Sunday, 25 April 2010

To Charge or not to Charge?

(background: I've decided to self publish a novel which has been published in Germany but not the UK, and I'm thinking of funding it by asking people to pay in advance)

This is yet another post which started out as a reply to a comment. Somebody suggested that if I try and get people to pay money for the book before it's even been printed, I may end up having to pay it back, which would be tedious and disheartening. An alternative suggestion was that I might ask for promises followed by money. I can see the point of that, but I think it's a bit vague, and would be hard to administer. How awful to be chasing people for money they promised, only to find they didn't really mean it. I think it has to be either promises OR money upfront.

I'll see how it goes. If it's a total disaster I can change it mid-track. But my experience in the past is that people are more likely to be excited by / willing to commit to something if that commitment is tangible. They then become part owners in the whole scheme and are more passionate in its support.

In 1999, my partner and I couldn't decide what to do for The Millennium. It felt as though it would be like any other NYE but to the power of 10, towhit: You're never quite sure what to do or where to go and you can't get your mates to commit to anything definite, so you end up panicking at the last minute and struggling to find a taxi. Or committing in advance to something, only to find that everyone decides to do something else.

So we decided, in July 1999, to sound out all our mates about the possibility of throwing a party at our house. But we had to find a way of making people commit in advance. We didn't want to end up in a half-empty house while all our mates did something more exciting instead. So we produced a leaflet with a simple proposition: If we could get 50 people to pay IN ADVANCE, we would lay on a lavish not-for-profit party at £25 per head. If we didn't have all the money by October, we would cancel the plan and refund those who had paid.

It worked. 50 people paid up, and because they had paid, they felt they owned it. We had a veritable army of willing volunteers to transform our house into a mini night club for the night and then help run the whole thing. We also bought loads of lovely treats in bulk, and there was tons left over for days afterwards. Nobody had to bring any booze, everything was free, and there were no gatecrashers because we were all very clear that only those who had paid could come. And because people had actually paid money, and helped organise it, they were wedded to it and there was never any question of absconding elsewhere. It was the best party we have ever had, by a mile.

Anyway. I think I need to make a bit of A Thing about this book. Get people excited, have some kind of whizzy online counter which clearly indicates how many people have signed up, so we can all will it on to the 50 mark and maybe even 100. It'll be clear that it'll be a limited edition, so anyone who doesn't sign up in advance will potentially lose out. First come first served. After that, the financial sums will dictate what happens. But it would be something along the lines of, "If another 40 people sign up I can afford the next 50-book print run." I doubt I'll ever be able to afford to give away Beautiful Hardbacks as review copies. The review copies will have to be proof copies, just cheap plain Lulu paperbacks, or even manuscripts. Everyone will have to pay for The Real Thing**. But that's just another aspect that makes them properly special.

Of course I can't entirely quell the tiny voice at the back of my head which says, this could really take off. But it's unlikely. I don't have the marketing power. But I'll publicise it wherever I possibly can (which is, come to think of it, a lot of places) and what's really important is that a small number of quality* readers get to finally enjoy my book. And I feel, just a little, like a writer again.

And faint heart never won fair adventure. That millennium party was a great example, I'm glad I thought of it. I've taken loads of risks in my life. I regularly get over-excited and have Great Ideas. Some of them fizzle out. But some of them work, and life is so boring if you don't take risks. Sometimes you just got to close your eyes, shout WAHAAAY! and jump.

*By quality I don't mean posh, or clever, or superior. I just mean that they are people who know something about me, people whose feedback is meaningful to me, people I don't have to insult by appealing to the lowest common denominator and watering everything down as a result.

**I've just realised there'll be people reading this who know eff all about the book itself. Time to dig out that blurb, methinks. Coming up next post.


Anonymous said...

Is there any way you could set up a "pay what you think is fair" system? You know, a bit like what Radiohead did with one of their recent albums. Or would people just milk it? Just a thought, anyway.

Beleaguered Squirrel said...

It's a lovely idea Captain, but an administrative / logistical nightmare. I'm going to be working with fixed-size print runs, and if everyone pays the same amount then I will know that 50 x y = enough for a 50-strong print run. With the Pay What You Like system, I may get 50 donations which will nowhere near cover the cost of 50 copies, and then I will have committed myself to a print run I can't actually afford! My income is rather small at the moment, and my partner's job is on the line, so I really can't take that kind of risk I'm afraid.