Welcome to today’s guest Danny Scheinmann, author of international bestseller Random Acts of Heroic Love, a book I really enjoyed a few years back. It came as a surprise to see that Danny’s second novel (which has a great premise, by the way) is being crowd-funded on Unbound. I had a feeling there might be an interesting story behind that and it turns out I was right…
I’m going to ask you to do something you’ve never done before and be part of a revolution in publishing, but first let me tell you a story.
In 1992 I lost my girlfriend in a bus crash in Ecuador. As I watched the coffin being lowered in to the ground, I vowed I would build a monument to honour her memory. I thought about the The Taj Mahal; the ultimate temple to lost love, but a marble palace was ever so slightly beyond my price range. What other options were there, apart from the ubiquitous park bench inscription? I decided to write a book and eventually, in 2006, after ten rewrites it was finished.
My little monument to love was rejected by twenty publishers.
They said it would never sell. They had good reason; after all the book contained two strands – one set in the first world war on the Eastern Front, the other in the 1990’s in South America and London. And if that wasn’t confusing enough there were passages about quantum physics and photographs of animals copulating. It didn’t fit in to any genre, there was no precedent for a book of this kind and, on the surface, it looked like the work of a grieving lunatic. The book was called Random Acts of Heroic Love.
By 2007 I had given up hope. I was in Borough Market when my agent, Sophie Hicks, phoned me. “Sit down,” she said. I found a bench. “I’ve got you a deal,” she said. My heart jumped. “From a publisher in Germany.” “Germany?” “It’s a six figure deal.” Thank God she’d told me to sit down.
It was such a big deal that it made news in all the trade press and within 48 hours, my book had sold in five countries before being picked up in the UK by Transworld, Random House.
Jumping forward to February 2009, I presented my publishers with a synopsis for a second novel. I had every reason to feel confident; Random Acts of Heroic Love – the book that would never sell – had by then got to number one on Amazon, sold more than a quarter of a million copies in the UK and been a Richard and Judy pick. I had been shortlisted for a couple of awards and was the top selling debut male author of 2008. My book was being translated into twenty languages. It had been the most spectacular year of my life.
It therefore came as a shock when they told my agent, ‘this is not Danny Scheinmann’s second novel’. I wondered who was writing Danny Scheinmann’s second novel, if not me! The decision was taken by a panel of marketing and sales people. Again I seemed to be writing an ‘unsellable’ book. I had failed to shoehorn my ideas in to a form that was acceptable to the panel. It was also a sign of how much further the power had shifted in publishing houses away from literary editors to marketers. I was told to come back with another idea. It was pretty obvious they wanted me to write my first book all over again. Beware the pressures of success.
I filed away my ill-fated second novel and took a long break. Eventually I started to write again, but this time I didn’t tell a soul. It was a brand new story. How delicious it was to be writing from the heart once more without intervention. And so The Half Life of Joshua Jones was born. It is a book of which I am very proud. It continues my obsession with love in the face of death, which featured in Random Acts. Like my first book it is filled with tales of extraordinary characters and does not sit within one genre. And yet it is very different.
In the meantime the publishing landscape has continued to change dramatically. Bookshops are closing, digital sales are on the rise, Amazon has a stranglehold on the market and the biggest high street retailers of books are now supermarkets. What does this mean for writers? Well, as an ex-Tesco manager told a friend of mine, ‘authors are now competing with bananas for shelf space.’ In the battle between bananas and literature most writers can never win and publishers are forced to peddle celebrity books or erotica like Fifty Shades. The whole industry is heavily reliant on a small handful of banana killers to keep itself afloat. And whilst readers drown in ‘illiterature’ (aptly coined by Gerald Jacobs), thousands of beautiful well-written books are not even being noticed.
The good news for authors is that the internet and other advances in technology have democratized the arts. Nowhere is this more obvious than in music where people no longer need a record label to produce a great record and have it heard by millions. We are now on the cusp of a similar revolution in books. In the near future successful writers will build up on-line fan bases, set up their own micro-publishing houses and print books on demand. Currently a writer will earn on average 8% of the retail price but under this model they could earn 40 – 60%.
It is the job of artists to set trends, not follow them. I believe readers want and deserve greater choice, but with the closure of quality bookshops authors will have to go online to reach their audience. I try to write intelligent, unique books that shed light on the human experience. A radical new publisher called Unbound (set up by three ambitious writers) is now enabling me and other authors to do this. They have broken the old model and are embracing the future. They give readers the chance to be part of the process before a book is even published. It is crowd funding with a difference. Readers pledge to buy the book in advance and in so doing receive lovely rewards like having their name in the back of the book as an acknowledgement of their support.
The Unbound model is clever. It appeals directly to readers to find out what they want to read. It gives a platform for writers to follow their passions and it produces exciting books from emerging talent. It is also low risk for the publisher, which allows them to be brave. On their website Unbound have engaging videos of their authors speaking about their books with synopses and sample chapters. It’s a whole new interactive book buying experience, which brings readers and writers together. I am already half way to my target. How lovely it would be to see some of your names in The Half Life of Joshua Jones.
To pledge for The Half Life of Joshua Jones visit Unbound.
Thanks to Danny for sharing his own story which began with such a sad event but is ultimately inspiring and uplifting – I’m looking forward to meeting Joshua Jones! Crowd-funding has already caught on for memoir and non-fiction and I’d be very interested to hear your views about it in relation to fiction whether you’re a reader or writer.
Next week author and psychologist Voula Grand shares her expert’s view on Stories that cast spells…or not (the GONE GIRL effect).