A couple of years ago author Jennie Ensor shared with me her thoughts about how, via the publishers Unbound, she’d crowdfunded her novel Blind Side.
I began by asking her why she’d chosen this particular route. What had led her to make this decision?
“The responses to my draft novel, then Ghosts of Chechnya, on the Authonomy writing community encouraged me to start approaching publishers. I’d made a big effort to find an agent and needed to try something different. In September 2015 I contacted several publishers, including Unbound. I first heard about Unbound at a publishing networking evening. Dan Kieran one of the company’s founders talked about a new kind of publishing. I knew little about crowdfunded publishing but what Unbound were doing sounded innovative and exciting. I sent my manuscript with the detailed submission form without expecting much to come of it. Despite my attempt to sound positive (I told them I never gave up on anything and mentioned that I’d been nominated on Authonomy as the person ‘Most likely to have a bestseller’!) I wasn’t sure that I’d be suitable material for crowdfunding.
When Unbound offered me a contract I was excited as this was my first definite offer (I had another a week later). The downside was the crowdfunding thing, which felt a little daunting. What made me accept – their reputation for quality, dynamic approach and the relatively high royalties (50%). Also I couldn’t wait to get my novel out there (it was 10 years in the writing). I decided that if it all went tits up and my project didn’t get funded, this would be an opportunity to get clued up on blogging, Twitter and the self-promotion side of being an author that I’d ignored for years.”
On her blog Jenny said that she had a lean network, heavily populated with impoverished artists/writers/poets. So what steps did she take to drum up enough pledges for her book?
“Ah, yes. This is where my hitherto latent skills at coercion and blackmail really came into their own…
To be serious, I first had to get over my qualms about effectively asking for money in return for a many-months-away reward of my book and the satisfaction of contributing to its publication. I ramped up my presence on social media and online, including my Unbound ‘shed’ (a regular update on the book to its supporters) and my own blog. Then I just kept on asking people if they would consider pledging, both in person and via email. I approached family, relatives, friends, former friends, Facebook friends, members of writing groups I belong to, members of my choir…
In the later stages I started getting pledges from people I didn’t know. I distributed cards and posters, did book readings and organised an Unbound author event at a pub near me (the technical side fell apart halfway through but I found the support from fellow crowdfunding authors a boost to my flagging spirits!) Also I contacted many Russian-related organisations and media – I finally got an article published in a Russian language newspaper.”
What other advice would Jenny give to other writers who are considering the crowdfunding route?
“A ‘network’ of some kind is important. But you don’t need a massive network or a job where you’re constantly in contact with people. I was lucky enough to have some wonderfully generous support from friends and fellow writers, along with the help and encouragement from my husband and close family.
You need some time to devote to your campaign. I found crowdfunding became a full-time job and my writing got put on hold. Before committing to it, plan what you are going to do beforehand. Unbound gave advice about what methods work the best, however I found during leaner periods that I got sidetracked into trying out all kinds of ideas which often came to nothing. It’s more of an art than a science; I put much effort into things that never yielded anything concrete, such as getting my local papers to cover my crowdfunding efforts.
Don’t do it if you can’t bear to put yourself in some challenging situations. You need to believe in your book, get a thick skin and have plenty of stamina – crowdfunding is hard work with ups and downs. Not everyone will respond as you hope, put it like that
Be clear in advance how much time you have to get to your funding target and what happens if you don’t meet the target by this time.”
I wondered how the experience changed Jennie …
“The crowdfunding period was exciting and rewarding and at times unbearably stressful – I’d never gone though anything like it! (eg making a video in two weeks when I had my worst cold in years). I wonder if the whole experience has changed me slightly (for the better!) It certainly forced my angst-ridden introverted writer self to give way for a while to her out-there sister.
My book was the first title to come out in Unbound’s digital list (July 2016), less than a year after I’d submitted. This really was a dream come true – and the quality of the resulting book is way beyond what I’d imagined. Whatever might happen in the future, I’m glad I took this path.”
Jennie’s latest book, The Girl in his Eyes was published by Bloodhound Books on 18th September 2018.