Blog: Nathan Connolly

The editor and director of Dead Ink Books refreshes his browser every couple of sentences but manages to get to the end of this blog

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At the time of writing, with just 21 days remaining, we have raised £1,904. That’s 64 per cent of our £3,000 target. It’s taken 103 people buying books and supporting our authors to get us this far.

We started Publishing the Underground as a way to reliably bring new authors of literary fiction to publication. Literary fiction is a big risk in publishing; debut authors doubly so. We were convinced that we could cover our basic costs with the support of those people who believe in exciting new writing and the value of supporting artists right at the start of their career. Two-thirds of the way there and we’re still convinced, even if we are refreshing our browser every couple of minutes to check our crowdfunding page.

We started Dead Ink when ebooks first started shaking the publishing industry back in 2010. The entire industry seemed to be in a panic about this disruptive technology and how it could be the end of everything. We saw it as an opportunity. Digital technology was an opportunity to do things a new way and, in the process, publish the books that we felt weren’t getting published: risky books.

Arts Council England supported us to set up and release our first few books –  and supported us again earlier this year to establish our new project, Publishing the Underground. We’ve combined crowdfunding with subscription. This allows people to order our books in advance and support the new writers. As a reward they get each beautifully designed hardback book posted to them as it is released – a book that features their name printed within it as someone who made it possible.

None of this would have been possible without Arts Council England, which has supported us, but, as part of our agreement, we have to raise the print costs. Which is where the £3,000 goal comes into it: £3,000 to publish three books by new and emerging authors over the course of six months. The ambition sits somewhere between plausible and impossible. Now we sit refreshing the web page and watching as it creeps towards 100 per cent.

Will we get there? Twenty-one days isn’t very long, £1,096 is a lot of money to raise. That’s 36.5 people who will have to buy the complete subscription to all three books at £30. That’s 91.3 people if they order just a single book at £12 and not the whole subscription. We’ve been driven mad by mathematical excitement. Neither of those numbers are impossible. But are they possible?

Meanwhile we continue working on the books and getting them ready to go to print. Once we’re done, the books are released and go on to live a full life in bookshops and libraries around the country. just like every other book – every author’s dream. It’s a huge hug of validation that tells them they were right to commit so much time to fiction and art in a world increasingly uninterested in supporting such endeavours.

So we keep refreshing our browser, watching that number, convinced that there are still people who value the authors and the work, commitment and passion they take to produce. That’s part of the problem with books: they’re not disposable, they’re not instant. It can take years to write a book, particularly if you’re still developing as an author. And for most debut authors, their first published book is not their first book at all, just the first to get that far. Most have written two or three before even getting to this point.

Last year we published SJ Bradley’s Brick Mother. It wasn’t her first novel and she was about to give up on it before we discovered it and signed her. It took another year of editing and rewrites even from there before it was in bookshops.

A year after she was published, at the launch of this project she got up on stage to speak to the tiny audience willing to spend their Friday night at a literature event.

“Independent publishing is important, because it dares to publish work nobody else dares to back: work that breaks new ground, work that is weird and unconventional and sometimes defiantly uncommercial. Independent presses blaze a trail that others later follow, and give authors that important first step in developing their work and getting it out into the world.”

What we’re trying to do might be impossible. It might be unwise to stand up to the giants of publishing and create our own way of working. But, we do have 103 people who support us. That’s 103 people who have spent their money to say that they do believe in us, and that means something.

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