Her hidden face

Recent book covers from Amazon UK
Recent book covers from Amazon UK
One of the things I learnt from Writing Historical Fiction, the book I reviewed in my last article, was that there is a puzzling – not to say disturbing – visual cliche on the cover of a surprisingly large number of books of historical fiction which have a woman as protagonist. Celia Brayfield writes about what she calls “the headless woman” phenomenon on pages 50 through 53 of the book. It’s not just that women’s heads are lopped off, they can also be hidden, turned away or blacked out. It’s difficult to know what goes through the heads of publisher’s art directors when they make this choice. Brayfield uses this as one illustration of “the tensions that an author has to resolve when creating a female protagonist in a historical novel”. To be honest, I’m not entirely sure what she means – not that I misunderstand her words, but I don’t understand how the headless women illustrates what she wants to say.

My gut interpretation is that publishers’ art directors assume that these books will most appeal to women, that they assume women read historical fiction to vicariously experience life in another time, and that if the face of the heroine is unidentifiable it makes it easier for the reader to identify herself as the heroine. I’m not saying I believe this to be the truth myself, but it’s the only interpretation I can find that seems to make sense. Because it is absolutely true that an astonishing number of novels of historical fiction with female protagonists are illustrated on their front covers by women whose faces are invisible.

The five book covers I’m using to illustrate this article were taken from the first few pages of Amazon UK’s current historical fiction lists. I picked the ones that seemed more or less “Tudor” but I could have included others from earlier and later historical epochs. Not all books with female protagonists set in historical contexts are illustrated like this, and there are a few (a very few) books where a male protagonist is similarly illustrated, but the broad tendency is very obvious.

What this cliche illustrates unintentionally (and I think this may be what Celia Brayfield is getting at too) is the way that women’s lives and experiences have for centuries been ignored – hidden – in history books. When I first came across Elin’s story, which forms the core of the novel I am myself attempting to write, I was astounded that I had never heard of it before. A young woman travels from Sweden to England in the 1560s, becomes a Lady in Waiting at the court of Queen Elizabeth I, marries the Queen’s step-uncle and ends up as the senior English female aristocrat and mourner at Elizabeth’s funeral in 1603. When I looked in the sources, I found her, but as I had studied Tudor history at school and at university I couldn’t understand why I was learning about this only for the first time. More than anything else, discovering Elin’s story made real for me the criticisms feminist historians have been making for years about the way in which history has been distorted by male historians.

It also illustrated what I had been teaching in my periods as a history teacher: that the history we know is the story that was told to us; that everybody – even the most well-intentioned and scrupulously balanced historian – is prejudiced in some degree and allows their prejudice to influence the story they tell; that everybody ought to be wary of prejudice – of the prejudice others and of their own prejudices; that there is so much more in the source material; and that every generation comes to the same material with new questions, new perspectives and new interpretations, and comes away with new stories.

And you can – should – apply this thinking to stories in the news and the tales you are told by people around you as much as to stories from history.

Not sure how much of that came across – here, now, or to my students back then – but I live in hope.

Hide her face

This article was written for the #Blogg52 challenge.

What We Have Learned

The illustration for the top of my FundedByMe campaign site
The illustration for the top of my FundedByMe campaign site
My crowd funding campaign for My Gothenburg Days has nine days left to run. Nine of 45. When I started had no idea how far it would get, but I had hopes. With nine days left I no longer expect even to come close to my target. At the time of writing the site records 12 backers – of whom I and my wife are two – and the project is just 4% funded. My dedicated Facebook page has 50 followers, and I assume that some of them at least would like to buy a copy of the book if it’s published – when it’s published – but that’s still not enough.

Driving a campaign to attract support as I have done turned out to be very much more difficult and time-consuming than I expected. I know now I started out far too optimistically. The bulk of my support on the crowd funding website I attracted during the four days of the Gothenburg Book Fair at the very beginning of the campaign. However, even had I continued at the same intensity for the whole of the 45 days, attracting 1% support per day would still not have got me even half of the sponsorship that I needed. I saw this on day three.

A second problem, that I realised after the campaign had launched, was this: while crowd funding is a phenomenon in my world, most people in the wider world have never even heard of it. If they’ve heard the term, many still don’t know what “crowd funding” means. So my campaign to promote my book turned out to be a campaign also to educate people about crowd funding, and to promote crowd funding as a concept. It also turned out that I was working to promote the Funded By Me (FBM) crowd funding website I’m using.

Many of the people who’ve expressed an interest in my book have actually shied away from funding me through FBM. I thought using a crowd funding website would make things easier because I knew sponsors were guaranteed to get their money back if the campaign failed, but this is clearly not something that has weighed much with many of my potential sponsors. On the contrary, some seem actively to dislike the idea of an Internet middleman.

Perhaps the sort of people who might be interested in my book just aren’t computer savvy? Perhaps they are Internet wary?

I think part of the problem may be that you can’t just sponsor my campaign – any campaign. First you must open an account with Funded By Me. This has proved a stumbling block.

It turns out FBM is less user-friendly than I’d hoped. I’ve had both e-mail exchanges and telephone conversations with people who have tried and failed to open accounts with them. I don’t know where the problem lies since I haven’t sat with my contacts to watch them as they try to set up their accounts, but these aren’t stupid people so I must assume that the website is at fault.

I’m all the more inclined to believe the website is faulty because I’ve also had problems with them, though of a different nature. A few days after my campaign went live I noticed that the website was no longer displaying my target sum or any of the sponsorship levels in Swedish kronor, but was converting them into euros, and not rounded sums but fractions along the lines of “€19.37”. Most of my potential sponsors are Swedes, and Sweden doesn’t use the euro, so I guessed this would also put people off.

I got in touch with FundedByMe and after a series of e-mail exchanges (getting a response from them felt at times like pulling teeth), after a series of exchanges I learned that the company had decided – without notice and just after my campaign went live – to make euros the default currency for the site. According to FBM, however, the currency displayed should be the national currency of the country where any given user is at the time they access the site. Since I could clearly see that in Gothenburg the currency was being displayed in euros, FBM admitted there was a bug in the system that had “selected” me to mess with. “Selected” was their word.

I really wasn’t sure how to take this. Bugs don’t select, they behave randomly, but I was seeing this problem regardless of how I connected to the system, whether I used a computer, a surfpad or a smartphone, or where in Gothenburg I connected from. Eventually FBM promised to look into it, and now it seems to work properly, but they never got back to me either to confirm that they’d fixed things or to apologise.

A good deal of the time I spent chasing FBM was time I could have spent promoting my campaign, so that also slowed things down somewhat. It took a great deal of the wind out of my sails too. When I had time to promote the campaign I found myself resenting that I needed to promote FBM as well. Not a helpful reaction, but human I think.

Really, I can’t blame Funded By Me for the failure of the campaign. I was not sufficiently well prepared and my target was too ambitious. I ought to have set the campaign up differently. I ought not to have used a website that imposed such a limited campaigning period.

We live and learn.

But fear not, I am now cooking up Plan B!

This article was written for the #Blogg52 challenge.

Gone live!

Flier with TinyURL and QR code

My original plan for this week was to write about the very interesting and enjoyable interview that I had last Friday with Michelle Thomas in the cafe at Crystal Palace railway station in south London. Michelle is four or five months into a crowd funding campaign to publish her book I Will Pay You 1 Pound for Your Story. However, my own crowd funding campaign just went live and – more to the point – I’ve been working with it almost without a break since getting back from England. For this reason I’m holding Michelle’s interview over to a time when I hope I’ll be able to do it more justice.

I was sitting on the edge of my seat with my laptop revved up at 8 o’clock this morning. That was when the campaign site for My Gothenburg Days/Dagar i mitt Göteborg went live. Up until that moment I did not know whether it would work or what it would look like exactly. Most importantly, I did not know whether the TinyUrl and QR code that I had made would work, even though I’d printed them on 500 flyers.

I made the TinyURL and QR code because the actual URL that the website gave me was this:
Which I think you’ll agree is a bit on the long side.

Before the website went live there was no way to test them.
I’m pleased to say – they DO work! (Try them yourself.)


The crowd funding website that I have ended up going with is FundedByMe. I can say that I’ve had very good advice and help from a number of different people that I’ve been in touch with there. On the other hand, I haven’t found their instructions or their website for creating the campaign 100% user-friendly. It is my impression that they would prefer to run campaigns that are equity or loan based and I think they see themselves as an international player in competition with Kickstarter.

Unlike Kickstarter, FundedByMe has no category for Publications so my book campaign is categorised as “Other”. If you look back and read earlier blog posts you’ll see that I chose FundedByMe because it seemed the most professional crowd funding website in Sweden, but I did look seriously at Kickstarter and only rejected that website because as a resident of Sweden I could not run a campaign through them. However Kickstarter is now accepting campaigns from Swedish residents. (Am I starting to kick myself? I think it’s a legitimate question.)

My next campaign (!) may very well be a Kickstarter campaign. Although, who knows. If I manage to raise the money I need for my photo book with FundedByMe perhaps loyalty will keep me on their site.

Meanwhile we are in the run-up to Gothenburg’s Book Fair which opens tomorrow morning (Thursday, 25 September). This afternoon I have to get down to Svenska Mässan to help out with the Egenutgivarna’s stall (A03:50 if you are attending and want to visit). I have to make sure that my flyers – the ones with the QR codes – are stuffed into the advertising folder that we’ll be giving out, I have to make sure that the cover of my book is visible somewhere on the stall, I have to learn how to use the iZettle credit card payment system we have, and I have to try on the T-shirt that I must wear when I am acting as “crew” on the stall.

“How big a T-shirt do you think you’ll need,” they asked.

“Well, I can get into extra large T-shirts – better make it a double extra large,” I said. Now I’m wondering whether double extra large was really large enough. Maybe I should have gone for triple extra large. Too much beer and fish and chips when I was in the UK. On the other hand, I did walk around a lot. Maybe I’m no bigger now than I was before. (And, let’s face it, that’s pretty big.)

At least I know the shirt fits that I’m wearing this evening to go to the Book Fair Press Night. (Though I’d better try it on just to be sure.)

Enough from me now. Till next week, cheerio!

This article was written for the #Blogg52 challenge.

Adventures in Crowd Funding

I sat up till after midnight on Friday sketching out a front cover for another putative book. This is one I’ve only been thinking about for a couple or three weeks. (A tip of the hat to my fellow #Blogg52-er Eva Ullerud.) But Adventures in Crowd Funding seems like a good idea.

Adventures in Crowd Fundingfront cover essay
Adventures in Crowd Funding front cover essay

At the moment it seems like a good idea.

(In three months, I’m sure I’ll be wondering whatever possessed me to start a second self-publishing project while still working on my first.)

The logic is this. In the process of crowd funding My Gothenburg Days/Dagar I mitt Göteborg I am learning a great deal about crowd funding and the campaigning that goes with it. I am, in effect, marketing my book before it has been printed and published. Quite a lot of people have expressed an interest in knowing more about what I’m doing and how I’m doing it. There doesn’t seem to be a road-map (though having said that, I’m now expecting people to bombard me with titles of other books on the subject). Howsomever, this is my journey and my adventure and it doesn’t seem unreasonable to document it.

I’m now going to be launching the campaign to fund My Gothenburg Days at the Gothenburg Book Fair. I’m going to be displaying my wares at the stall run by Egenutgivarna, the Swedish Indie Authors’ Association. For this occasion, I was preparing a text about myself and My Gothenburg Days to be included in a brochure and to loop as two slides in a longer slideshow on screen at their stand. No matter how I worked on it, I couldn’t cut down sufficiently the number of words I felt I needed. Then I realised I was trying to say something both about the projected photo book and about the crowd funding process.

The solution, I decided was to include a third slide, but that would mean a second book. Thus was Adventures in Crowd Funding born. I’m not quite sure what it will have in it yet, but I’m thinking a combination of little stories about what I’m doing and discovering (hopefully amusing) and some useful checklists and “things to think about”. (That is to say – things I wish I’d thought about for longer than I did before I got myself into this.) Perhaps also some interviews. I’m thinking to make it only as an e-book – and at the moment I think it’ll only be in English. Because trying to write in Swedish would guarantee 1) that it never gets written or 2) that – if written – it never gets read.

Ah! Swedish, my Achilles heel!

My short Swedish language texts for the Egenutgivarna’s brochure and slideshow have been passed by my Swedish editor (as in these contexts I call my wife). The first version, produced with the help of Herr Google, caused her first to hide her face in her hands and then to slowly lower her head onto the kitchen table where it lay for a while cradled in her palms. It wasn’t quite the reaction I’d been hoping for.

The new version has been passed as “still a bit odd, but it’ll do”.

Once I’d got the text the next thing was to find a picture to stand in for a front cover. A slide with just text is a guaranteed turnoff. Almost any picture is better than none, but of course a picture that is actually relevant to the text is even better. (A picture that conveys everything in the text in an impactful and memorable way is best of all – but I am trying teach the perfectionist in me to cultivate an acceptance of the good-enough.)

I tried three times, and the result (which you find illustrating this blog entry) is the best I could come up with. It’s not perfect, but there’s a crowd (of sorts), there’s money (kind of), and the title and author text has a (more or less) effective contrast with the background. Good enough – for a late night effort anyway.

So, after last week’s dip, here I am sitting back up and feeling hopeful again. (Do you think I’m going to keep it up?)

This article was written for the #Blogg52 challenge.

Video tips

No matter how much time you spend with pen and paper or keyboard and screen, the time will come sooner or later when you will have to make a video. It may seem highly improbable now, it may even seem ludicrous, but I promise you the time will come. For me it came last weekend when I still thought I had an imminent deadline for the start of my crowd funding campaign.

The author on Ramberget with a part of Gothenburg behind. From what turned out to be my silent movie.
The author on Ramberget with a part of Gothenburg behind. From what turned out to be my silent movie.

Here are some things to think about in preparation for your video, gleaned from my experience.

First of all, don’t think you can do it on your own. This is what you will be carrying:

  • your camera (which may be a video camera or, as in my case, a regular digital camera that also films in HD);
  • a tripod for the camera to stand on (unless you’re going for the dogme/selfie effect);
  • your script, printed in very large letters so that you can read it at a distance despite your lack of 2020 vision;
  • a plastic bag full of sundry items including a large wad of kitchen paper with which to wipe the “shine” off your face (“shine” is what we TV personalities euphemistically call sweat).

Believe me, an assistant is essential.

Secondly, remember that the picture in the camera lens is not the picture that you see with your eye. All those clichés about demon film producers wondering around with their hands up in front of their faces and their fingers framing the shot – they’re clichés for a reason. After you’ve seen the first take of your video, you’ll be doing it too. You’ll need to find a place which gives the camera something to look at besides your talking face. Something to bear in mind is the rule of thirds – you should occupy only about a third of the screen. If you let your face fill the whole of the screen, you will give your audience the impression that you are a ranting obsessive with shifty eyes and (because this is in HD) a really bad complexion.

Stepping back from the camera reduces all of that, but it does put you further away from the camera’s built-in microphone. (Because you don’t own a camera with a line-in jack for an external microphone, and even if you do you probably don’t own an external radio mike with a neat little clip that lets you fix it to your front. Even if you do own one of those, you probably forgot to charge the battery.) So here’s another tip, don’t waste your time recording if there is a wind blowing. It doesn’t need to be much of a wind, just a slight breeze and your words will be blown away and never picked up. I have about an hour of really nice film with almost no sound. But at least it was a good rehearsal.

Of course, if you are little clever you will have taken with you your dictaphone or mobile telephone, which you will hold down around your midriff just off-screen. With this you can record your speech, shielding that microphone from the worst of the wind with your petit (or in my case ample) frame, and hope to match up recorded speech with your lip movements in the computer when you are preparing your video.

Your assistant now comes into her own as she can hold your script in front of the camera and just below the lens in such a way that you can read what you are supposed to say without looking far from the camera lens. Yes, your eyes will shift, but not so much and not so noticeably. Also you can always make several takes of the same speech and later use the one in which you look least untrustworthy.

If you are doing this bilingually your assistant’s language skills will be invaluable as she will be able to tell you where you are mispronouncing your speech and get you to repeat it. Again. And again. And again. In this respect I can say that there is a distinct period when your efforts will improve followed by a tailing off period when your efforts will become worse and worse and finally incomprehensible. It’s a good idea to be able to spot when you’ve peaked and not go on down into the trough on the other side because beyond that lies argument and recrimination and your assistant walking off a huff.

This didn’t happen on Saturday I hasten to add – I’m just giving truth space.

Then – when you’ve done all that, and you’ve got your film and recording back home and transferred to your computer – then comes the exciting moment when you realise that the expensive video editing software you bought is not compatible with the video film format for your camera. Scream, curse, do whatever you need to do, but don’t despair. Go out on the Internet and search – the chances are you’ll find something that will work for you, which you can use free for a 30 day trial period. In this context I’d like to give two thumbs up for software called Camtasia Studio 8 (and a thumbs down for Adobe Premier Pro CS4).

Well, there you have it. Now – according to my Search Engine Optimisation programme – all I have to do is call this “7 Steps to a Great Promo Video” and I can expect to attract multiple hits from eager Googlers. Yeah, right.

Good luck with your video – or you could pay a professional to do it properly!

The author on Ramberget with a part of Gothenburg behind. From what turned out to be my silent movie.
The author on Ramberget with a part of Gothenburg behind. From what turned out to be my silent movie.

This article was written for the #Blogg52 challenge.

My Gothenburg Days

The exhilarating feeling of being ahead of myself that I had when I published last Wednesday’s blog entry on time – having written it a day in advance – has evaporated into my usual feeling of mild panic as I sit here in the middle of Wednesday morning composing this week’s effort. Only mild panic because I know I’ll get it done and I’ve already made the illustrations.

Mock-up book jacket 1
Mock-up book jacket 1

To continue last week’s metaphor, I’ve released the break and the carriage has started to roll.

At the weekend I registered an electronic proof of identity and visited verksamt.se, the Swedish government agencies’ website for company owners. Here I have updated a number of details about my one-man firm and finally applied to change the name to TheSupercargo. Since I’ve been going by the moniker “TheSupercargo” online for about 9 years now, it feels right to try to make it official now as I step from principally offering English-language services to writing and publishing. There is just one other Swedish company using the word “supercargo” and they are a company that actually offers real supercargo services to shipping. I’m hopeful that my name change will go through since I don’t think writing, publishing and language services are likely to be confused with real supercargo services.

Besides, there is that definite article, which makes all the difference!

I’ve also booked myself a place at the Book Fair with Egenutgivarna, so the further end of the crowd funding advertising campaign is also anchored. The campaign will start on the 16th September – the day of Planket. It will finish on the 29th September, the day after the Book Fair ends. Excuse me while I consult my diary and count again… Yes, 45 days.

Meanwhile, over at the FundedByMe website, I’ve started building a page for my campaign. The information I had was that it was possible to construct a campaign page in advance; altering, adding and adapting before launching the campaign. That turns out to be a truth with some modifications. There are a few things that it seems one must have organised in advance. Like a title for the campaign.

Fair enough, I have to have a title for the book too. I consulted my wife and we decided on My Gothenburg Days with Dagar i mitt Göteborg as the Swedish version.

Secondly, the FundedByMe campaign details need to be completed in English. On one level that’s not a problem, obviously, but on another it might be. I’m happier writing in English, but I think many of my potential supporters might be more open to a campaign presented in Swedish. This needs some thought.

Mock-up book jacket 2
Mock-up book jacket 2

Thirdly, it turned out I needed a “campaign logo/image”. There is no information on the FundedByMe website about how big this should be, so I decided I would make it the same shape and size as one of my GBG365 photos, and treat it as a first essay in a jacket cover for the book.

Inevitably I managed to overproduce, and the illustrations on this page represent a couple of alternatives. Do they look like the covers of a book you might consider buying? All comments gratefully appreciated!

FundedByMe also recommend a campaign video, which I knew about and was prepared for. I had spent several days exploring options for a video camera, before I remembered that the camera I use to take my photographs can also film in HD. I tried it out by setting it up on a tripod and filming myself.

It’s very distressing to see how big, how pitted and how varicoloured my nose appears in high-definition. Not perhaps my best selling point. When I make the video I think I should not sit so close to the camera lens.

One other thing about FundedByMe before I bring this blog entry to a close. I’ve been concerned about asking people to pledge money to my campaign if it fails. Will they get their money back? FundedByMe say that they take all the money that is pledged and put it into an escrow account.

Now I know “escrow” looks like it has something to do with crowds (or even crows 🙂 ), but in fact it’s got nothing to do with either. According to the Online Etymological Dictionary it comes from old French and originally meant “a scrap of parchment”. What it means today is “A deposit or fund held in trust or as a security” (thank you the Oxford Dictionary).

I wanted to test this, and it seemed the best way to do so – though it felt a little mean – was to pledge money to support a FundedByMe campaign that I could see was going to fail.

I found a campaign to make a film that only had about nine supporters, had collected less than 2% of its target funding and only had about nine campaigning days left. I pledged 200 Skr and then waited to see what would happen. The campaign failed and my money has been returned.

Now I feel I can reasonably go out and try to persuade people to support me.

The next step will be to plan a rewards scale. More about that next time.

This article was written for the #Blogg52 challenge.

Fear of freefall

On my way to work three or four days a week I pass Gothenburg’s Liseberg funfair and hear the happy screams – I must suppose they’re happy – as people drop in freefall or spin around at multiple gravities or turn upside down as they loop the loop. It’s a good 40 years since I last experienced any of the more extreme rides at a funfair, and longer since I enjoyed any of them.

Fear of freefall
Fear of freefall

About 10 years ago, having refused to try out any of the real rides, I was persuaded by visiting friends to go on Liseberg’s virtual rollercoaster. Along with about 40 other people I was strapped into chairs that moved and vibrated facing a wide projection screen, and taken on a ride through a fantasy gold mine, spinning through tunnels, leaping over broken bridges, plunging down shafts. I spent most of the time with my eyes closed, teeth clenched and fingers clawing at the armrests, willing it to stop.

I am put in mind of all this because, ever since I started writing about crowd funding, I’ve had the sensation of being once again strapped into that chair as the ride takes me ever closer to a cliff edge.

I’ve not written about crowd funding for a couple of weeks partly because I had other things I wanted to say, partly because the ride hasn’t picked up much speed yet. But I can feel an acceleration and there’s no getting away from it any more.

Having rejected Unbound for the time being, I’ve been focusing my attention on FundedByMe.com.

One of the main contrasts between the two crowd funding websites – apart from the fact that one is dedicated to book publishing what the other is open to all sorts of campaigns – is that the FundedByMe site sets a 45 day limit for any crowd funding campaign. In other words from the day the campaign starts, a campaigner has 45 days to attract the financing he or she is seeking. By contrast Unbound has very open limits (which they do not share) which mean that campaigns can take months or even years. I don’t like the idea of a campaign that just drags on into the sunset, but I have to say that 45 days strikes me as a bit restricted.

However, I have now been thinking in terms of a 45 day campaign for a couple of weeks and I’m coming around to seeing how I might manage it.

As all this is in aid of publishing a photo book about Gothenburg, it makes sense to start the campaign with Gothenburg’s Planket in mid-August and end with the Gothenburg Book Fair at the end of September. Just about 45 days.

Planket is an event run annually by Gothenburg’s Photo Club in association with Göteborgs kuturvecka. The photo club hire the palings around Trädgårdsföreningen Park and then rent out three-meter-wide sections to photographers where they can display their work. I took part last year and it was great fun. Suppose I was to take part again this year and exhibit not only some of my photos, but also have a dummy of the photo book to show off, and advertising for the campaign?

And then if I took part in the Book Fair, perhaps as a member of Egenutgivarna, and again was able to show the dummy to anyone who was interested?

I’m already booked to take part in Planket, but that only costs 200 Skr. Participating in the Book Fair and getting a share of the stall that Egenutgivarna run costs rather more – 3750 Skr – so I haven’t taken that step quite yet. I’m hyperventilating before I release the brake and let the rollercoaster roll.

It’s also difficult to make up my mind what my financial target should be for the campaign. I have written a description of the book as I would like it to be, and a letter to various printers asking for quotes, but as yet I haven’t received any replies. I have used a couple of websites to make a rough calculation, though, and I think that I’m looking at a target of 150,000 Skr. That’s 21,880 US dollars, 16,300 euros, 12,850 British pounds. Sometimes (usually as I’m falling asleep) that seems like hell of a lot of money.

At other times it seems quite reasonable. If I can persuade 1000 people to pledge me 150 Skr I’ll be home and dry!

Except of course that I won’t be home and dry, because if I reach my target within 45 days it means I’m committed to printing the book and distributing copies to everyone who has pledged money. I have to be very careful not to make promises about when the book will be published since I have absolutely no idea how long it’s going to take from the decision to go to print to getting the final version in my hand.

Of course, if I don’t reach my target within 45 days I won’t have to do anything. The whole project will be cancelled, everyone who pledged will get their money back and I’ll be left with fond memories and small debts.

The only fly in the ointment regarding this 45 day period between Planket and Bokmässan is that I have a 10 day holiday planned in England right in the middle. Perhaps I can try marketing the project also while I’m in London.

Anyway, that’s where I am at the time of writing. For more on this, check back later.

This article was written for the #Blogg52 challenge.

As yet unbound

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about discovering Unbound, the British-based crowd funding website dedicated to book publishing. I thought I might give this week’s entry over to a review of the three publishing projects I pledged to support. They are Springfield Road by Salena Godden, The Nine Lives of John Ogilby by Alan Ereira and I Will Pay One Pound for Your Story by Michelle Thomas. I chose these three first and foremost because they all looked like books I would like to read, but I had other reasons for picking each of them.

You can get much more information about these books and their authors by following the links to each book’s Unbound campaign site as they come up below and viewing the authors’ pitch videos, but here’s a potted account of each and an explanation of my reasons for supporting them.

I Will Pay One Pound for Your Story

Michelle Thomas
Michelle Thomas from her Unbound video pitch

Let’s take the most interesting book first. Facing a period of unemployment, Michelle Thomas decided to start a “performance research project”. (She says the term’s her own invention and probably doesn’t mean anything: “I made it up because I’m not sure what to call the project”.) What she seems to do (and it must take considerable nerve) is stand around in public with a sign offering to buy people’s stories for one pound.

People who accept tell her their stories and she records them (in return for the pound). She then transcribes the stories as closely as she can to the way they were told – including hesitations and slips. And that’s it. She’s published a few of the stories on her blog and has started the Unbound campaign in order to find the cash to publish a book with 100 of the best stories.

I think the project – whatever it’s called – is a brilliant idea and I look forward to reading the book when it’s completed.

Apart from wanting to read the book and wanting to help it get into print, I chose to pledge (for a signed, first edition hardback copy) because Michelle Thomas had only recently launched her project and I wanted to follow an Unbound book all the way through its cycle. I pledged when the book had just 7% support, and now, two weeks later, it’s got 13%, so I’m excited to see how the campaign develops.

I encourage you to support Michelle Thomas’s campaign too! The criticism I expressed of Unbound in my earlier blog entry (that they add 50% for postage and packing outside of the UK) does not apply to e-books, so if you can afford it, why not pledge £10 (that’s about 115 Skr) and help this interesting indie effort? Pledging also gets you access to the author’s “shed” – her Unbound-dedicated blog (not the same as her Blogger blog linked above) where she’s posted some of the original recordings along with links to her transcriptions.

Springfield Road

Salena Godden from her Unbound video pitch
Salena Godden from her Unbound video pitch

The second book I chose to support is Salena Godden’s Springfield Road. “Support” may be going a bit far as the book was already fully subscribed when I signed up, but the autobiography of this stand-up poet and her memories of growing up as a child in Hastings – just along the coast from Brighton, my own home town – sounds like something I’ll enjoy reading.

I was also interested to sponsor a funded project in order to see how it develops from full funding to published. I paid the minimum (£10) for a copy of the e-book and while I wait for publication I can follow Salena Godden’s Unbound blog (in her “shed”) and also get pointed to other events she’s involved in. (Interviews on the BBC, public readings of parts of the autobiography, her earlier books and her poetry.)

The Nine Lives of John Ogilby

My third choice fell on Alan Ereira’s The Nine Lives of John Ogilby. This will be a history book about a fascinating 17th century character. John Ogilby, says Alan Ereira, went through nine careers in his long life…

He was dancer, poet, publisher (the first crowd-funding publisher), Master of the Revels in Ireland and impresario. His final project, when he was over 70, was to create from scratch a new kind of map, the first national road atlas of any country in the world. Until this old man accurately measured 20,000 miles of roads, maps simply did not have roads on them.

The road atlas was called Britannia and was published in 1675. Alan Ereira’s projected book, though, will tell more than just the story of this extraordinary man, it will interpret Britannia and reveal (we are promised) a coded secret – a plot to invade Britain and re-establish an absolute monarchy.

I chose to support this project (by pledging for the hardback) partly because I’m interested in Ogilby’s story. In part I also chose it because Alan Ereira has been involved as co-author with Terry Jones (of Monty Python fame) in writing three earlier history books (Crusades, Medieval Lives, Barbarians). Alan Ereira’s professional presentation of the book in his video, backed up by Terry Jones who endorses the book, and the fact that they seem to be planning a TV series together based on the book, also swung me to pledge.

Alan Eriera
Alan Eriera from his Unbound video pitch

I confess, I thought there was a better chance that Alan Ereira’s book would end up fully funded than that Michelle Thomas’s would.

I’m less sure now.

Having pledged and gained access to Alan Ereira’s “shed” I realise he has been looking for funding at Unbound for at least a year. His Unbound blog has exactly two entries, the last dated August 2013. Which, sadly, isn’t promising.

However, if I decide that John Ogilby’s story doesn’t look as though it’s going to get told – or not through the help of Unbound – then trying to disengage myself from supporting it will also be part of my learning experience as regards crowd funding.


After signing up to support Unbound two weeks back I was in two minds about the site. I’ve since read through their legal documentation (the small print), which makes some things a bit clearer. Also, I’ve been in communication with them – and I’m hoping for some answers (which I’ll share in a later post).

There’s more to crowd funding for publication than at first meets the eye. (And isn’t that true of all indie publishing?) It’s a learning experience, but it’s a fun learning experience.

The next blog entry will say something more about FundedByMe.

Till then, cheerio!

This article was written for the #Blogg52 challenge.

Crowd funding

The 18th century author Alexander Pope was a poet and critic, highly rated in his day and significant for the history of English literature. Nowadays though he’s read almost exclusively by students who have him prescribed on a course. To modern taste most of his writing is verbose, turgid and reactionary (three words he would have delighted in – though probably not as applied to his work). Occasionally, though, an aphorism breaks through and you get a glimpse of why he was once thought the most brilliant of writers.

Blessed is he who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed.
– Pope in a letter to John Gay, October 6, 1727

One of Pope’s achievements was a verse translation from the Ancient Greek of The Iliad by Homer. What is remarkable about this effort is not that it was great literature or a particularly faithful translation. (One critic wrote: “It’s a pretty poem Mr Pope, but you must not call it Homer.”) No, what is remarkable is that Pope wrote and published the translation in six volumes over six years as a crowd funded project.

The conventional route to publishing nowadays – as it was in Pope’s time – is to convince a publishing house of the commercial value of your work, then sign a contract with them whereby they finance the publication and marketing and split the income from sales (royalties) with you. An alternative – as it’s always been – is self-publishing, whereby you fund the publication and marketing all yourself and keep all the royalties. If there are any.

Crowd funded publications are an alternative to both the above. In crowd funding, a group of sponsors chip in with money to help an author get published. (The word “crowd” suggests a larger group of people, but I’ve seen numbers as low as two sponsors mentioned.)

In Pope’s day, crowd funding meant the poet spent at least a year (between 1713 and 1715) canvassing friends and acquaintances to drum up sponsors – individuals who promised to buy volumes of the epic translation as they became available. The names of the sponsors would be listed in the book, so they would get credit for their faith in the author. Pope already had a good reputation as a writer, and no doubt the sponsors wanted to read his translation and wanted their names associated with a work he had published. They weren’t just agreeing to become sponsors out of pity for the poor man. This gave them an incentive to join in Pope’s advertising campaign and try to round up further sponsors beyond his own social circle.

What happened eventually was that Pope took his list of sponsors to a publisher and used it to negotiate a contract that gave him a guaranteed income over the six years it took to translate and publish each volume.

Be thou the first true merit to befriend,
his praise is lost who stays till all commend.
– Pope, An Essay on Criticism

Nowadays the Internet has made crowd funding much easier and a real option in many different fields. Creative work has been crowd funded, but so too business start-ups, prototype development, concert tours, open-ended research, charities and political movements. There are even – currently – four principle forms crowd funding can take: donation based funding, credit based funding, equity based funding and reward based funding. (Thanks to Wikipedia, for this breakdown.)

Thinking in terms of publishing, an author with donation based crowd funding would need to do nothing in return for the crowd’s support; with credit based funding the author would undertake to repay the crowd from royalties; with equity based funding, the members of the crowd would each expect to receive a share of the royalties for as long as royalties came in.

Pope’s scheme would be categorised as reward based funding because his crowd of sponsors received not only a printed acknowledgement in the final publication, but also a copy of the book or books they had sponsored.

Crowd funding by way of the Internet has taken off in the last few years. There are now dozens of websites – Kickstarter is probably the most well-known – that offer to help you put together a crowd funded project. Some of these sites are more serious than others and most are not specifically focused on publishing.

A British site that is focused on publishing is Unbound, which I recently came across.

In a fit of generosity (I’d just got a pay check) I decided to investigate the site from the point of view of a sponsor. I signed up, searched through the projects that were on offer, viewed some of the author videos and eventually chose three to support. I pledged money: £30 for a signed copy of a hardback work by one author (Michelle Thomas), £20 for an unsigned first edition by another (Alan Ereira) and £10 for an electronic version of a third book (by Salena Godden) “already funded”. I’m going to write more about these as I get to see them and especially the first, which seems an unusually interesting project.

But I have to sound a note of caution about this website. Perhaps because Unbound is British-based and expects most of its crowd funders to come from Britain, the mark-up on postage for the books abroad is exorbitant. I don’t understand how a fifty percent mark-up is justified, and there is no warning of this before one pledges. So though I thought I was being generous, pledging £60, I found I was actually pledging over £100.

Furthermore, I thought I was pledging – promising – to pay this money when the books were ready, but my bank account tells a different story. Unbound has taken over SEK 1100 from my account. And there’s nowhere I can see for me to ‘unpledge’. Good thing I’d just been paid.

To err is human, to forgive divine.
– Pope, An Essay on Criticism

Just at the moment I feel stung and I will be cautious about trying out other crowd funding websites – though I expect I shall continue to try them as I think crowd funding is an attractive option for the independent author.

This afternoon – the day this blog entry is published – the Gothenburg circle of Egenutgivarna will be meeting and crowd funding is our topic of conversation, so I’m hoping to have more information and websites to explore. I anticipate returning to this subject in future blog posts.

This article was written for the #Blogg52 challenge.

The Great Dragon Tattoo Giveaway (2)

[Continues from Part 1.]

The campaign turned the tables. The fact that copies of the book were circulating, that people were actually picking them up, reading them and liking them – plus the marketing campaign itself – drew attention to the title and, after a time, increased sales.

What Quercus did was to create a “loss leader” – an item that loses money, but leads customers to – and prepares them to spend money on – a related item. It’s not spelt out, but my impression from the Independent article is that Quercus made a loss on the first paperback edition of Dragon Tattoo.

But of course they had the second book ready. They published The Girl who Played with Fire, and this second volume now had a market. They sold the hardback, they sold the paperback and they made a profit. Now they were reaching people who hadn’t seen the first volume, so they could reprint that and start making money off it. Then the third volume came out.

It was the success of the Millenium series that made Quercus into a successful publishing house.

Girl with dragon tattooThey moved from the little place they had behind Baker Street to Bloomsbury – the centre of the London literary world – and they moved up from employing around 15 people to more than 45. They expanded their list. They have quite a lot of authors now. And also of course they sparked the interest in criminal and detective stories from Scandinavia.

Getting back to Egenutgivarna and self-publishing in Sweden, I’ve been thinking about how to translate the Great Dragon Tattoo Giveaway into the Swedish context, into our context. Is it even possible?

To the best of my knowledge this marketing ploy has not been used in Sweden, so to do it once would absolutely be a good idea, to draw attention to a book. To do it more than once, or to do it repeatedly, would I suspect devalue it. It’s not something that one should consider on a regular basis.

Thinking about the actual context of the original giveaway. It was done in order to market the book in a moment of desperation. Quercus already had copies printed and if they were not able to generate interest in the book, then these might just as well be pulped. Also, they knew there was a second and a third volume to come. So they were prepared to treat the first book as a loss leader because a) they knew they’d lost the money for printing it and b) they hoped – if the gamble worked – to profit from the second and third volumes.

In our context it means that:

  • if you have a pair – or a trilogy or more – of books that are ready to go, or that you are completing
  • if you have the financial resources to be prepared to print x number of copies (500? 1000?), and know that that money is gone – that you can’t guarantee you’ll get it back – because you’re gambling on being able to print x*2 (1000? 2000?) copies of the second volume, and sell them all. And print a second edition of the first volume and sell them all.
  • if you’re prepared to do that – and if nobody else has beaten you to it and devalued the ploy – then

this may be worth trying.

But do you satisfy those requirements? If someone has already gone ahead of you down this road, isn’t it better to try and find another way to spread the word about your book? What way might that be?


Post Script: Quercus isn’t doing so well now. They made a “significant loss” in 2013 and have basically put themselves up for sale. And this despite having Millenium volume 4 in prospect.

[Thanks for reading all the way through. Hope you found it interesting. If you missed it, you can see part 1 by clicking here.]