Marc Nash and Haroun Khan whose excellent books are crowdfunding alongside mine this August. Ye Min, who is also from the North East like myself and who is going to be a Dead Ink author in 2018, was there, too. It’s been lovely to gain some new friends during the experience of becoming published,  something I hadn’t anticipated when I signed up and I only have Dead Ink to thank.

Dead Ink is creating a real community among their stable of authors. We chat almost every day online via a dedicated Slack group discussing topics as varied as what books we’re currently reading, swapping PR and crowdfunding advice, sharing writing opportunities, fiercely debating whether The Sopranos or The Wire is the greatest TV show of all time (I voted for Twin Peaks), and sharing photos of our cats and kittens (naturally).

On a serious note, one of my fellow Dead Ink authors was among the first to read the opening chapter of my new novel and provided invaluable feedback (thanks Marc!). We also genuinely learn from and support each other throughout our respective journeys towards publication. Looking forward, we talk about doing readings, festivals and events together in the future, including potentially forming an author collective.

Again, we have Dead Ink to thank for bringing us together. They are forging unique allegiances within the UK independent publishing scene as part of the Northern Fiction Alliance, alongside Manchester’s Comma Press, And Other Stories, and Peepal Tree Press. This core group is working together to represent themselves and their authors internationally, demonstrating that their ambitions lie far beyond just publishing new and innovative books to a small but growing UK market – they have the world in their sights.

I’ve never asked Dead Ink the story behind their name, but I suspect it’s a reference to the fact that for a long time now, many people have been proclaiming the death of the printed book. Well, judging by the outstanding novels being published by Dead Ink Books and other independent presses so far in 2017, I would say the reports that print is dead have been greatly exaggerated.

But then again, who would believe anything a liar has to say?

The Unauthorised Biography of Ezra Maas is crowdfunding now on the Dead Ink Books website. You can become a ‘reader-maker’ by pre-ordering your copy today: www.deadinkbooks.com/crowdfund. The book is available in hardback, paperback and e-book formats, with limited edition signed copies and original cover artwork.

4 thoughts on “Is crowdfunding the future of publishing?

  1. It would be interesting to get an idea of how many “reader-makers” have a personal connection to the author or their family, and how many are funding JUST because of reviews/previews, etc.

    1. I agree Elizabeth! I don’t have that many friends (and only a small family), so I definitely can’t rely on those orders alone and I’m very grateful to the North East (and other regions) for supporting me and getting behind the book. It’s been very exciting to hear people talking about the book who have read previews in The Journal newspaper and elsewhere and who has bought it because they like the sound of the story (rather than knowing me). I’ve been fortunate to have had some excellent news coverage so far, which has helped with that including articles in The Journal, Northern Echo, News Guardian, North East Connected and more. Word of mouth recommendations, from those who have read my work, have also been very helpful at this stage and once the book is out I’m hoping positive reviews will do the rest and help the book grow its audience further. Hopefully this month is just the beginning of an exciting journey.

  2. I’m personally crowdfunding my novel My Mr Keats via Unbound here: https://unbound.com/books/my-mr-keats

    But I’m also working at a digital publishing house and have previously worked in a literary agency so I’ve covered quite a few aspects of the publishing industry and whilst crowdfunding books is definitely on the rise I think the length of time it takes to crowdfund a book will be it’s downfall. But it is a really unique experience and one that I am enjoying!

    1. Good luck with your crowdfunding Ellie and thanks very much for your comment. I’ve heard good things about Unbound too, so I’m sure you’re in good hands. All the best to you and your book. I hope you reach your target and that it does well.

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