Crowd-funded publishing should be the first resort of any new writer – but they’ll need to learn how to be sociable first

Jimmy Leach
book 300x225 Crowd funded publishing should be the first resort of any new writer   but they’ll need to learn how to be sociable first

(Getty Images)

There’s a conveyor belt of ‘content’ industries moving slowly towards a large crunching machine. The machine has ‘digital technology’ crudely stencilled on it, and as each industry goes through it, it comes out the other side almost unrecognisable: it started with music, then media, then retail… It’s been hitting book publishing for some time now.

The ubiquity of information, the flood of content, the possibilities of new hardware have, along with a myriad of other factors, smacked the book publishing industry hard in the face, so that an economic model which was shaky in the first place now looks almost impossible.

In a world where everyone is looking for ‘unique content’, book publishers daren’t take a punt on a new writer, unless they know there’s a market for it. Understandably, in an industry where formats are changing but margins are shrinking, publishers take few risks and tend to return to the same pastures, containing familiar figures – kinky billionaires, wizards, footballers and models. Or any combination of the same. A new writer barely stands a chance.

Some, in desperation, turn to self-publishing instead – but few do twice. Not all self-publishing houses produce shoddy products, but enough do for it to be a dicey place to take your life’s dream.

Crowdfunding is a different proposition – by raising the money ahead of writing (and publication), the project is de-risked yet gets the funding for professional publishing services – proofing, editing, type-setting, design, printing – and getting the darned thing into the bookshops. Those professional services which turn someone’s literary dream into something that someone else will want to own.

Which is where publishers like Unbound can excel – they can run the crowd-funding process, and deliver the (highly) professional publishing services. (Full disclosure: I know the Unbound folk and even do a little work for them). And people like Unbound, who aren’t quite like traditional publishers but aren’t quite like Kickstarter, (where its ‘raise the money but you’re on your own’) are still in the process of re-casting their relationships with the author.

In the old way, an author retreated to their garret, produced the work of genius and then retreats to their lair before emerging to stand, fidgetting, at their own book launch. The publisher did the rest. It’s not like that any more.

This, perhaps, where the digital disruption is at its bumpiest and most personal – where it changes the relationships in publishing – that between the author and the publisher, and the author and the reader. The author can no longer expect the publisher to come along with a chequebook and publicist, while the writer can no longer automatically expect to find a readership, waiting expectantly for their genius. The author must go out and find their audience, and sell to them while their book is still just an idea.

For the new writers, those who have yet to find their audience, it means that, aside from breasts, a whip, a wand and the ability to curve a ball around a wall, they now need to develop a skill – if one that is acquirable, at least – that of social networking. Authors who have locked themselves away in the creative act (or stared at a wall in a desperate search for inspiration) must now learn the techniques of  reaching out to those who may want to read them. The techniques of digital fundraising. And it’s not always easy. Manipulating social media cachet and turning it into something of value is becoming a useful 21st century skill, but it doesn’t necessarily coincide naturally with the ability to craft a decent sentence.

But, you might think, the ability to be reasonably engaging on social media shouldn’t tax the creative mind. There’s plenty of writers entertaining large numbers of people on social media. The issue is one of mindset, not skillset. I’ve spoken to authors who tell me (effectively) that they are too busy writing about make-believe people to bother with anything so trivial as social media.

But the ones that have built up good numbers of engaged followers on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn are the ones that got their books funded quickly. An author who creates those networks at the same time as they are building up the plotlines will be able to take on crowd-funding with the Elastoplast model – get it done quickly, with sudden (if sharp) pain. And the rules are the same for the established writer as for the newbie. Take Matthew Fort – established leader in food writing, taking to crowd-funding not because he’s desperate, but because it makes sense.

Crowd-funding may not be to everyone’s taste – It takes shameless self-promotion, and plenty of nagging and graft to publicly persuade others, who may only know your avatar, to pledge money to a project dear to your heart. But if it’s that dear to you heart, what have you got to lose? Authors just need to get social.

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