This week I was privileged to take part in a panel on the future of publishing, at Oxford Waterstones, alongside my editor Scott Pack, and David Fickling and Simon Mason of David Fickling Books. It was a fabulous evening. My fellow speakers were highly entertaining and it was a pleasure to meet such an engaged and interesting audience, that included Unbound author Klara Piechocki and my former tutor Dennis Hamley. I am very grateful to Zoe Greaves of Waterstones for organising it. My contribution to the discussion was (naturally) to push Echo Hall, but also to reflect on the realities of crowdfunding. Which got me thinking about the pleasure/pain of this particular method of publishing.
I thought long and hard about signing with Unbound. Having done a fair bit of fundraising and have also run a couple of small crowdfunding campaigns, I had no illusions about how difficult it would be. But, several things persuaded me it was worth the attempt.
Firstly, I love the books Unbound creates. 'Letters of Note' and 'The Wake' were two early examples. One, a fascinating collection of extraordinary letters, the other, a challenging but immensely satisfying novel that stays with you for a long time. Both produced beautifully to a very high quality standard. I will be so thrilled when my book joins them on the Unbound bookshelves.
Secondly, even though it is challenging, I am really inspired to be working with a publishing company which has such direct interaction with readers. How wonderful is that to speak directly to potential readers in advance of publication and persuade them my story is worth investing in?
Thirdly, I'm an Unbound reader, and so I spend a lot of time looking at the site. There are so many great books I have to be very disciplined not to spend all my hard earned dosh, but I am delighted to have backed some absolute corkers. (Particularly proud to have supported 'The Good Immigrant' and am looking forward to Scott's 'Weightless Fireworks' and many more). Furthermore, I've been encouraged to see how many projects do hit 100% even if it can be very slow.
So, what's it been like so far?
I won't lie. It has been hard. VERY hard. And continues to be so. There are days and weeks where the pledges seem to dry up, and when the percentage target doesn't move an inch. It is all too easy to be distracted by other people's projects and watch enviously as they race from 0-100% in the time I scrape forward 1%. Or to watch other writers get book deals that don't involve going out with a begging bowl and think, why is it so easy for them? All of which brings out my inner Crispin Hershey (a jaundiced writer in David Mitchell's Bone Clocks who lives in a state of envious bile), something I've written about previously. Constantly bombarding people to invite them to pledge to my book is exhausting, and massively time consuming. Sometimes it feels like a full time job on top of work, family and other commitments, which crushes out my writing time, and often leaves me in state of despair. I have lost count of the times I have wanted to give up, as I have looked bleakly at my dashboard willing the graph to miraculously leap 20%.
But...despite that, after 235 days I am still here. Partly it's because I am a stubborn bugger and I BELIEVE in this novel, which I have stuck with for 12 years. I am damned if I'm stopping now. Progress may be slow, but it is still progress. I am proud of the fact that I have raised more money than I ever done before and am £429.50 off 50%. I am delighted that I have managed to persuade 179 people to back 'Echo Hall' so far. I am humbled by all the good will, so many generous pledges and to receive support from people I don't even know. Plus I've had great help from the Unbound team and fellow Unbounders going through the same experience. And, despite the many down days and the fact my journey looks rather like this graph. I'm also having a lot of fun.
Crowdfunding has pushed me beyond my comfort zone to try things I wouldn't otherwise do. In May I busked at the Hay Festival and in July, the Cowley Road Carnival, having a number of encouraging conversations with people who were really interested in the book. I've let my characters out on twitter, and been writer in residence at Albion Beatnik Bookshop. I have made films, written articles, and spoken about the book to peace groups, bookshops and my local library. I've been blown away by the interest and encouragement I've received and I feel a huge amount of good will at my back from people willing me on.
The marathon runner in me knows that when you have 26 long miles ahead of you, the best thing you can do is focus on the next milestone, until gradually you find yourself closing in on your destination. And that the euphoria of getting across the line will be well worth the stumbles, agonising pain and moments of black despair, no matter how long it takes.
When my kids were small and wanting to give up on something, I would gee them along by quoting Dory from 'Finding Nemo'. Her cheery exhortation to 'just keep swimming', when she and Marlon are in a dark abyss, always encouraged me running and is very helpful to me now. All I need to do is keep going and I'll get there, one pledge at a time.
Thanks to all of you who have backed this book so far, I am hugely grateful to you for taking a risk on my writing.And please do tell your friends, because if 267 more people pledged £20, the job would be done. Which would mean I can stop doing posts like this and start telling you how the book is coming to life.
In the meantime my next event is at the brilliant Burway Books in Church Stretton at 2.30pm on 26th October. Hope to see some of you there!
This post is dedicated to all the Unbound authors living the dream...
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