Back in December 2015, I wrote a fairly waffling account of my attempt to write 50,000 words in 30 days for National Novel Writing Month.
You can read the whole thing here if you want, but the TL;DR version is this: I had very little sleep, drank far too much tea, and all-in-all felt like I had aged about 10 years in the process. But in the end I just about managed it.
After reaching the 50,000 word target, I had three main aims: 1) actually finish the book, 2) have a stab at getting it published, and 3) somehow become best friends with Stephen King and/or J.K. Rowling, who are pretty much my literary heroes and the subject of at least 80% of the articles I write for Mashable.
Well now it’s roughly 18 months later, and I’m back to give you an update. In rough chronological order, here are all the important things that have happened in the past year-and-a-half:
1) I completed the first draft of the novel, put it away, went back and edited it, did some re-writes, and finally finished it. It’s called The Moor, and it’s a coming-of-age horror story that’s a bit like Stand by Me meets Stranger Things, with a hint of The Blair Witch Project thrown in for good measure. You can read the opening extract here.
2) I saw J.K. Rowling shopping in London, but was too cripplingly shy to approach her and say hello.
3) I signed with a literary agent.
4) I received an offer from a publisher called Unbound. It involves crowdfunding the initial publishing costs of the novel myself, but more on that later.
5) Absolutely no progress at all on the Stephen King front. I do tweet about him quite a bit, though. A few weeks back I wrote this important piece of journalism about his dog, Molly. I figure there’s now at least a 3% chance he knows who I am.
How I got an agent and a publishing offer
There’s a saying about two buses arriving at the same time. It is pretty much the oldest cliché in the book. But sometimes those are the ones that say it best.
The short version of my quest to find a literary agent and/or a publisher is this: I started submitting my novel in April. This was followed by weeks of nervous waiting, and plenty of highs and lows. There were requests to read the full manuscript. There were rejections. There were long, nail-biting stretches of silence. Then everything happened at once.
Last month, in the space of a week, I received an offer of representation from the literary agency Coombs Moylett Maclean, and a publishing offer from Unbound.
After I’d finished weeping hysterical tears of happiness, I pulled myself together and spoke to my new literary agent, Zoë Apostolides, on the phone. A week later I’d signed Unbound’s contract and I was busy with the planning stages of my crowdfunding campaign.
It’s just gone live.
How does crowdfunding a novel actually work?
I first read about Unbound earlier this year. They’re essentially a traditional publisher with a Kickstarter element: they have a partnership with Penguin Random House and distribute both online and in bookshops, but you’re required to crowd fund the initial publishing costs yourself. If enough people like the book and you manage to fund it, you get a higher share of the royalties once it’s published.
The first time I saw them mentioned was on Twitter. A writer I follow, Dan Dalton, had just launched a funding campaign with them for his debut novel, Johnny Ruin.
Dan told me they first came to his attention back in 2013, when a novel they published — Paul Kingsnorth’s The Wake — was nominated for the Man Booker prize.
“I was curious, the model made a lot of sense,” said Dan. “They seemed to be using the platform to publish work that might not have been published through traditional channels, which can only be a good thing.”
Dan’s own funding campaign launched at the beginning of March. His book was 100% funded nine days later.
He described the process of crowdfunding as, “daunting, exciting, sleepless, and thrilling, in that order”. The best part, he said, is that you get to bring a bunch of people — friends and strangers alike — on the journey with you.
“You get to bring all these people, friends and strangers alike, with you on this mad adventure”
“As a debut author, having a community of support before the book is even released is something you don’t get with more traditional publishing models, and it’s incredibly valuable,” he said.
And as for the advice he’d give someone like me, who’s just starting out?
“Plan. Plan hard. I’m not a writer who does a terrible amount of planning when it comes to novels, but for my Unbound campaign I had the whole thing orchestrated well in advance. I made lists of people to email, from ‘most likely to pre-order’ to ‘met once on holiday ten years ago’ and I worked through them, one-by-one, once the campaign launched.”
Dan said he sent 15-20 personalised emails a day, wrote blog posts, made playlists and commissioned art work in order to keep the campaign fresh and get people excited.
“The only reason I was able to do all that, to keep all those plates spinning, was by planning it. As a result I funded my novel in 9 days. It can be tempting to race out of the blocks, but it’s worth waiting. Don’t start your campaign until you’re really ready.”
As much as the thought of funding my novel in nine days is incredibly exciting, I’d be lying if I said the other possibility — not reaching my funding goal at all — isn’t playing on my mind a bit. The thing is, if you don’t make 100% of your target, the book doesn’t get published.
So over the last few weeks I’ve been following Dan’s advice. I’ve been planning. I’ve made a list of people I think may be interested in pre-ordering the book, I’ve come up with different pledge levels, and I’ve tried to get as much content together as I can. Images, a bio, a synopsis, that sort of thing. There’s even a trailer:
Over the next few weeks, my quest to publish my debut novel — and then ultimately meet Stephen King and/or J.K. Rowling at some kind of book-related event, strike up a conversation and definitely become awesome best friends forever — begins in earnest.
I’ll let you know how I get on…