Or should that be: on writing and crowd-funding? In other words, which comes first? I began musing along these lines when I finished Chapter 6 (of 10) in the book I’m currently writing for Penguin. I’d been discussing the impact of the huge and all-encompassing changes that happened in the two centuries on either side of 1500 BC. That was the time when henges, round barrows and other familiar sites and monuments of the Early Bronze Age and later Neolithic went out of use and were replaced by a series of much smaller-scale ritual sites, often associated with water and watery places. Now I don’t want to reveal what the book’s all about – as that might adversely affect sales (and provide free material for some TV documentary-maker to nick) – but as I pushed my laptop to one side and reached across the desk for my nearly-cold mug of tea, made an hour previously, it struck me that the old-style of publishing was a heck of a lot less stressful. Essentially you wrote books and if they sold, you wrote more. And all in all, it was a very relaxing business.
‘Yes, but did you have any contact with your readers?’ I hear a strangled cry from the cheaper seats.
In theory at least, I did, at book-signings in independent booksellers up and down the country, not to mention big events, like Hay-on-Wye, and more recently the excellent festival at Bath. But having said that, I was the one who stood at the front of the room and held forth. The audience listened, respectfully. Essentially I was declaiming; it certainly wasn’t a two-way process. After the talk, I may even have muttered a few well chosen platitudes as I graciously condescended to inscribe their books with my signature… But was it involvement in any meaningful sense of the word? Sadly, I now realise it wasn’t.
The more I have become involved with crowd-funding, the more I realise it’s actually about people. My readers – and what they want. It’s just like the DigVentures excavations. Those digs only work because of the people who take part. Yes, they pay, but they choose to pay. And they buy-in to the whole experience and contribute hugely to the project. And they give of themselves because nobody is ripping them off. Look, would you expect to be admitted to the English National Opera at Covent Garden, for free, so why should a top-flight excavation be any different? And besides, there will always be ways to go on excavations for free, as a student or young person – just as my books will always be available (and even those published through Unbound) free, at libraries and over the internet.
So maybe in the future writers will have to quit their (award-winning in my case) desks and spend far more time with their readers, either on Twitter, or other social media, or face-to-face at inter-active sessions (rather than ‘lectures’) at places like Hay or Bath. Who knows, maybe purpose-built writers’ pubs and taverns will be built where the interested public could get to meet their favourite (or most loathed) authors? U.S. bookshops are already heading in that direction. No, I honestly don’t think that we’ve even begun to think about the implications that internet-based movements, like crowd-funding, might have on our lives in the future – or indeed on the evolution of urban landscapes.
One final thought: if you’re the sort of lazy, indolent half-wit who is always sponging off your friends and never contributes anything worthwhile to society, then you’re probably reading the correct blog for you. In The Long Run will be right up your street. But put yourself in my position: how can I possibly fund my detective/thriller if half the crowd who are supposed to be funding it are sitting at home, stuffing their faces with canapés and Champagne while listening to Paul Jones and the Blues Band CDs (I’ll be at one of their concerts on Thursday (May 16th), in the South Holland Centre, Spalding)? I mean how can I possibly succeed in this venture, let along achieve my next goal (60% funding), if everyone continues to sit on their back-sides with chequebooks and cards wedged firmly in their ever-tighter trouser pockets?? So to these people I say: break the habit of a lifetime and subscribe. It’ll change your life, forever. And who knows, we may even get to meet…