Crowdfunding the Written Word: Author Interview with Erinna Mettler

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Everything is awesome? Writers and publishers harness the power of the crowd

When writers consider publishing options there are two main routes that spring to mind: you either go traditional, or you go it alone. But the world of publishing isn’t as firmly divided as you might think. Among the host of options available to authors, crowdfunding is now one of them – and prospective publishers are beginning to take notice.

Unbound is one such publisher, and they’ve got a great twist on the crowdfunding trend. Like a traditional publishing house, you must first submit your book proposal for approval. If you are accepted, then the fun begins: you launch your crowdfunding campaign.

If you’re familiar with Kickstarter (and it seems most people are, these days) then you already have a good idea of what this entails. You pitch your book idea to potential readers and do your utmost to persuade them to pledge funds towards your book in return for rewards. Rewards usually include a digital or physical copy of the book, and the more creative authors offer things like exclusive artwork, manuscript tutelage – and in some cases a date with the author themselves!

If you manage to hit your target, Unbound step in to provide all the services you’d expect from a traditional publisher. Editing, graphic design, printing, distribution, and marketing is all covered by the Unbound team.

To find out more about this process I spoke with Erinna Mettler, an Unbound author who successfully met the crowdfunding target for her short story collection Fifteen Minutes, and is now in the editorial phase. She gives us an insight into her experiences so far:

  1. Erinna, why did you choose to publish with Unbound?
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Erinna Mettler, author of Starlings and Fifteen Minutes

It’s extremely hard to find an agent or a publisher in the UK for short stories unless you are already a known writer. It’s a great shame really but agents simply won’t look at new collections and most publishers aren’t that keen either. ‘Come back when you’ve written a novel’ (preferably a crime thriller – with ‘girl’ in the title!) is the way most queries get answered.

I was sick of trying to get an agent. I think that short fiction writers have to work a lot harder than other writers to get published. We’ll try anything.

A fellow author told me about Unbound. I had a look at their website and was sold in minutes. They have a promo video explaining the way they work and it says something like ‘authors write the books they want to write and readers get to read real books that in a crowded, celebrity-obsessed marketplace wouldn’t normally get to see the light of day.’ I sent my manuscript in immediately.”

  1. What was the toughest part of the process?

Getting the pledges was definitely the hardest part. It took four months in all and it was a full-time job – or at least every spare minute was spent in the pursuit of pledges. At the same time you have to be mindful of bugging people too much. It’s a fine balance. You spend a lot of time explaining what crowdfunding is and why you can’t just publish the book without it.

Family and friends are your first point of contact and for the most part they were very accommodating. The generosity is astounding, you get pledges from people you don’t expect – but then you also get no response from people you think will be right behind you. Some people say they’ll pledge and don’t.

You have to learn not to take it personally. I only had one very rude reply from someone who was on a professional mailing list, telling me off for begging and hoping the project failed; needless to say it just made me more determined to succeed. One of out a few hundred isn’t so bad.”

  1. How did you approach the challenge of reaching your funding target?

I thought it would be a lot easier than it was. I have a lot of social media followers. I co-run The Brighton Prize for short stories and a spoken word group called Rattle Tales and we have a considerable mailing list. I’m also in a professional group in Brighton called The Beach Hut Writers. I’ve got a lot of contacts but after the second round of emails I was no-where near even half way, so I had to go all out.

I sent out press-releases and got on local radio and had a short film made about the project by Latest TV. I wrote articles for craft magazines and websites, did blog interviews, got short stories placed in literary journals. I called in any favour I could think of.

For me though, Twitter was the key. I’m a writing mentor and my biggest pledge options were for manuscript appraisals. A Twitter friend mentioned that I should be pushing these rather than the short story angle I’d been going for and after a day of constant tweeting I’d sold about £800 worth of mentoring. I carried on with what I’d been doing, but those big pledges are the ones that make the real difference to your percentages.”

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Middle tier rewards for Fifteen Minutes

  1. Does a writer need to already have a strong fan base in order to be successful with Unbound?

I don’t think it’s absolutely necessary but it helps. I had quite a good fan base but I still struggled, so if you are starting out from scratch it could be very soul destroying. My advice would be to start as soon as you can building a social media following, blog regularly, comment and converse, go to events, be bold.

  1. Fifteen Minutes is now in the editorial stage as Unbound prepares it for sale. What has it been like to work with Unbound through this process?

It has been an incredible editorial experience. They give you a lot of encouragement if you ask for it at the early stages of the funding but don’t expect them to do the work for you, this is about you being able to raise the funds. Once the funding target was met I had a couple of weeks to submit because the manuscript was as ready as I could make it.

It’s been edited 3 times now, each one more in depth than the other. I’ve had two editors look at it. I agreed with most of the suggestions but not all. It’s a collaboration and the book is a million times better than it was before the edit. We have cut whole stories and changed POVs and the order is completely different. The book is at proof reading stage now but I haven’t seen any cover designs and I don’t know when it will be released yet.”

  1. Your first book Starlings was produced by indie publisher Revenge Ink. Crowdfunding aside, how has your experience of publishing with Unbound differed, if at all?
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Starlings was published in paperback by small press Revenge Ink (image credit)

There’s not that much difference: both are indie publishers and both had a subversive take on publishing, their aims being to push boundaries and publish books that otherwise wouldn’t be.

In both cases things moved very fast. With big companies it takes over two years to get the book out, whereas both of mine will have taken less than a year. You need to be prepared – one minute you’re waiting for emails and the next your book is coming out next week.

The edit was less stringent for Starlings and Revenge Ink had very little money for publicity. I was so new to it all then: now I know that to make it work I’ll have to be responsible for my own marketing. Unless you are already a big name, most authors have to undertake their own marketing as budgets for new authors are almost non-existent.

I had a strong relationship with Amita, the MD of Revenge Ink, and she was nothing but supportive. The Unbound team are all very enthusiastic and really help you move forward with the project. I’m hoping the book will get a little bit more publicity this time.”

  1. In the race to gain pledges, you’ve essentially done all of the sales work so far. How will Unbound help sell your book after publishing?

Fifteen Minutes is an e-book so I’m currently teaching myself how to market an e-book. I have to wait until there’s a review copy available to send out to reviewers, journals, radio stations. It’s the usual dive-in strategy. There will be paperback copies available for events and signings. I’m hoping Unbound can help with contacts that might get the book seen.”

  1. Is there a community of loyal Unbound readers? People who look out specifically for new and interesting Unbound projects, in the same way Kickstarter has a strong base of funders who are very attached to the platform itself?

I went to the Unbound birthday party in November and they had invited their top pledgers to come along and meet their authors. It was great talking to them; they are completely committed to this kind of publishing. If you look in the back of the books the same names do keep coming up. Some people will only be drawn to the author they know, but I think more and more are going to be drawn to the crowdfunding concept and to the idea that this will be the place where interesting books are distributed from.

If you mention Unbound to anyone in publishing the praise is almost universal. The company is only five years old so it’s early days, but their sales are increasing year on year.”


fifteen-minutes

Fifteen Minutes by Erinna Mettler is a collection of short stories about fame and how it affects ordinary people.

Often the famous have only a bit part in the tale of an ordinary individual, existing just outside the action but still influencing the outcome. From the story of a tramp in New York on the day John Lennon was shot, to a doctor remembering a childhood visit to a Muhammad Ali fight, and a woman’s obsession with Harry Potter following the death of a child. The collection is experimental, cinematic, moving and always thought provoking. You can support Erinna’s book by making a pledge through her Unbound page.

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