Participatory Publishing and the New Reading Community

H.C.A Gallon

2016 looks promising for independent publishers, with newcomers Dodo Ink set to release three new titles between July and October. After the success of SJ Bradley’s Brick Mother, Richard Smyth’s Wild Ink, and Sally Ashton’s Controller in 2014, independent publishers Dead Ink Books has relaunched ‘New Voices’ as crowdfunding initiative ‘Publishing the Underground’, which aims to bring readers and authors closer together. Over the next six months, Publishing the Underground will release Lochlan Bloom’s The Wave and Wes Brown’s When Lights are Bright, as well as my own debut novel, The Shapes of Dogs’ Eyes.

Editor and Director Nathan Connolly, who began Dead Ink in 2011, said “When we began we were digital only, which allowed us to minimise costs at the expense of exposure.” A move from ebooks to paperbacks fits well amid ongoing speculation over the future of digital publishing. At the beginning of October 2015, Waterstones’ James Daunt announced they will stop selling Amazon’s Kindle in almost all of their stores after a surge in hard copy sales. Yet ebook sales haven’t necessarily diminished rather they have seen a decline in adult fiction titles and a rise in YA publications – a genre that many independent publishers are not taking submissions from.

It comes as a call to arms goes out across the publishing world to revise traditional publishing models in order to support authors of “risky” or “marginal” work. Readers want books that aren’t always being released by mainstream houses. With more independent publishers turning to crowdfunding, the drive isn’t to feed consumers, but to establish reading communities within the publishing industry, with authors, indie book distributors and independent retailers at the centre. Readers invest in authors and in return reap the rewards from those they support – from special mention inside books they’ve helped fund, to opportunities to meet the authors whose careers they’ve kick started.

The revolution in digital publishing saw ebooks take 15% of self-publishing sales in 2014, with a 16% growth in self-published digital releases in the first quarter of 2015. Yet while the growth in ebook sales has increased pressure on risk-sensitive publishing houses to release titles that they’re sure will achieve financially, it may also have revived physical book sales, which saw a 3% rise during the first quarter of 2015.

This has enabled independent publishers to support adult and literary fiction titles that have been going unpublished as a result of increased demand for YA and children’s books. They’re using their agility and capitalising on the consumer habits of millennials, who trust new media as a source of information and conversation, but whose penchant for nostalgia keeps physical sales in front of digital (with parallels in the music industry after a huge resurgence in the number of new music being released on vinyl), while indie bookstores are once again on the rise as a result of new local reading communities.

Meanwhile, authors represented by independent publishers have the chance to be involved more directly in the design and marketing of their work while updating their supporters daily. The decentralisation of the global book marketplace means that authors and publishers are now required to be everywhere at once. “The great strength of digital media,” Connolly said, “is in connecting people and allowing them to get involved. We’re crowdfunding to create these books and, by offering membership to our supporters, making them an integral part of our book and author development.”

The success of The White Review’s Kickstarter campaign last September proves that readers respond to the demonstration of initiative exhibited by small presses and publications. 2014 alone saw Kickstarter host 2064 book-related projects, more than double featured since 2011.

The reality is that independent publishers have to contend with well-financed publishing houses with immense exposure. But that doesn’t stop them taking risks on potentially groundbreaking works (I’ll refrain from going into detail about Galley Beggar Press and Eimear McBride’s Bailey’s Prize triumph), because they’re run by the same people who’re supporting their crowdfunding campaigns, who want to nurture the potential they see in new authors and read experimental and exciting literature that they themselves have chosen. The rewards on offer, aside from the knowledge that by supporting these campaigns you’ve helped to create a book, don’t simply create new readers for new writers, but form dedicated fan bases and financiers eager for the release of future titles.

I wrote my first novella in 2009. It was widely rejected. So I wrote another, and another. It wasn’t until I’d finished my fourth book that someone, a small independent publisher from Manchester, took notice. As an aspiring author, and an impatient one at that, it’s easy to become despondent when your work more often than not can’t even earn you a response from the people you’re submitting to. Which is why it’s so important to support crowdfunding campaigns run by small independent publishers. They invest everything they have to nurture new authors and readers to help make publishing books a participatory event that can evolve with new technological trends.

The Shapes of Dogs’ Eyes is available at the end of November.

Visit Publishing the Underground to help support Dead Ink Books’ New Writing 2015.

New Voices 2016 is now open for submissions.

 

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