Praise for Declan Burke: “Burke shows again that he’s not just a comic genius, but also a fine dramatic writer and storyteller.” – Booklist. “Proust meets Chandler over a pint of Guinness.” – Spectator. “Among the most memorable books of the year, of any genre.” – Sunday Times. “A hardboiled delight.” – Guardian. “Imagine Donald Westlake and Richard Stark collaborating on a screwball noir.” – Kirkus Reviews. “A cross between Raymond Chandler and Flann O’Brien.” – John Banville.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Show Me The Money; Or, Putting The ‘Fun’ Into Crowdfunding

As all three regular readers of this blog will know, I’ve been banging on about a writers’ co-op recently, this despite (or because of) the fact I don’t have two brass farthings to rub together. You’ll also know that I’ve written a novel called A GONZO NOIR (aka BAD FOR GOOD), the gist of which runneth thusly:
A GONZO NOIR is a story about how a struggling writer – one Declan Burke, coincidentally enough – is approached by a character called Karlsson, the latter being a character from an m/s Burke wrote some years ago, but which got shelved for its lack of commercial appeal, principally because Karlsson is a hospital porter and something of a psychopath, given to alleviating the pain of old patients in a terminal fashion. Trapped in the half-life limbo peopled by fictional characters who never see publication, Karlsson has a suggestion for Burke: make him a nicer psychopath to give the novel more commercial appeal, and give the story more oomph. To this end, Karlsson will collaborate on a rewrite of the m/s, which will involve him blowing up the hospital where he works. If Burke doesn’t play ball, then Karlsson will turn his psychopathic tendencies on Burke’s wife and baby daughter …
  The novel has been out under consideration with a number of publishers for some months now, and – ooh, the irony – it appears that, despite the largely positive reaction from commissioning editors, the story lacks for mass commercial appeal.
  As a result, I’m thinking strongly of self-publishing the novel, albeit self-publishing with a twist, as a kind of dry run for the co-op idea mentioned elsewhere on this blog. But before I get into the hard sell, let me offer you first a sample of the reactions I received when I sent the m/s to a number of writers in the hope of a blurb or two:
“A genuinely original take on noir, inventive and funny. Imagine, if you can, a cross between Flann O’Brien and Raymond Chandler.” – John Banville, Booker Prize-winning author of THE SEA

“A GONZO NOIR is unlike anything else you’ll read this year … Laugh-out-loud funny … This is writing at its dazzling, cleverest zenith. Think John Fowles, via Paul Auster and Rolling Stone … a feat of extraordinary alchemy.” – Ken Bruen, author of AMERICAN SKIN

“Burke has written a deep, lyrical and moving crime novel … an intoxicating and exciting novel of which the master himself, Flann O’Brien, would be proud.” – Adrian McKinty, author FIFTY GRAND

“Stop waiting for Godot – he’s here. Declan Burke takes the existential dilemma of characters writing themselves and turns it on its ear, and then some. He gives it body and soul … an Irish soul.” – Reed Farrel Coleman, three-time Shamus Award-winning author of EMPTY EVER AFTER

“A GONZO NOIR is shockingly original and completely entertaining. Post-modern crime fiction at its very best.” – John McFetridge, author of EVERYBODY KNOWS THIS IS NOWHERE

“A harrowing and yet hilarious examination of the gradual disintegration of a writer’s personality, as well as a damned fine noir novel … Burke has outdone himself this time; it’s a hell of a read.” – Scott Philips, author of THE ICE HARVEST
  Okay, now for the hard sell.
  Generally speaking, self-publishing involves a writer investing his or her own hard-earned money in having a book published, and then hoping that enough readers will buy the book to make it worth his or her while. Generally speaking, I tend to go about things backasswards, so I’m going to invert the conventional model and ask the readers to put their money where my mouth is. It’s a variation on crowdfunding, in which a reader pledges a certain amount of money to see the book published, and in return receives a copy of the book when it sees the light of day.
  Now, I know we’re living through straitened times, and that no one has money to toss around willy-nilly. That said, and these straitened times notwithstanding, people are still spending money and reading books; the crucial issue these days, at least in my own experience, is value for money.
  So: how much am I asking readers to pledge? Well, I reckon that €7 lies somewhere between what you might pay for a conventionally published book brand new off the shelves, and what you might pay for a decent book in a second-hand store. €7 converts (as of today’s conversion rates, February 17th) to roughly $9.60 (US), $10.60 (Aus), $10 (Can), and £6 (UK).
  The cost of self-publishing, going the print-on-demand (POD) route, is roughly €1,500. At €7 per book, that means I need to sell 214 books to break even, which seems to me eminently do-able. Of course, if everyone who pledges is receive a copy, then I need to build in post-and-packing at €5 per book, which bumps up the cost-per-book to me to €12. Were I to ask for a pledge of €12 per book, that would mean I’d need to sell 125 copies to break even. Sticking with the original pledge of €7, however, which I’d prefer to do, means I need to sell 367 books to break even, which still seems do-able to me. In total, then, I need to raise €2,570 to print, publish and post 367 books; if such can be done, I will receive a profit of almost exactly nil, but I’ll have a new book on the shelf, and – hopefully, if a tad optimistically – 367 readers given good value for their €7 investment.
  How to raise that amount in a fashion that is clear, transparent, and leaves the reader reassured that he or she isn’t going to be bilked for their €7? Well, there’s a site called Kickstarter, which offers a platform for the raising of capital for such projects as this. The basic idea is that I set up a project with a total amount that needs to be raised (€2,570). I let people know where and how they can pledge their €7, and hopefully 367 people buy into the idea. If the amount is raised within a specific time period (three months, say), then your pledge is accepted and transferred to my bank account, and shortly afterwards you receive your copy of A GONZO NOIR; if the total amount isn’t reached in a specified period, all pledges are cancelled and it costs nobody anything, except possibly yours truly’s pride. For more information on the Kickstarter project, clickety-click here.
  So there you have it. Any takers?

Monday, February 15, 2010

“No, I’m Spartacus.”

Many thanks to all who responded, publicly or privately, to last week’s post on the idea of a writers’ co-op. Most if not all writers who contributed gave it a thumbs-up, whereas those in the publishing industry were far more negative, and more likely to declare the concept simply another publishing company. Which may well be the case, given that I was only spitballing, and that my research on the subject hovers perilously close to nil. Still, if the very idea of writers banding together to put books on shelves (electronic or otherwise) without recourse to the traditional publishing model evokes a near uniform disapproval from the establishment, you’d have to believe you’re on to something they consider to be at least potentially dangerous.
  The big issues appear to be marketing and distribution, the presumption here being that the writers involved are good enough to be published traditionally, but can’t or won’t go the traditional route for a variety of reasons, the commercial potential (or lack of same) of their books being the main stumbling block. Editorial input (or lack of same) is also mooted as a potential problem, although for my own part, I can only say that the two novels I’ve had published traditionally, or semi-traditionally, EIGHTBALL BOOGIE and THE BIG O, had minimal editorial input. Aha, says you, but we’ve never heard of your books, so maybe you should have insisted on more editorial input. Perhaps that’s true, although I’d argue that both books got pretty decent reviews (see below, left-hand side), and that the stumbling block was a lack of joined-up thinking in terms of marketing and distribution.
  Rigorous proofreading and / or copy editing is also required, of course, but such can be achieved by sending the m/s out to a number of the co-op writers, a process that would also embrace editorial input. If three or four writers proof and edit my m/s this time out, say, then I’ll be one of three or four writers who proof and edit another writer’s m/s next month, etc.
  Who is financing the actual publication costs? That’ll be the writer whose book it is, and who decides the extent of the print-run, etc. Minimal research notwithstanding, it seems that €1,500 would be sufficient to go the POD route, while e-publishing alone is a fraction of that cost. Distribution is taken care of by the POD company, or by Amazon. Marketing is done by the co-op writers’ maximising their own on-line resources, and cross-pollinating said resources to create a word-of-mouth buzz.
  Certainly, there’ll be few books, if any, published in this fashion that will achieve NYT bestseller status; but that’s hardly the point. What is the point? That there are good writers out there ill-served by the current model of publishing, and good readers too, for that matter; and that there are books being written that may not have the commercial appeal to justify a large publisher taking a risk on them, given their economies of scale, but which may very well appeal to 50 or a 100 or even a thousand readers.
  The question for writers, in the theoretical co-op model, is whether they have the courage of their convictions, and are prepared to put their money where their mouth is, and take a financial hit to see their books reach readers. That remains to be seen, especially as €1,500 or its equivalent is no small pile of cash to most writers scrabbling around the base of the pyramid.
  Personally, I have no great desire to take on the publishing industry; I’d be happy as a pig in the proverbial if someone was to pay me a decent wage for writing good books, and I’d imagine most writers, even those fired up to evangelical heights by the potential of the new technologies, would be the same. But even if that were to happen, that still leaves us with an elephant in the room: that the current model of publishing is being outpaced by technological developments, much in the same way as the monks who wrote with quill on vellum were outstripped by the printing press, as Dan Agin points out over at the Huffington Post. The gist of his piece runs thusly:
“The subtext of the story is the impact of technology on culture and commerce, and the unfailing collapse of any industry that allows itself to be blinded by sloth, short term greed, and general mediocrity of attitudes.
  “Anyone with an imagination about the future of technology and commerce knows that the printed book on paper is already on its way to obsolescence. The wrangling and beefing and whining about prices and protecting demand for printed books by publishing executives is both amusing and tragic.”
  For the full piece, clickety-click here