Writing Postcards in Blood: The Economics of Community

Irish award-winning writer Julian Gough has decided to use crowdfunding for his forthcoming book in an unusual way. We are becoming used to some writers turning to crowdfunding sites like Pubslush, Authr, Unbound (crowdfunder and publisher), and of course one of the most familiar sites, Kickstarter—though Kickstarter is not specifically aimed at writers. However, Gough created his Kickstarter project to fund the writing and completion of his next novel, Infinite Ammo, ‘outside of the existing publishing & financial system…’


The Las Vegas Postcards is a little art project; a literary experiment. It will let people who enjoy my work help to fund a research & writing trip, from Berlin (where I live) to Las Vegas (where my next novel, Infinite Ammo, is set), for the month of August. In return, each funder will, firstly, get a PDF of my favourite, as-yet-unpublished, short story. It’s called “Harvest”, and was shortlisted for the €15,000 Davy Byrnes Award this year. (The judges, Yiyun Li, Jon McGregor, and Booker Prize winner Anne Enright, called it “a superb story”; but no, I didn’t win. That’s one reason I’m short of cash, and need your help with this.) You will also get to follow my adventures in Las Vegas through my Kickstarter updates; and, most importantly, if you are in for more than ten bucks, I will send you a postcard from Vegas.~ Julian Gough, Litcoin (Kickstarter Project)
  Hold on to your seats, here’s Julian in person to explain…


For pledges ranging from $1 to $450, Gough decided to offer rewards of everything from a PDF of an unpublished short story, an erotic frisson, coffee or whiskey-stained postcards adorned with personal messages from Las Vegas (the setting and place where he is currently writing his novel), postcards with bullet holes, a Skype call direct from Las Vegas, and even a limited edition postcard written in blood!
Sound pretty crazy?
Gough had a fund target of $1500, primarily using Twitter to promote it, he reached his target in just four hours and doubled it in two days. When his project finally closed today (August 19th), it stood at $8,676, almost six times what he had originally set. He addressed his those who made pledges this evening on Kickstarter.


I just wanted to say here, thank you so much to everyone who has backed it. The Las Vegas Postcards project was an experiment; and it has wildly exceeded, not just my original financial goal, but all my expectations. Running this Kickstarter has, to my surprise, been a deeply moving experience. […] If you’ve arrived here after the project has ended, and you’re interested in doing something like this yourself (because I designed it to be useful; something that could be copied or modified by other writers), then come talk to me on twitter, where I am @juliangough, or email me…~ Julian Gough, Litcoin (Kickstarter Project)
Gough sees his Litcoin project as forming the basis of a template for other authors to experiment with and believes that society is often quick to laud writers and artists, but not always financially. Speaking in an article today in the Guardian UK, Gough remarked:
[…]as a society, we really value our most original storytellers, the men and women experimenting with literature, forming the future, we give them really high status; but no money. […] Advances for weird, interesting books have evaporated. Their choice now is write and starve, or work purely for money full-time, and have no time and energy and headspace to write. That’s a market failure. So I wanted to see if I could invent a new economic model that could turn the affection in the reader’s heart into food in the writer’s fridge.~ Julian Gough launches ‘Litcoin’ Kickstarter to ‘remodel the economics of reading’ – Guardian UK
While I agree with some of what Gough says, I think this is less a societal issue, and I note Gough’s comment in the Guardian UK refers to turning ‘the affection of the reader’s heart into food’ for the writer, and that’s the slightly misleading and out of context headline of the piece—the economics of reading.
Gough self-published his first book before his debut novel was published with Flamingo, an imprint of HarperCollins. Since then he has published books with Old Street Publishing, an eclectic independent British publisher, shorter novellas with DailyLit, and a book of verse with Salmon Poetry in Ireland. He has previously won the BBC Short Story Prize and was shortlisted for the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize. I can’t help feeling Gough has come full circle, though he does indicate the following:

I don’t have a big publisher on this project (I like to write books in total freedom, then find them a home when I’m done.) I just have you.~ Julian Gough, Litcoin (Kickstarter Project)
The success of Gough’s Kickstarter project is both impressive and a crowdfunding blueprint as to how an author can connect and reach out to his/her readers, even while describing himself as ‘a typical, highly strung, socially inept, neurotic writer.’ But this description hides the reality that Gough delivers a unique and esoteric voice regularly through his website and social media stream, as well as the articles he writes for newspapers and magazines. This is about the economics of community. It underlines what I consistently say when it comes to crowdfunding for a book project. It usually only works well if you have an established author brand and an existing and direct connection with your readers.
With the recent survey from the Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society in the UK indicating the median income of professional authors continues to decline, and author advances a great deal lower than book readers might assume, the idea of a full time writer does automatically equate to a full time wage no matter what path of publication is pursued.
Gough may be finding times tough as a writer, but like many others, but I think he has a great deal more going for him than he realises. He may also have discovered that he’s simply just been swimming in the wrong pool for far too long.    

Mick Rooney – Publishing Consultant

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