Crowdfunding was under the spotlight for Byte The Book’s February event, overseen by chair of London Book Fair David Roche, himself an author with reader-endorsed publisher Unbound. Joining David on the panel was Alex Somervell of One Third Stories, Adam Gomolin of Inkshares, Paul English of Wet Zebra and Neil Griffiths of the Republic Of Consciousness Prize. The event was sponsored by the Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS), making sure writers are paid their due.
Our sponsors ALCS, pictured from left to right: Sandra Kukreja, Jonathan Fryer, Barbara Hayes, Luke Alcott and Maggie Gee.
David kicked off the discussion with a simple question: “Why is crowdfunding necessary?” Paul’s answer was about trust. “It’s needed,” he explained, “when we lose trust in a process, or in people.” In other words, when cracks begin to show in the traditional, established way of doing things, the readers themselves step in to be part of — and hopefully improve — the process. Neil Griffiths, who set up the Republic Of Consciousness Prize to recognise the work of the UK’s small presses (“the literary equivalent of micro-breweries,” as he put it), answered the question with a couple of brief anecdotes. He quoted, firstly, an anonymous literary agent who had told him that “we’re not very good at spotting outliers”; and secondly, a publisher who had revealed to him that “we publish over five hundred books a year, and we plan to get behind five to eight of them.” If your book isn’t one of those five to eight titles, or you’re one of the aforementioned outliers, asked Neil, what do you do? You turn to crowdfunding.
Our panel from left to right: Alex Somervell, Neil Griffiths, David Roche (Chair), Paul English and Adam Gomolin.
Adam Gomolin described his Californian crowdfunding company Inkshares as “a studio for books,” rather than a publisher. He summed up the appeal of crowd curation in simple terms: “There’s nothing complicated about crowdfunding: it’s just asking readers what they like. Why wouldn’t you do that? Why would you ever guess?” When asked about the key to success, he pointed to the Inkshares community. You have to build a community of readers, he explained — at least a hundred thousand people — who read “with passion, care and candour.” And how do you find those hundred thousand people? “There’s no secret in publishing, just hard work. There’s no substitute for hard work.” He went on to point out that many fellow entrepreneurs who launched start-ups around the same time as Inkshares have since fallen by the wayside, as they simply didn’t spend enough time on business development. “The core problem with publishing is that everyone wants to accomplish something, but they don’t necessarily want to go through the pain of accomplishing it.”
A rapt audience at the Cafe Royal.
Alex Somervell, whose start-up One Third Stories publishes children’s books that start in one language and end in another, echoed Adam’s emphasis on finding a community. But, he stressed, this doesn’t necessarily mean you need an enormous pre-existing network or thousands of wealthy friends to get a foot on the crowdfunding ladder. When One Third Stories first began, Alex had only recently graduated from university, and the vast majority of his friends were either unemployed or working on minimum wage. Kickstarter, he explained, gave the project discoverability, enabling himself and his business partner to rack up £35,000 in pre-orders and, in doing so, get their company off the ground.
There’s always time to network afterwards. In the foreground, Alex Somervell talks with animation to member Sarah Towle.
David wrapped up the discussion by asking each panellist for one succinct takeaway on the topic. “Now, more than ever,” said Alex, “you have the opportunity to reach beyond your friends and family.” Be really honest with yourself, added Neil. Advocate for your narrative, said Adam, and not yourself. Challenge the model, suggested Paul, and never accept the limitations given to you. And finally, to close the floor, David offered one simple, yet perennially important, word:
Perseverance and a Byte the Book tattoo for inspiration.
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