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Crowdfunding A Novel

Author Dan Brotzel presents a case study, sharing his experiences of crowdfunding a novel with a publisher called Unbound

Quick links on this page:

Introduction by Chris Fielden

Dan Brotzel is the co-author of a comic novel called Kitten on a Fatberg. The name was later changed to Work in Progress, so you will see reference to both titles in this post. Dan wrote this post in three parts, over a three year period. The first part was written and published in 2019, the second part was written and published in 2020, and the third part was written at the end of 2021 and published early in 2022.

When Dan wrote the first part of this post, his book was crowdfunding with Unbound, a publisher whose ethos is to liberate ideas and bring them to life.

Unbound, Liberating Ideas

Dan wrote to me and asked if I'd be interested in him writing about his experiences of working with Unbound. He thought it might be of interest to my readers, as crowdfunding is a relatively new alternative to traditional publishing.

I said, "Yes please, good sir," and proceeded to stipulate a long list of information that I'd like Dan to cover in his post, including details of how he went about working in collaboration with other authors to write the book. Thankfully, Dan wasn't put off and agreed.

At that time, Dan and his co-authors were just over halfway to crowdfunding their book. The first part of this post covers the pros and cons he and his friends had experienced at that point, as well as information about how they approached writing a novel as a three man team.

Kitten on a Fatberg

Dan agreed to write a follow-up, once the crowdfunding was complete. I'm pleased to say they reached their target six months later.

Dan then wrote part two, sharing how the trio managed to achieve their funding target. He promised to write a third part (I really am a harsh task master...) once the book had been published, giving details of the marketing efforts used to generate ongoing sales.

The book was published in the summer of 2021. In December, Dan wrote the third and final part of this post. I published it early in 2022.

So, now you can read the full story of this epic journey. Please enjoy parts 1, 2 and 3 of Dan's candid post, in which he openly shares details of the amount of work involved when you try to crowdfund and publish a book.

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Crowdfunding a Novel with Unbound, by Dan Brotzel (PART 1)

Introduction

Kitten on a Fatberg  [NB later re-named Work in Progress] is a novel-in-emails about an eccentric writers’ group called Crawley Writers. I wrote it with two pals from my real-life writer’s group, Alex Woolf and Martin Jenkins.

Our real-life group is based in north London. It's a critique group that meets every fortnight. We have a core of five members, and another four or five who drop in and out. I've written about the group in this Unbound article, if you'd like to know more.

Alex Woolf, Dan Brotzel and Martin Jenkins

Authors, Alex Woolf, Dan Brotzel and Martin Jenkins

It took us about two-and-a-half years to write Kitten on a Fatberg. A sort of cross between The Detectorists and Tom Sharpe, it’s got feuds, affairs and pathos – but also a cosplay stalker, an alien mothership invasion, and a deeply symbolic bowl of olives. The tagline is:

They’ve all got a book in them, unfortunately.

Soon after joining my group, I had the idea that a fictional writers’ group would actually be a fun set-up for a novel – all those fragile egos, all those weird and wonderful personalities, all the different sorts of writers and writing (from epic verse to steampunk, in our case). I imagined a motley crew of lonely characters, desperate to be published, moving through a story with lots of potential for rivalry and romance, jealousy and intrigue, self-deception and the ache of unrequited ambition.

Dan Brotzel

The side of Dan Brotzel's head – you can see the front of him in other pics on this page

Originally, I’d thought the idea might make an interesting short story, but over time – as my friendship with Alex and Martin grew – I started to think how much more fun it would be if we wrote something longer, together. Between us, we had all met lots of writers, experienced lots of different writing groups, and shared a typically British, self-mocking sense of humour. So, when I put the idea for my novel to them, they seized on it at once.

After a few meetings in our local pub, we had thrashed out a set of characters and a broad structure. We knew it would be a novel in emails, building to some sort of explosive climax, and that was enough to get us started.

Collaboration and Creativity

There are many reasons why collaborating on a novel shouldn’t work. Writers are basically egotists. They’re used to being their own bosses and making their own decisions. Would writing together lead to clashes and tantrums? Then there were the practical issues. For example:

  • How would we manage the actual writing process?
  • What if someone didn’t pull their weight?
  • Who would be responsible for the editing?
  • In the case of differences of editorial opinion, whose feedback would trump whose?

Writing Collaboration

As it happened, we stumbled on a process that worked for all of us. We decided that each of us would take on 2 or 3 characters, and that the story would be told entirely by email, in a flow of messages that would recount what the group got up to over the course of about a year’s worth of meetings.

We set up a Gmail account and devised a fluid structure where each character could fire in messages at will. This suited the various pressures of day jobs and parenting that each of us had to juggle.

Gmail logo

There was a fun, blind element to this process: I’d get a message to say that ‘Keith’s been in’ (Alex) or ‘Blue’s emailed’ (Martin), and then I’d check the inbox to see what that character had to say about the goings-on at the latest meeting, and how that moved the story on. Inevitably, there would be something in the message about some silly or nasty thing that one of my characters had been up to, so I’d email a reply from the PoV of my character, trying to explain or justify what had happened, moving the story on further – and also, of course, taking great delight in dropping one of Martin or Alex’s characters in it.

Using a cloud-based platform like this meant we could all write messages whenever suited us, and – as with emails in real life – there was no need for people to write in strict sequence. As the writing progressed, we moved from a completely blind approach to sending each other hints about future developments. We also met regularly to discuss the characters and the emerging shape and structure of the narrative overall. Those regular check-ins helped us to stay on track and stay motivated too. At one point, I noticed that we had all grown beards.

Alex Woolf

Alex Woolf, pre beard

It was a pleasure from start to finish, and there were benefits to collaboration too. When we put our three heads together, unexpected ideas, plot twists and characters emerged that none of us could have come up with on our own. Collaboration generated a healthy competitiveness that drove us all to try and write more, and better. It created its own internal momentum that sustained us as a team when, as individuals, we might have flagged.

In time, the direction of the story became clearer, and we starting meeting to shape the narrative to its conclusion in a more conscious way. The final part of the process was an intensive edit, in which each of us went through the MS one after another, adding tweaks and resolving comments, until we were all happy. The whole experience was hard work, complicated at times, but always great fun.

Because the characters were all so different and very voice-led, we would give each other occasional notes if we could see something that needed tweaking or we spotted a plot inconsistency, but it was generally left to the original creator to do the rework. As we got further into the project, however, there were points where we actually wrote in each other’s voices as we had got to know all the characters so well.

Kitten on a Fatberg front cover

Kitten on a Fatberg book cover

Co-writing Kitten on a Fatberg has been one of the most satisfying experiences of my writing career so far. Creatively, the whole is definitely greater than the sum of its parts, and it’s wonderful to see how much richer our book became for having three brains working on it rather than one. We’ve always seen the book as ours, as a shared enterprise – and that team glow is rare for fiction writers.

If you want to get a better understanding of how the book turned out, you can read an excerpt here.

In summary to this section, collaboration can be great if you like the idea of:

  • partner(s) to bounce off creatively
  • a fiction buddy to help keep you motivated and get that draft done
  • receiving (sometimes surprising) prompts from a creative partner
  • more minds on a project adding greater depth of characterisation, more material, more life experience to draw on
  • working with a writer(s) you admire, who push you to do your best work

Collaboration may not be for you if you're worried about:

  • losing (or sharing) creative control
  • having to nag someone else who isn't pulling their weight
  • how to promote your book if one of you is much better known than the other
  • disagreements about who has the final say when it comes to plotting or editing
  • sharing the credit
  • falling out with a friend

I would add that our experience was 100% positive and none of the negatives above happened. But they might have. I've certainly experienced several of these situations before, in other attempted collaborations.

Enter Unbound

Once we’d turned the MS into a more coherent and polished whole, I sent it off – almost for a laugh really – to Unbound.

Unbound uses a different model to that of a traditional publisher in certain key ways, but is similar in others. It’s still not easy to get your book accepted, and Unbound still handles the production and the post-publication publicity and distribution. What’s different is the bit in between.

Unbound blue single U logo

Instead of an advance that you have to work off against sales, you take on the job of covering the cost of producing the book by securing an agreed amount through pre-sales. This means you have to do some of the legwork up front, but the deal after that is better for the author: a 50:50 profit-share rather than the typical 10% of the cover price and no advance to work off.

This approach ideally allows Unbound to be more eclectic in its choices, since no book is produced which hasn’t already covered its costs. The crowdfunding phase also gives the publisher a chance to see the demand and likely market for the book. Some books (with well-known authors) can get funded in days, while others run into years!

It was a simple online submission process, as part of which I sent on the full MS. The next week I got an email from an editor called Beth Lewis:

Hi Dan,

Thanks so much for sending Kitten on a Fatberg to Unbound. Just wanted to send you a quick note to say I am loving it so far and the title is brilliant. I'll finish up reading over the weekend and get back to you next week.

Thanks for your patience!

Beth Lewis

Beth Lewis, Commissioning Editor at Unbound Publishing

It was amazing to receive this and to be thanked for my patience (like most would-be writers, I have extensive experience of being ignored by publishers and agents for months on end), especially as I'd only submitted the MS a couple of weeks before.

Hi Dan,

Sorry for the quiet last week, had a last-minute project which took all my time but I finished reading Fatberg on Friday afternoon. I love it! I would love to publish it too. I think with your platforms, it could do really well on our site. Are you London-based? Would be great to have a chat or, if not, maybe a call this week to chat next steps?

All the best,

Beth

Incredibly, within two weeks, we had been officially accepted! About a month after that, the title was up on the Unbound site, in full pledging mode.

One of the fun parts at the start is planning your pledge levels. These range, in our case, from ordering a digital book (£10) up to becoming a patron of the project (£1,000). We devised lots of levels in-between that were customised to the funny habits of some of our characters – you can see a full list of all our pledges here.

On the Unbound site, you can see all sorts of quirky gifts that that authors have come up with to go with different pledge levels, from jars of homemade jam to an offer to attend your dinner party as a guest (from comedy writer Andy Hamilton).

Doing the Crowdfund Dance

At a crowdfunding workshop run by Unbound, we learnt that there are two key segments of your target audience of people to approach about your book:

  1. The people who are interested in you, such as your family, friends and co-workers
  2. People who may be interested in the project, but may not know you at all

The latter is a harder group to reach and to educate, so to start with, at least, the focus of our efforts was the first group – family and friends.

Crowdfunding Ideas

We were shown lots of samples of different emails asking for support, and advised to send the emails out only a few at a time, with a personalised message each time.

At first, the process was encouraging and fantastically positive. We were blown away by the generosity of our nearest and dearest, and our project dashboard started to tick over very nicely. Then, after a while, we started to reach out to slightly less close contacts. This can be a tricky phase because inevitably you end up contacting some people that you haven’t spoken to for a while or perhaps haven’t worked hard enough to keep in touch with.

As the circle widens, it became harder to find ways to contact people without them feeling that they are being ‘tapped up’ for a sale. It’s a delicate art, and we probably didn’t always get it right. The best way, I decided eventually, was to be up front about not having been in touch for a while, then share the excitement of getting a book published and ask for help in spreading the word rather than trying to make a sale. (Another thing we learnt at the workshop is not to frame your messages as requests for donations – essentially you are not asking for a handout but selling a product.)

Some people understandably ignored our messages, while others were only too happy to pre-order a copy. Some old friendships were revived and there were some wonderful surprises – an order from a next-door neighbour of 20 years ago, another from my first boss of 30 years ago!

The Social Dimension

At the same time as we were directly approaching people, we also began raising awareness of the book via social channels. Word of the book spread on Facebook where, to my delight, several old contacts got in touch and were happy to make a pledge, and on LinkedIn, where some of my co-workers got wind of the project and helped spread the word too.

Social Media Icons

On Twitter, many editors of literary magazines that I follow, or have contributed to, were only too happy to help, and several writer pals that I know through sharing and reading each other’s stories very kindly weighed in too.

Having a flow of different things to say – links to articles, audio and video etc. – really helps here.

We had a fun promo video that Unbound made:

We had snippets from the first episode of a podcast version of the book to share. You can hear an audio excerpt here.

This opening sequence, of what we hope will become a full podcast, introduces all the characters, voiced by professional actors. It's edited and produced under the direction of BAFTA-winning producer, Richard Webb. That came about because Alex's sister is an actor and she and some fellow thespians / mates decided to do the audio. Richard is a friend of theirs.

We started a separate, fictional Twitter account for the writing group the characters of the book belong to, so they could post eccentric selections from their words to help whet people’s appetite.

This has caused a bit of confusion. Some people thought it was a real writing group at first, which was quite funny and not unwelcome. But we still get people who think that Crawley Writers Group are the real-life authors of the book... To be clear, the Crawley group is a completely made-up entity. The authors of their story just happen to be members of a real-life writers' group too.

Via the Unbound site, we can also send out updates to all our supporters whenever we have some interesting news or we hit a funding milestone, and these are always well received. We have several supporters who always share and advocate for the book wherever they can, and we secured some funding from a tech investor who’s a fan of the business model too.

PR and Media

We’ve written lots of articles (like this one) to spread the word about the book, both locally and on writers’ sites and forums. We’ve also written quite a selection of articles on related topics such as getting more humour into your writing, how to collaborate, a history of novels in email etc. – many of them for US outlets. Where there’s a fee for the article, that gets kicked into the Fatberg pot too.

You can see some example articles here:

We’ve printed flyers to put up in local cafes, bookshops and libraries. We’ve dabbled with display advertising in a few niche magazines, and even with Google ads, though the jury’s still out on that as an avenue for us.

Kitten on a Fatberg Google Ad

I've also joined a load of writing-related Facebook groups, which brought a small flurry of interest/pledges.

We've started doing reciprocal pledges with other authors (for example, I did one with Chris – he pledged and I pre-ordered a copy of his new book), which is a nice way to support each other and helps grow the supporter list. Some of the articles have generated a few pledges. But ultimately it's working your own extended network – whether by email or Facebook – that has helped us the most.

A couple of weeks back, Alex and I gave a talk at a content agency whose staff have just started a writer’s group. It’s hard to know exactly how or when these efforts will translate into pledges, but everything hopefully adds to the drip-drip accumulation of awareness that is the prerequisite of all successful marketing activity.

A Marathon, Not a Sprint

Six months in to our crowdfund campaign, we’re currently just over 50% funded. We’ve learnt that you need patience and stamina to make this work – there will be days when you get flurries of interest, especially near the beginning, but also days when nothing happens, despite your best efforts. But it’s great fun if you don’t mind the shameless promotion (or the wait), and you learn a great deal about selling and marketing fiction along the way. And, of course, at the back of our minds, we all look forward to that amazing feeling of hitting the 100% mark…

…and the start of a new project. Working with my two pals, Martin and Alex, was a pleasure from start to finish. We lucked into a process and a partnership that seemed to work for all of us, and we’re already starting our next book, the story of a harmless, ageing UFO cult that’s down to its last handful of members.

To finish, here's an example of that shameless promotion I mentioned earlier. As a reader of this blog, you can pre-order Kitten on a Fatberg for a 10% discount – just quote promo code:

KITTEN10

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Crowdfunding Complete (PART 2)

This second part was written six months after the first, once Dan's crowdfunding project was complete.

Kitten on a Fatberg Hits 100%: Crowdfunding Update

A while ago, I wrote a piece for this site about Kitten on a Fatberg, the novel I’ve been crowdfunding with my co-authors, Martin Jenkins and Alex Woolf. Chris kindly asked me if I’d write an update once we got fully funded, so here I am again.

Dan Brotzel looking pleased

Dan, looking very pleased that the crowdfunding is complete

Well, it was a wonderful feeling to hit 100%, but the elation was also combined with a fair bit of exhaustion. For just over a year, we were hustling and scheming, worrying away at the funding target and wondering if we would ever get there. So the excitement at getting a book published comes with a feeling of relief at getting a big chunk of personal headspace back!

We are so grateful to all our supporters – including Chris – who helped us hit our target. We learned so much along the way about marketing fiction too. If it wasn’t for all our 220+ funders, we’d still be out there now, and that goes even more so for a few people whose generosity went way above and beyond what we could ever have expected.

Being Creative To Complete Our Crowdfunding Project

But even with our generous supporters, plus lots of begging emails, promotional updates, flyers, articles and talks, we would still be out there funding now if we hadn’t topped up the pot with monies earned from freelance writing projects. Over the last year, we must have written around 50 paid articles, mostly for US writing sites, all the fees from which went into the Fatberg pot.

It’s not the purist’s way to crowdfund a book, perhaps. But we got to a point where we felt we couldn’t ask any more people for their support without hassling them, and so we made use of our other skills to get the project over the line. Every article we wrote also gave us a chance to mention the project, and so did bring in some additional supporters too.

Writing articles – even though most of the fees were very modest (on average, around the $40 mark, with some as low as $10 and a small handful around $70) – made us feel we were doing something positive to keep the funding momentum going at those times where the pledges slowed right down. And so, little by little, we edged towards the 90% mark… at which point everything changed again.

Suddenly, the pledges started to spike once more, as people saw that the project was close to becoming a reality and stepped in to help us flop over the line. (You can still pre-order the book, by the way, if you’d like to get your name inside.) (Sorry: old habits…)

FatBerg Will Be Published

We’ve now delivered the full MS to Unbound, and are waiting to hear our publication date. It’s going to take a wee while yet, but it’s definitely going to happen. I’ll write again in a few months to update you all on the publication journey. But in the meantime: Vive le fatberg!

Hooray

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Book Published (PART 3)

The third part of this post was written twenty months after the second, twenty-six months after the first.

Work in Progress (previously titled Kitten on a Fatberg) Has Been Published

So, we hit the target. Then a little thing called Covid came along. I don’t know if you’ve heard of it? 

What it meant for Kitten on a Fatberg was, as for everyone and everything, delay and disruption: we hit our funding target in early February 2020, and we only eventually published in June 2021. In the meantime, at least, quite a bit went on behind the scenes. The key thing was a change of title.

Why We Changed The Book's Title

There were a few changes of personnel at Unbound, and we heard from our new editor Martha that the Kitten on a Fatberg title was proving quite limiting for their design team to visualise and for the sales team to market. And as she put it:

The term itself is no more than a fleeting reference in the book, of course (though a funny one!), and I worry that at present it isn't doing the work of presenting the book to its potential audience as it might – it's just a little too oblique. I worry also that it feels a little too self-consciously zany; the book itself, to my mind (and having participated in exactly these writing workshop groups myself...), is more wry, more brutally observant than Kitten on a Fatberg suggests, and I'd love to see that reflected in the title.

Well, naturally, she had us at 'brutally observant', and we set about coming up with a new title.

After an intense pub debate or two, we drew up a longlist, then a shortlist, and finally all agreed on Work in Progress.

Work in Progress book cover

Why? Well, each of our characters is writing away hard at their own WIP; but equally, each as a personality is a bit of a work in progress too.

It was a wrench letting go of Kitten on a Fatberg – the title seemed almost older than the book by then, and it was the reason the MS got picked out of the submission queue in the first place. Several supporters got in touch to say they were disappointed by the change. But we were delighted that our publishers were thinking so hard about the book, and we quickly got used to the new title. 

The Developmental Edit

We were highly impressed with Hayley, who took on the book’s ‘developmental edit’. She spotted all sorts of inconsistencies, both at the micro and macro level, and made loads of really useful suggestions to help make the story work harder. Her input was exceptional.

One thing she spotted – which we’d completely missed – was that the narrative missed out on an announced meeting and jumped a whole year. For an email book with lots of references to meetings and dates, many of which had to be consistent with things that happen many pages later, her attention to detail was essential.

Delays Due To Editing And Covid

I did worry with the delay that some people – especially those who didn’t know us well – might ask for their money back, perhaps worried the whole thing was a scam.

I’ve heard this does occasionally happen, and we did receive a couple of enquiries, but we were able to reassure people that the book was for real and would eventually exist.

Publication Day

When publication came round at last, it was hard to remember all the fun of the writing and the agonies of crowdfunding – it all seemed so long ago.

We had a little launch, sitting outside our local Red Cross bookshop and gave books away to passers-by. (A suitably eccentric approach, quite in keeping with the book’s characters.)

Authors Martin Jenkins, Dan Brotzel and Alex Woolf

Martin Jenkins, Dan Brotzel and Alex Woolf at the book launch

Publicity and Marketing

I’ve never met an author who thinks that their publisher has done enough publicity for their book. But Unbound did get us onto Pigeonhole, which was a brilliant experience.

The Pigeonhole logo

Pigeonhole is a sort of mobile book club. You sign up for new books, and get to read them early in instalments released daily to your phone. You can add your comments on the text as you go and interact with other people’s thoughts too.

There are a limited number of free spots for each new book, and participants are encouraged to leave reviews afterwards. So we were able to watch with bated breath as readers fed back on the book, almost in real time.

Work in Progress Pigeonhole advert

An advertising image used on The Pigeonhole

Our anxiety slowly turned to relief and delight as we saw the Pigeonholers completely get what we were trying to do with the book. They enjoyed it for what it was. Several of them went on to write lovely reviews on their own blogs, on Goodreads, Amazon and elsewhere.

Reviews

"This was a funny, clever book that made me laugh out loud," said one reviewer. "What more can you want in a pandemic?"

There were more reviews via a modest blog tour after that, and some local press and friendly comments on social media. But we couldn’t get the book into any of the nationals, which we’d have dearly loved.

We badgered our supporters one last time – this time for Amazon reviews – and managed to get over our target of 50. The book currently averages 4.7 out of 5 stars on Amazon.

A Second Book Launch Party

Finally, in November we had a more formal launch at Enfield Town Library (our local one), supported by Enfield Waterstones. There was a great crowd, including a suitably idiosyncratic heckler who might have stepped out of the pages of the book.

Enfield Library book launch

The staff at Enfield Library, displaying some of the books

It was a chance to really take a moment and enjoy what we’d achieved.

Other Post-Launch Activities

Other post-launch activities included giveaways. Chris kindly offered some copies of the book as prizes for one of the competitions run via his AotFFWC Facebook group.

Joyce Bingham

Competition winner, Joyce Bingham, with her book prizes

Chris also plugged the book on social media for us.

Chris Fielden with book Work in Progress

The image Chris used on social media

I used another giveaway to attract subscribers to my own website, and undertook appearances on podcasts such as It’s Lit But is It Funny? and We’d Like A Word. I sent out copies to various book influencer types and received some nice reviews on Amazon and elsewhere in response.

A couple of months later, I launched my first solo novel, The Wolf in the Woods, so I was able to cross-promote the two titles each time.

The Wolf in the Woods by Dan Brotzel

Sales

The book has yet to make any money – the sales statement so far only really takes us up to launch, so we don’t know how well it’s done since. But for all three of us, the book is a celebration of a joyous friendship. And that really is priceless.

But any earnings won’t be royalties, they’ll be 50% profit share as is the Unbound way (split three ways in our case).

Work continues on the follow-up. "It’s another comedy about an eccentric group of unappreciated misfits," Martin says. "I can’t think where we get these ideas from."

Conclusion

What did we learn? Here are my thoughts:

  • Crowdfunding is not for the faint-hearted. There is a lot of hustle involved, and we did get to a point where we felt we couldn't ask anyone any more about the book.
  • The timelines can be extensive. It could take over a year to get your book funded, and then you might wait as long again to see the finished product published.
  • Unbound isn't a shortcut to getting published. It's just as hard to get accepted by Unbound as any traditional publisher. The flipside is that the editorial standards are very high, and we're very proud to have our title among Unbound's ranks.
  • It's a lot of money to raise, and it's easy to let wishful thinking get the better of you, especially at the start. If you don't like networking, don't have much to do with social media and don't enjoy the sales hustle, that target amount could start to look very big indeed. (For the same reason, authors who are already well known tend to do very well with crowdfunding.)
  • Unbound are transparent about the amount you have to raise, but they control how that budget is used. So you may have some reservations about how much was/should be spent on certain aspects of the process (EG, design or publicity), and whether you think that money could have been better or differently spent. The irony, of course, is that with a traditional publisher you wouldn't have access to any of these numbers.
  • I remain convinced that the Unbound model is a really exciting one. Getting people to express interest in a book in advance means you can test the market for an idea, and refine the way you publicise it. It makes publishers more adventurous because they're not taking gambles on the unknown or having to worry about working off big advances.

Would I do it again?

Well, it's a bit like childbirth really. You only sign up for it again once you've forgotten the agonies! But, who knows? If the time and the idea felt right – never say never…

Of course, I have to finish by saying that you can buy Work in Progress from Unbound and on Amazon:

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Dan Brotzel's Biography

Dan Brotzel

Dan is a writer from London. His writing competition shortlists include Flash 500, Sunderland University/Waterstones, Wimbledon BookFest, Fish, Dorset Writers Award, To Hull And Back and Retreat West. His work has appeared in Cabinet of Heed, Bending Genres, The Esthetic Apostle, Spelk, Ginger Collect, Fiction Pool, Ellipsis and more.

His first collection of short stories, Hotel du Jack, was published early in 2020. Dan is also co-author of Work in Progress (AKA Kitten on a Fatberg), published by Unbound.

You can follow Dan on Twitter: @brotzel_fiction

You can sign up for Dan's newsletter here.

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Big Thanks To Dan

I'd like to thank Dan for this fascinating read. It's great to gain insights like this, based on the real-life experience of authors who are going through what they're writing about.

Short Story Writing Course

If you have a case study you would be prepared to share with my readers, please review my submissions guidelines and then get in touch.

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Your comments:

Nigel L
Thank you, I found this really interesting. A question. Would you say you have put more time into writing your book, or marketing it? I just wondered if the crowdfunding element of the project was more time consuming than writing the book in the first place. Thanks.

Dan B
Thanks for reading Nigel! At this point I'd still say the writing took longer but there's no doubt that crowdfunding is quite time-consuming. At the same time, I think that even if you are able to go down the traditional publishing route, publishers increasingly expect you to play a big part in the marketing hustle anyway...

Alan D
Hello Chris, thank you very much for this – incidentally, I’ve thanked you on Facebook as well, especially as Mr. Zuckerberg seems upset about my lack of recent posts – very good of you to swing by and give me a ready-made topic!

I'm always intrigued by what other writers are doing and how they work together, (never tried it – working for one editor, to a deadline, yes, but what these guys undertook is clearly something else).

Chris Fielden
No problem, thanks Alan. Yes, this is a mighty project. I'll be interested to see how Dan and Co get on once they've funded the book.

That’s great re Facebook too, thank you, although I haven’t received a notification about it. I guess I might not be tagged, so that could be why. The joys of social media… :-)

Phil C
An interesting article. How much does it cost to get your book published?

Dan B
Thanks for reading Phil! The cost varies, but in our case it's a number in the low five figures. But of course, you're not paying to have a book made so much as securing advance orders up to a figure that covers the cost of production, promotion, project management etc.

Chris Fielden
Thanks, Dan and Phil.

I think it's worth adding that Unbound's crowdfunding business model is not like that of a 'pay to be published' vanity publisher. There is quality control involved and authors receive royalties. It's just the way the projects are funded that's innovative.

You can find a lot of honest information about the definition and the pros and cons of vanity publishing on this website. I've found it useful in the past. I hope it's of interest to other readers too.

Dan B
Thanks for adding that explanation, Chris! I should just add that Unbound don't talk about royalties but rather a profit-share agreement. (Sorry to be pedantic!)

Chris Fielden
No problem, thanks Dan :-)

Lilia R
Hi Dan. Great post, thank you. How long do you anticipate until you get all your funding? I just wondered if you had any idea how long the whole process might take now you're over half way. Can you give an estimate? And do Unbound advise you on how long it might take?

Dan B
Thanks for reading Lilia! It can apparently take between a matter of minutes (in one famous and exceptional case) to over 2 years. In our case I'd love to get it done in a year - from now that means about 10% a month!

Andrea W
Phew! That was a fascinating diversion from todays intended plot!

SO - my reading of the Unbound website, and all of the projects up for crowdfunding - including the ones already crowdfunded, leads me to believe that it is not an inexpensive option. IF you multiply the pledges value by pledges made for each pledge and sum the results, you arrive at (to me) a large number.

'Low five figures'  mentioned in another comment sums it up {see how I did that?}

Any way, my point is that the pledges will more than pay for origination and production, and Unbound, quite rightly, are providing more than a DIY printing facility for the effort you need to put into it to generate the 'sales' that cover their time, artwork, design and so on. 

For those of us with only 4 friends, and believe in the mantra 'Facebook / Twitter / pintlin / mylife / are all works of the devil it just says 'Focus on your 'network'.

So as I say - a fascinating couple of hours of internet exploration. Thanks for the introduction, and thanks for the excerpt from the book I found on the Unbound site - may I ask if it was there when the crowdfunder first started?

Chris Fielden
Hi Andrea. Thank you for your comment and question.

I shall let Dan know and give you a shout when he replies.

Dan B
Thanks for your thoughts, Andrea.  Agreed - it's not the cheapest option in the world, but it hopefully will give us a level of reach we wouldn't have had otherwise. And yes - the excerpt was indeed there from the start - we submitted a full MS at the start of the process. Very best, D

John N
Hi Dan (and Chris),

Very many congratulations, Dan, on achieving 100% crowdfunding and on the forthcoming publication of your novel.

This was a very interesting article. I came across Unbound about five years ago and was initially very impressed. In order to learn more about it, I pledged to three projects – an e-book, a history book and a collection of short stories – all of which were in process of seeking crowdfunding. I pledged on books I was interested to see in print and to read.

At the time I was hoping to use crowdfunding to self-publish a photo book and a book of poetry. There were questions I had about the Unbound process that I couldn't find answered on their website.

I suppose I could have written to Unbound directly, but I wanted to see what the experience would be for a pledgor. If I was going to be trying to drum up support from family and friends, just as Dan describes, then I didn't want to find myself promoting a system I wasn't fully convinced about.

Now, things may well have changed since, but this is what happened to me back then.

First of all Unbound added the postage and packaging cost of the two hardbacks to the money I pledged. Since the books in question did not yet exist, I presume this was pro forma. Because my address is outside of the UK, though, my pledge was jacked up by 50% for each book.

I can't now remember if I was given the opportunity to back out at that point. I don't think I was. I remember being rather taken aback to see how much Unbound had taken from my bank account. I thought that was... cheeky. (I'm trying to be polite here.)

Well, that put paid to my using Unbound for my books. The majority of my potential market does not live in Britain.

But I was interested to see what would happen with the books I had pledged for. Whether they would reach their targets, whether they would fail, and what would happen then.

The e-book easily reached its funding level and was published. I duly downloaded it. The other two books were never published.

It seems the history writer, and then the short story writer, both had private problems that caused them to give up with their books unfunded. And consequently unpublished and, yes, unbound.

What happened to my pledges? Unbound retained them. Also the 50% added postage and packaging.

Unbound did invite me to switch my pledges to other books, but they were not prepared to return my money.

Anyway, I'm glad things worked out well for Dan and his fellow authors. And for their pledgors. But personally I wouldn't touch Unbound with a barge pole.

John

Chris Fielden
Hi John. It's always helpful to hear about other people's experiences, both good and bad, so thank you for sharing this.

I've pledged to two projects on Unbound myself, but both reached their crowdfunding target. One has been published (The Wrong'un, by Catherine Evans) and the other is Dan's, so it will be published. Therefore, I haven't been in your situation.

I'll give Dan a shout and see if he has any comments. Cheers, Chris

Dan B
Hi Jon - thanks very much for your comment. The Unbound way isn't for everyone, but the company does try hard to give its prospective authors a chance to express feedback, which they do - sometimes quite robustly! I'm not employed by them in any way so can't really speak to some of the points you raise, which are probably best raised directly with them. I can only say that it was my understanding that you could withdraw a pledge; also, when a couple of the various books I've supported pulled out, I did receive a refund. As for P&P, a pledge for a book is ideally just a pre-order, so presumably the cost would be the same as if you were ordering an already-published book. Best wishes and thank you for reading! Dan

John N
Hi Chris and Dan,

Thanks for your replies. Much appreciated. I really did mean my congratulations to Dan, and I do appreciate that Unbound isn't for everyone.

Also, I'm delighted to hear Unbound have learned and adjusted in the last 5-odd years so pledges can be cancelled and will be returned. I couldn't help thinking what would have happened if I'd pledged for one of the really expensive options. (I think dinner with the author in a London restaurant was one in the £500+ range.) I could afford to turn my back on Unbound in a huff and write off my relatively small pledges, but £500 would have made a very serious dent in my bank balance.

The experience had me bend over backwards to make sure the crowdfunding site I eventually used would return pledges to everyone (minus admin costs) if my campaign failed. (Which it did; which they did.)

Even I can see positives about Unbound as a crowdfunder. That they have no deadline allows you to build slowly. The funder I used had a very short funding period (6 weeks only). Not a good idea for crowdfunding a book.

I think the other thing that bothered me, having gone through the crowdfunding cycle, was that I wasn't simply promoting my own book, I was also promoting the idea of crowdfunding and the crowdfunding organisation I eventually chose to work with. I'm not a good salesman, but I'm prepared to go against my nature and promote my own work because I believe in it. But I found it deeply embarrassing to simulate enthusiasm for a crowdfunding organisation that I did not really believe in.

Again, things may be different nowadays, but back then a lot of the people I approached did not understand what crowdfunding was or why they needed to open an account with the organisation to support me. I think I might have got more support if I'd simply set up a bank account and collected pledges personally. Probably not enough even so.

Anyway, thanks for the reply. Cheers, John

Chris Fielden
Hi John. Thanks for your reply and the extra information - much appreciated.

I guess crowdfunding has been evolving over the years. And, like you say, people are much more aware of it nowadays. Even my parents know what it is.

I've just done a bit of research (AKA a Google search) and the first recorded successful instance of modern day crowdfunding was by the UK rock band Marillion, back in 1997. They funded their reunion tour via donations from fans. I do remember that, but didn't realise it was so long ago. I'm not sure how long Unbound have been around, but they won an award for digital innovation in 2011, so it's been a while.

Anyway... I'm glad they're returning pledges now. In my opinion, it would be unethical not to. If I'd have been in your situation five years ago, I'm sure I'd have felt the same way you did and looked elsewhere.

Out of interest, what crowdfunding platform did you use in the end (if you don't mind me asking)? And did you find another way to publish your book after the crowdfunding failed? I hope so.

It's an interesting subject. Maybe I should ask you to write a guest post about your experiences, if not about this, then about some other writing related experiences... :-) Cheers, Chris

Richard K
I love the crowdfunding idea. As I'm nearing the final stretch of writing my novel, I look for creative ideas to fund it. I appreciate all the effort you three put into the article about crowdfunding. I've been wondering, should my novel be complete (or very near) before I go into the campaign stage? It sounds like the campaign takes a huge amount of time and energy. I see most videos with authors holding a copy of their book which seems to say all was done. 

Thanks again so much for your help. Richard.

Chris Fielden
Thanks for your comment, Richard. I will let Dan know about it and will be in touch when he responds.

Dan B
Thanks for reading Richard!

Yes - it is a lot of effort. But Unbound do give advice on social media and provide some marketing support, and there's a lively network of Unbound authors who look for ways to cross-promote each other's work.

As I recall from the submission process, it's all done online - and you can upload sample chapters - you don't have to submit a full MS. So when you're ready you could just pitch your samples and carry on writing while waiting to see what they say. This wouldn't commit you to anything of course - and you just never know!