Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Self Publishing for the Famous?

Marillion fans are a unique bunch. The 80s progressive band briefly hit the mainstream with the "Misplaced Childhood" album, but after singer Fish left, so did their presence in the mainstream. Yet, year on year, Marillion continued, with a new singer and - I gather - much less of the progressive stylings. The only people looking forward to a new Marillion album are, I'd guess, other Marillion fans and since 2001 they've been getting pre-orders for their albums in, in order to finance their new records.

It's an old story then - ten years old at least - and online sites such as Kickstarter have acted as similar "angel" sites for new ideas. Whereas in the past you may have gone round your friends to find the money to finance a "start up", in this age of "online friends" why not go to the web.

Anyway, the idea has now reached publishing. This week at the Hay Festival, a new startup, "Unbound", was launched with much fanfare. The idea is simple: bringing authors and books together. For £10 for pre-ordering of an e-book to £250 for lunch with the author, there are a range of sponsorship levels - each of which gives you access to the author's workings in progress. A book of short stories by legendary Monty Python member Terry Jones? A new novel from missing-in-action This Life creator Amy Jenkins? These are just two of the initial projects being offered. With some kind of audience, and some kind of presence, these are exactly the sort of people that you would imagine traditional publishing was always giving advances to for their next project - but just as freelancers in the digital industries have decided they'd rather go it alone, these writers have decided to give "Unbound" a go.

"If you’re a novelist, historian, philosopher, economist, biographer, scientist, journalist, comedian, filmmaker, gardener, cook, academic, traveller or have lived an interesting life or done extraordinary things, we’d love to hear from you.Each proposal has the potential to become the book you really want to write, pitched to the people who really matter: your potential readers", says the website.

It will be fascinating to see if this is a success - or where it works and where it doesn't. There have been quite a few publishers recently who have released expensive deluxe editions knowing there will be a "subscriber" market for these - but here we have the equivalent of the famous person's self publishing venture. It will be interesting to see how it compares with the music industry's similar ventures. Author loyalty is there for big names, but does it extend beyond genre? Did Grisham fans buy his non-crime novel with gritted teeth? Did he accept a lesser royalty? Did Mark Haddon's "Curious Incident" audience mop up his following book, a book of poetry?

One wonders about the levels of incentive, of course, given that the modern writer is expected to sign everything, be on tour constantly, and probably go out for dinner with his or her fans (its the only way they'll get a square meal on those royalties!) It would be interesting to see some more interesting incentives - perhaps, Terry Jones' personalised ringtones or Tibor Fischer sharing his unprintable reminiscences about Martin Amis for instance. One boggles a bit about the math - Tibor Fischer's already written stories require 1,477 subscribers (which at £10 a pop, gives a not unreasonable budget of £14,770)- but one appreciates the idea.

I guess I'll keep an eye on Unbound, and hope that it signs up, say, Jeff Noon to write a new novel or for the Cocteau Twin's Liz Fraser to write an autobiography.


Not unrelatedly, I'm giving a workshop this week to a writing course, and quickly put together a document of "social media" resources, hints and tips for writers. As it might have wider use I've put it online here.

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