Friday, July 28, 2017

Crowdfunding your novel

I have been querying my completed/edited/polished commercial fiction/crime suspense to traditional literary agents and would prefer to not self-publish. The responses to my queries have been routinely form letters, “Thank you for thinking of me, but I must pass. Please understand this is a very subjective business. You should keep looking for representation because what works for one agent (or publisher) may not work as well for another.”

Today, I received a kind rejection that include this bit of information:
Besides the traditional agenting route, keep in mind that there are now other possible options for you—for instance, crowdfunding platforms might be something to consider: sites like Unbound, Kickstarter, and Publishizer might be of interest. Publishizer with books, matching with publishers—we’re doing some work with them and they are a great group. That said, of course you should check out all options for yourself.

Do I remember you saying that even if an author had a publisher, they still need an agent? If so, how would any of the above help? Wouldn’t the above simply be another self-publishing avenue?

I've heard of Kickstarter of course, have even sent some dollars to various projects, but had not heard of the other two. So, I scouted around a bit. Unbound seems a lot like Kickstarter: raise some dough, self-publish the book, ship to campaign donors. (Please see first comment in the comment trail from Beth Lewis about how Unbound works)

Publishizer was a little different. They offer access to "publishers" as their unique selling proposition. To be fair, they're pretty transparent about which publishers are interested in a project, and they tell you which projects got signed and with whom.

The publishers however are mostly ones I hadn't heard of (two exceptions: Weiser, Harvard Square Books) and "partnership publishers"--companies that "help" you self-publish for a chunk of change.

For none of these choices would you need an agent.

The key value of an agent (our unique selling proposition if you will) is getting you a deal you can't get on your own. All of these publishers seem to allow access without needing any expertise or inside knowledge--what I bring to the table.

There's nothing wrong with crowdfunding a book, or using a service that provides a platform for your book to be noticed as long as you fully understand what that means. Crowdfunding means you're self-publishing. The value of a place that sells "notice" is how many, and what kind of eyeballs are looking.

There may be agents who scout around those sites looking for projects. It sounds like you heard from one of them.  But, most agents find their projects through incoming queries or by referral. That hasn't changed in forever.

I've mentioned the option of self-publishing to some queriers in the last couple years. It's mostly when they are writing memoir that isn't suitable for general trade publishing.

But you're not writing memoir, you're writing crime fiction. It's difficult to successfully self-publish crime fiction unless you've already got an established audience.

I'm not sure why the agent mentioned this avenue to you unless s/he doesn't know much about self-publishing, or more likely, just uses it in a form reply to queries s/he's not pursuing.

For whatever reason: If you're hearing a lot of no at the query stage, you know your query doesn't work. Get some eyeballs on it. Then make sure you've written a novel that builds on and expands the canon. Writing a book that's just like a bunch of other books I've read isn't going to do the trick any more.


Beth Lewis said...

I'm a long-time reader and lurker and LOVE your blog Janet but felt I had to comment on this post. Full disclosure: I recently started working at Unbound.

I don't know about Publishizer but I do know Unbound and it really is not the same as Kickstarter. Kickstarter has no barrier for entry for one, anyone can put up a project and start funding. Unbound has a curated list, chosen by commissioning editors (like myself). We get direct submissions, submissions from agents and go out and find projects ourselves but every project is carefully chosen by an acquisitions team. Also, more importantly, it's not self-publishing. Any book that fully funds through us, as well as having a subscriber edition (the version that goes to direct supporters), we also have an edition that goes into the trade through Penguin Random House. They handle our sales, marketing and distribution and our books appear in high street bookshops and online, just like a traditional publisher.

I'm not by any means saying crowdfunding is the route for everyone but I did feel I had to say that it's not self-publishing and it's not the same as Kickstarter. It can be a more challenging road to take but it can work extremely well for certain authors.

Susan said...

I successfully crowdfunded using Kickstarter when I was publishing my first book. I know a couple of others here have used that as a source as well when self-publishing. But it's purely for funding. The rest--setting yourself up as a publisher, cover design, formatting, marketing, etc--you do on your own.

It's still curious why an agent would mention these companies, specifically, in their rejections. It's great that they're trying to give writers other options--self-publishing is certainly another path to publication--but this kind of response sounds incredibly misguided, like the agent doesn't really understand self-publishing at all. I can't even imagine how confusing it must be to receive this response.

OP: If self-publishing is a path you would like to know more about, feel free to reach out to some of us here at the reef to share our experiences. Otherwise, keep going. The paths we choose aren't always linear, but they do reap great rewards.

As Janet says, get some more eyes on your work to help fix potential problems you might be missing. Make sure you're casting the net wide enough because publishing is subjective. And most of all, don't give up. Good luck!

kathy joyce said...

For the options that get the author to a publisher, I'm guessing an agent could help with the contract. No?

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Huh? Crowd-funding path to self-publishing. Something new everyday. I will continue to toil towards traditional publishing for myself. I need an agent to kick me in the head, occasionally chomp a limb off to navigate these waters.

Good luck, OP. Do get eyes on your query. It will help.

Cecilia Ortiz Luna said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Carolynnwith2Ns said...

I am standing in line at Get Published, restaurant, while reading a menu-board of options which all look good, except for the kale and lima bean salad. Though some items are expensive, (some pay me), I know little about each option’s ingredients.
I ponder what I think will taste best, will satiate my hunger and will not leave me, hours later, belching regret.
Reider’s Restaurant is different. The expert chef explains, informs, and slaps your fingers when you reach across the table for that which you may allergic to.
Extensive bar, packed tables, long wait.
Great view.

(Exactly 100 words.)

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

I've never heard of Unbound before, how interesting! (or Publishizer).

It's funny, I kind of organically hit upon why people start Patreon accounts the other day (a friend I don't see very often read my latest published story and was like "THAT WAS AMAZING WHAT ELSE DO YOU HAVE WHERE IS IT?") but Patreon is yet another form of crowdfunding, ongoing and rolling as opposed to a single project end goal.

kathy joyce said...

2Ns "belching regret"
*10 laughing emojis*

E.M. Goldsmith said...

2Ns Bravo! Big smiles

Susan said...

Jennifer: I thought about creating a Patreon because I love the business model. It reminds me of a time when patrons took chances on writers and financially supported them on their way to success (Gertrude Stein, I'm looking at you). What's even better about this is it's a direct link to fans--the fans are the patrons. But on the flip side, a lot of content is expected, and it's a platform that you have to build (much like a Kickstarter, but as you explain, Kickstarter has a single project and financial end-goal).

Amanda Palmer runs a very successful Patreon for her music, writing, and other creative works. I'm pretty sure Neil's Gaiman even joins her for some "things." It's fascinating to see what's possible and how others are creating their own paths to success. I admire the hell out of those people.

Donnaeve said...

You have to be as persistent as a weed. Someone poured a bunch of cement for a sidewalk or maybe a few truckloads of hot asphalt for a street? No worries. Just wait a bit, and the ever persistent errant variety of some weed will eventually pop up through a crack. Somewhere.

Writers must be like weeds. Persist. Use whatever resources you feel comfortable with because the path you walk towards putting your work out is as unique to you as your story.

Donnaeve said...

Oh! I forgot to mention this...two things, and they are Off TOPIC:

1) Thank you Janet for boosting my site views on July 17th to something like 419 in ONE day! Woohoo! (that was the day you posted about my Contact page) I just noticed it this morning, and was like, huh? What happened on the 17th??? Then I noticed the referring Bingo!

2) I just announced this on my FB page a couple days ago, but Pam Tillis (y'all know who Pam Tillis is, right???) and Radney Foster's wife, Cyndi Hoelzle (y'all know Radney Foster, right???) are the songwriter, and artist for THE ROAD TO BITTERSWEET's Trio song/art work. Be still my heart. Can't wait to see what they do with the story.

Colin Smith said...

Hello Beth! Thanks for de-lurking and telling us more about Unbound. An interesting concept.

Janet: I think you're underselling your services. A good literary agent does more than simply get writers deals they couldn't get on their own. As I understand it, you offer career management, you negotiate contracts, talk clients down from ledges, make editorial suggestions, and give support and encouragement as well as making deals your client couldn't make on his/her own. I think that justifies your 15%. At least in my mind. :)

Mister Furkles said...

Writing a book that's just like a bunch of other books I've read isn't going to do the trick any more.

With my unique talents, I could write a book the like of which you've never read before--nor ever wanted to.

BJ Muntain said...
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BJ Muntain said...

OP: If you want to go the traditional route, keep on going. The agent gave you some options, but those are by no means your only options. Get that query looked at and keep querying.

I can't say I've received a response like this, but I've received other responses that I looked at, thought 'nah', and went on. The agent doesn't know your career goals at the query stage. You do. Follow them.

Regarding platforms to get publishing eyes on your story: A friend of mine used Wattpad, and got a contract with a small UK publisher. She's done fairly well, though she's now looking for an agent for another series. I don't think Wattpad is for me, though.

Janet Reid said...

Beth Lewis thank you for the info on Unbound. I've amended the post to direct people to your comment.

I'm always glad to hear from people who have more info on a topic than I do.

Collective brain = good!

Panda in Chief said...

Interesting to hear of the business model at Unbound. I have heard of it, but hadn't explored it.

I have run 4 successful projects on Kickstarter, with both book projects and art projects. They are a lot of work and doing a creative project is a lot more fine tuning and generally not as lucrative as the flashier new tech projects. That said, I think I have both added to and consolidated my existing base through my Kickstarter projects. For someone who thinks that self publishing is the right path for them, it can be a great tool. I am happy to share what I've learned, if anyone is thinking of setting up a crowdfunding project.

Happy Friday everyone, from the sunny and temperate climate of the other Washington.

Panda in Chief said...
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Craig F said...

Man, that completed/edited/polished/commercial fiction/crime/suspense bothers me. It almost sounds like you have an as is clause in your query. Simplify that to suspense novel first.

I have seen Kickstarter work for books. Usually it is for someone who already has a following. A self-published book that did well, a writer who had publisher trouble or someone who had a half of a million reads on Wattpad.

I think you need to get back to the first question we all learned. The one your parents almost murdered you over. The simplest to ask and hardest question to answer. Why. Do that first.

You need to follow my Queen's advice and get some other people to read it and answer that question.

Brian said...
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BJ Muntain said...

Yesterday on The Kill Zone, they had a guest blogger writing about her experience with Kindle Scout. Basically, if you get enough votes, Amazon will publish your novel. It sounds interesting, but I think it's best if you're already considering self-publishing that novel. Even if you don't 'win' and get published, they still provide an opportunity to get your book in front of readers, and to market your book directly to readers. It sounds like, if you don't win, you are still able to get those readers to buy it once it's self-published.

Again, it's an option, but I don't think it's one I'll be taking advantage of any time soon. Doesn't fit my career plan at the moment.

Brian Schwarz said...

Hi Beth,

I've done some poking around into Unbound before and found some information, but always run into roadblocks in my understanding. Hoping you can shed some light on if my concept here is correct.

In my limited research, it looks like Unbound works with Cornerstones, a house of P/RH. If I recall correctly, I believe the founder of Unbound used to work over at Cornerstones. Could be wrong on that.

What I understand about it is that you essentially need to raise, on average, around $15,000 in start-up costs if selected by a commissioning editor. This number varies, but that's what I've heard from others is the average. And if you get to close to 90%, Unbound will then throw some weight behind your project to help you hit the goal.

If the goal is hit, they do a print run of 500 or so books, but I don't really follow the distribution process. I see on Cornerstones where Unbound is listed as an affiliate or imprint, but I don't see any unbound books in the catalog? Does Unbound have a separate sales team that reaches out to distributors or something along those lines?

I've done digging on this whole process before with Unbound but I'm always unsure as to the information I'm finding. Probably better to hear it from the source. Any light you can shed on my understanding would be much appreciated.

Like others have said, thank you for popping in and saying hello!

Steve Stubbs said...

Ms. Reid is right, OP. If your query does not pull, it does not work.

There seems to be some disagreement how a query should be done. I read several agent blogs that say you should start with, "I am seeking represemtation for [TITLE], a [word count] [specify genre] novel," then follow with some really blah description.

The author of the Query Shark blog prescribes a much more compelling model. That makes more sense to me.

If you send me your query letter I will give you an opinion, which you may then ignore. Someone else's opinion can open insights.

Good luck in any case.