What an interesting piece this is! A warm welcome to Jennie Ensor from Authonomy days. She has certainly taken herself through the mill to get what she wants. I take my hat off to her, and leave her to tell us how it all happened. And if you want to ask her any questions, please use the comments section of this blog!
My journey into crowdfunded publishing: How I faced my fears, ignored advice and raised over £3000 – and now await the launch of my debut novel
A growing number of books are being published in radically different ways – one of them is my debut novel. As a result of the funds I managed to raise recently, my domestic noir thriller Ghosts of Chechnya is to be published this summer by Unbound, a dedicated crowdfunding publisher. I thought it might be interesting to look back at how it happened.
In search of that lucky break
After starting to write fiction in the late 1990s, I had many years of failing to find that ‘lucky break’. I’d worked as a freelance journalist and had poems published but couldn’t find a publisher for my novels. I’d done all the usual things such as submitting to agents (how many hours rejigging sample chapters, I hate to think) but all I had to show for this was lavish praise from an agent or two and a ton of rejections.
In early 2014 I realised I needed to ‘put myself out there’. I’d pretty much avoided social media and online forums. With trepidation I joined the Authonomy online writing community run by HarperCollins and put Ghosts up for review. It reached the Editor’s Desk in July 2015 (just before the site closed). Though I still had no agent or publisher, reaching this goal increased my confidence as a writer.
Facing my fears
Along with many writers, for years I was anxious about the idea of using social media, especially Twitter. Though by 2015 I was on Facebook a fair bit and had made some online writer friends, the idea of blogging (micro or macro) felt terrifyingly exposing, not to mention time absorbing. A publisher I’d submitted to advised me to start a blog and get on Twitter… so one soul-searching night in May 2015 I decided to embrace the digital world. I created my author website/blog, posted my first blog and a tentative tweet.
A few months later, on the off chance they might be interested, I submitted Ghosts of Chechnya to Unbound, emphasising my efforts at building a ‘platform’ and reluctance to give up on any task. To my great surprise I received a conditional publishing offer – my novel had been selected for Unbound’s new digital genre fiction list.
Given that this sounded like a wonderful opportunity, I accepted despite knowing that 30% of projects fail, and advice that one needs a large network of contacts and strong social media presence to be successful – I didn’t believe I had either. (As luck would have it, I had an offer from another publisher three days after signing with Unbound.)
The ups and downs of crowdfunding
So, how did I raise well over £3000 in 3 months?
Without a doubt, my attempt to do this is in the Top 3 (1?) challenges of my life. I was given a week or two to make a pitch video and decide on my pledge rewards (such as a tour of the novel’s settings – Ghosts is set in London in 2005, before and after 7/7). Then I had three months to get my book project funded, or deal off. I found a friend of a friend to make my video, wrote, shot and edited it in a week while suffering from my worst cold in years, then set to work trying to find supporters.
WHY AM I DOING THIS?
After the ‘easy’ bit (30% raised in a few weeks from friends, relatives and others, including some wonderful ex-Authonomites and ‘real-life’ writers) I began to realise this was going to be… well, effing hard. Around Christmas people stopped pledging. My stress soared (weekly ‘progress’ reports didn’t help), I became fixated on my ‘Percentage Funded’ and woke in the night deeply depressed at the thought of having to spend hours badgering friends yet again (I nearly fell out with several) and dreaming up bizarre schemes to encourage people to part with a tenner for my not-yet-ready e-book.
I considered giving up – and might have, had it not been for my husband’s encouragement along with my determination not to let this thing beat me.
So, what did I do to get there?
What didn’t I do? Loads of things that turned out to be next to useless – churning out posters advertising book readings, going door to door and around local cafes with my book info, hunting down celebrities who might just pledge… Some things I thought would work took too long to organise (talks at book clubs, etc). Twitter didn’t yield much though I was on it quite a lot in case someone mega famous decided to pledge. I spent days emailing all and sundry.
Feeling down after Christmas, I contacted other Unbound authors going through the same thing via Facebook. I organised a ‘live pledging’ event with readings from four of us, which resulted in modest extra support and much stress (a network failure halfway through made live pledges impossible). But the solidarity gained lifted my spirits – I gritted my teeth and kept going. I did my first author interview, for a Russian language newspaper. Pledges kept trickling in. However, in mid February I was only 68% funded and perilously close to my February 26 deadline. (An extension was asked for but looked uncertain.)
I made my target 3 days before deadline while in Glasgow for a reading with fellow funding author Ian Skewis. I’d been planning a final desperate pledge hunt en-route; fortunately an anonymous donor (cue much excitement, mystery and speculation) took my book to 95% funded in one fell swoop. In the next 24 hours a flurry of pledges took it to 100%. I was overjoyed and overwhelmed, and spent the next week on a high.
- Crowdfunding experience to add to my CV
- ‘Going from shy and retiring into a brazen hussy’ – words of a friend
To wrap up
My thanks to anyone reading this who has supported my book. Please note, pledges can still be made (until May I think), with all supporter names to go inside a special edition.
My advice to anyone considering this route:
This crowdfunding thing is not for everyone. But you never really know till you try it. While it may not be true that anything is possible, a great deal that you don’t expect is.
Ghosts of Chechnya is due to be published by Unbound in early summer 2016 www.unbound.co.uk/books/ghosts-of-chechnya
Jennie Ensor’s blog/website: www.jennieensor.com