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On the Perils of Crowd-Funded Publishing

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Have I made a huge mistake? I have walked away from talks with two well-known traditional publishers, and decided instead to go with a new crowd-funded publishing company called Unbound, and now, as I watch the subscriptions come in, I begin to panic - will I reach my funding target? Will anyone be willing to pay for a book that doesn't actually exist yet? Have I offered enough of an incentive to invest in my novel?

Interestingly, my main concern is not whether I will actually get it written, but whether the demand will be high enough to get it published. It seems an odd inversion of priorities for an author, but then again, isn't that exactly the reason I made this decision?

Anyone who has eyes and/or ears (and even some of those that don't) has witnessed what has happened to the music industry over the past five years - the bottom has pretty much dropped out of it (unless you're Rihanna, of course, in which case the bottom has prettily dropped into just about all of it, with the music all but(t) forgotten) - the music execs were looking the other way when the technological revolution occurred and it seems they only started paying attention when the 'flowers and candles' budget was slashed overnight.

Nobody goes to the shop and buys a CD anymore. Nobody buys a whole album anymore. Nobody invests in an artist anymore. There is a whole new model for buying music, and the decision to go down this brave new path was made by you, me, us, the public, not the industry.

We didn't know we were making a decision, as such, about how we buy our music - we just took the path of least resistance - why go with "getting in the car, going to the shops, looking for the product, queueing to pay, driving home, unwrapping it, putting it in the slot, pressing play" style purchasing, when you can get it all with "one click". One click. Amazing. And now they are saying it's happening all over again with books. Kindles, iPads and all the other e-readers are becoming cheaper and more sophisticated by the week, and I, proud as I am of my beautiful, varied, multi-coloured book shelves, have succumbed to the psiren call of the convenient.

I have a Kindle. Well, I had a Kindle, then I trod on it and broke the screen, so then I got another Kindle. And it is incredible, no doubt about it. But the bottom is dropping out of book publishing too, and with no literary equivalent to Rihanna to parade her naked rump to the world to aid sales (I am not volunteering...), we have to find another way.

And so, back to crowd-funding. The attraction is obvious - direct, real time feedback from and interaction with your potential readers. A chance for new authors to get noticed. Added value in the form of tickets to the launch party, a thank you in the book, advance special edition copies, even a character named after you, in return for a chunk of change to contribute to the costs of publishing a book. And Unbound do promise to make an actual book, not just an e-book, but something you can hold, and sniff (is it just me? Come on - it's not just me) and keep forever.

Which is one of the reasons why I like Unbound so much. That, and the fact it is run by a group of people with long and illustrious careers in traditional publishing. It's one group of execs that actually is listening and adapting to you, me, us, the public. Because the problem is that traditional publishers just don't have the budget to fund a wide range of books in the hope that people will buy them, anymore. Which is why the market is saturated with autobiographies by celebrities who have barely lived, let alone written anything - they are guaranteed big sellers.

Of course, it would have been reassuring to go with one of the two big publishers I had enjoyed a glass of wine or three with - they would have covered the costs, maybe even given me an advance, put me up in nice hotels and not mentioned money at all - until of course, my novel didn't quite make the tills ring out like a new Katie Price publication. Then the decision is harder to justify, so they don't make the decision at all. Then we're living in a world of wall-to-wall Katie Price autobiographies, her life being constructed by a team of hollow-eyed freelancers before she has even lived it yet.

So, yes, crowd funding is scary. It's still quite new. There are people who are snide, or rude, or just don't get it. But then, there is you, me, us - the public - the joyful, innovative, thrusting, futuristic public - making decisions about the world without even realising. And I want to be part of that. Not part of history. So I am taking a risk. Maybe you won't like it, or want it. But I'd rather be told that directly by you, than get dumped by 'a friend'. What I really mean is - GO AND SUBSCRIBE TO MY BOOK OR I'LL HAVE TO GET MY BUM OUT.

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