A fortnight ago I received an email from Unbound saying they wanted to publish my first novel Ashael Rising. I leapt at the opportunity. The problem? I didn’t know anything about crowdfunding. It’s a steep learning curve and I’m having to learn fast. This is how to build an audience as an unpublished author.
When I first heard of Unbound and their innovative publishing model, I was really excited. The thought of readers getting to choose which books are published rather than the mysterious, closed world of the big publishers sounded like the best idea I had come across in quite a while.
At that time, I hadn’t quite finished the first draft of Ashael Rising so I started following Unbound on Twitter and added them to my ‘Query List’.
Twitter pitches to publishing deals
I finished my first draft in January and got feedback from my first round of beta readers. I started trying to work on ‘building an audience’ but I’ll be honest, I’m not very good at it. Like many authors, I’m a bit of an introvert. I’m friendly but not inclined to start the conversation. I’m sure that many of you reading this are nodding your heads in recognition.
Four weeks ago, Unbound were holding a pitching hour on Twitter. I thought they seemed very approachable and if I pitched to them, they might give me some feedback.
Instead they asked for my manuscript. At this point, I thought I had burned a chance to sub to them. Nobody ever gets a contract based on the first draft of their first novel, right? But, if I was lucky, they might give me some editorial feedback.
Build an online audience
It’s a good idea to have an internet presence before you submit to a publisher.
However, don’t spread yourself too thin; what’s the point in having ten social media accounts if they’re all neglected? Think about what suits you and how much you can reasonably handle without it impacting too much on your writing time. Pick one or two places and focus your efforts on those. In my case, I’ve chosen Twitter and my blog but maybe Facebook is more your style.
Identify your network
Think about your network. Who might support you, help to promote your campaign? Are you in a writing group or blogging network? Are there organisations that might be interested in your work?
I’m a member of the British Fantasy Society, a body of people interested in the genre I’m writing in. These are all people who might be interested in pledging for my book, but also, might be willing to spread the word in their own circles. The more people who are aware of a campaign, the more chance it has of being successful. Look into groups like these in your field and join, preferably before you want them to do something for you.
Unbound’s website advises that they respond to submissions in six to eight weeks. In my case, it was a little under three weeks.
I was asked to provide a selection of material for my project page – within a week! My page went live eight days after I received the e-mail saying they were interested. It makes sense to be prepared and have drafts of the materials ready. I was asked to provide:
Pitch – My one-line pitch for the novel
Synopsis – A synopsis of 300-500 words. I read several synopses on the site before submitting mine. This is for potential backers (i.e. readers) so should give a good feel for the shape of the book without giving the end away.
Sample – A sample of the work of 1,000-3,000 words. That should be easy enough – you do already have the manuscript.
Photo – A photo for my profile (vanity I know, but you might want to prepare this one in advance. What if your skin breaks out that week?)
Biographies – This was one of the hardest parts for me, and I think it’s hard for all debut authors. Practice writing this in advance. Ideally, you should have three versions:
- A short one or two-line bio for adding to guest posts and articles, like the one at the bottom of this post.
- A mid-length one, like the one requested by Unbound, for 150-250 words. Include your location, publishing history if you have one, education and something interesting about yourself.
- A long one for your website. That’s where you can talk about what drew you to writing and where your inspiration comes from.
Multimedia – It is optional for you to include a short (one-two minute) video, relating to your project. Again, this is probably one you want to think about in advance. What sort of message do you want to get across? Some author videos seem like they were professionally filmed while others are more like mine – the author sitting in front of their webcam, talking about their book. Either style can work but you want to have time to make the choice.
Rewards – The Unbound model like other crowd-funding provides rewards for pledges. Some of these are standard: a copy of the book, the pledger’s name in a list of supporters, a personal dedication from the author. But what can you offer as rewards? The more levels you can add, the better. Will you attend book clubs, either in person or via skype? How about lunch or dinner with the author? Or naming a character? Have a list of things that you can offer to people who are willing to give you their hard-earned money.
Related reads: Why every indie author should master digital marketing >>
Have a plan and reach out
Know what you’re getting into. I love the idea of what Unbound is doing and they have been a pleasure to work with, but in many ways my head is spinning. I don’t think you can really prepare for someone offering your dream to you but can be prepared for moving forward.
- Draft an e-mail to send to family and friends. Send an individual e-mail to each person if you can.
- Draft an announcement for your social media sites, and link to it several times over the funding period.
- Give regular updates across all of your platforms. Basically, you want to make sure you’re keeping your campaign in people’s minds. There will be people who decide to pledge after payday – you want to make sure that they remember!
- Reach out – you will be surprised by how many people are willing to help you out.
- Prepare a list of places that might be willing to let you do a guest post and figure out what you have to offer their readers. If any of you do go through Unbound, I would be happy to let you do a guest post on my site.
Unbound are doing something new and it’s scary and challenging but it’s some ride!