Richard Smyth on the Move to Unbound

As a writer, you're a risk. That's part of the job. If you're going to get anywhere, into print, on to bookshelves, into people's heads (which is where we all really want to be), someone somewhere is going to have to take a chance on you. Or you're going to have to take a chance on yourself.

In 2015, Dead Ink (the smart team that had published my first novel, Wild Ink, the previous year) launched a groundbreaking crowdfunder. They called it 'participatory publishing'. "Every book that you support right now," they told their readers, "will mean that a book that previously didn't exist now does. You're not just a reader; you're a maker."

Two well-received novels – The Shapes of Dogs' Eyes by Harry Gallon and The Wave by Lochlan Bloom – sprang into being as a consequence; a third, Wes Brown's long-awaited follow-up to Shark, will follow soon.

These aren't mainstream writers, and these weren't mainstream books (there's nothing wrong with being mainstream, whatever 'mainstream' means, but they weren't it). They were books that Dead Ink wanted to publish, because Dead Ink had, and still have, a touching faith that plenty of people want to read unexpected, original fiction.

It's kind of a gamble, of course. It's a test of your good-hearted faith in the idea that, as a lover of risk-taking literature, you're not alone. And of course, sometimes, it will turn out that you are alone. Hey, it's tough out there.

But as Dead Ink found out, there are happy endings here. There is a market, a big, bustling one, for this sort of writing. It's a market that big publishers don't serve because (a) let's face it, it's not where millionaires are made and (b) they don't feel, in a world of shrinking margins, that it's a risk they can afford to take. or, to put it a little less generously, they don't think that it's a risk worth taking.

My debut, Wild Ink, was published in the traditional way, a blip of relative conventionality in Dead Ink's history of careering innovation. I found them, and they found me, through a combination of tipsy conversations at lit events and a writing competition, LS13, that they ran and I won, improbably, with a story about cricket and grief.

They took a chance on Wild Ink, for which I remain pathetically grateful, and there we were. Words on the printed page. Books on the shelf. 'Proper Novelist' on my tea-stained business card.

And now I find myself at the crowdfunding coalface. My new novel, Quays, is on the roster of Unbound, the world's first crowdfunding publisher. I'm ready to roll the dice again.

There's no hired PR or marketing department; there's just me, sauntering through that big, bustling market, hollering about my wares ("Prize-winning author's spellbinding new Jazz Age drama! GET your prize-winning author's spellbinding new Jazz Age drama here!"). If enough people pledge to buy the book, the book will pop into existence: hooray! If not, well, the gamble didn't pay off this time.

I wrote this novel, “ a booze-soaked journey through Manhattan in the first thirty years of the twentieth century, chewing on radical politics, sex, love, death, books, immigration and fishmongery", because I wanted to. I didn't expect anyone to publish it, and I still don't (a sense of entitlement is one of the writer's worst enemies, up there with Twitter and haemorrhoids), but I really, really want them to, because I'm very proud of it, and I think, here's that touching faith again, that people (people just like YOU!) will like it.

You can find out more, and pledge your support, at Unbound. There are excerpts, and videos of me being diverting, and splendid rewards on offer. If you were planning to buy a book this month (and surely to God you were) then please make it my book, which doesn't yet exist.


Richard Smyth is the author of Wild Ink, published by Dead Ink, and his latest novel, Quays, is crowdfunding on Unbound now. We hope that you can support his latest novel and we look forward to reading it ourselves. Best of luck, Richard!