Interview with genre fiction crowdfunder Simon Spanton

Unbound recently hired Simon Spanton to help develop their genre fiction list. Norah Myers interviews Simon to find out why genre fiction is a good fit for Unbound’s crowdfunding model.

After four years as a bookseller, twenty five years working in editorial for two different publishers and a year as a freelance editor and book reviewer, Simon Spanton joined Unbound in January 2017 to set up a genre list for the publisher. He’s based in Edinburgh. When not reading he’s generally walking, cycling, listening to music or watching films. Some of these things can be done at the same time as reading, some can’t. Apparently.

1) What appeals the most to you about publishing genre fiction?

I love the scope and variety of the genres within the category. Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror encompass so many times, spaces and moods. But also so many literary approaches – from adventure fiction to romance, to literary experiment. Sometimes in the same book. It’s like being able to publish all fiction.

There’s something about genre authors too – I think because they have so often had their books dismissed by some critics as not being “proper writing”, they have a boundless enthusiasm and fight for what they do.

But I also love how engaged and enthusiastic the readers are, the relationship they build with those favourite writers. You can’t bluff genre fans – they generally know more than you about their favourite genre. There’s so much enthusiasm in all quarters of genre publishing that it’s had not to love working in it.

2) What was the best book you read recently that could be classified as genre fiction? What made it special?

That’s a really hard question to answer. My idea of what the best book I’ve read lately tends to shift around a lot. A book that has stayed with me from last year though is The Arrival of Missives by Aliya Whiteley. It’s a slim novel that starts off as a beautifully observed love story that plays out between a young woman and a teacher in an English village after the first world war. The language is subtle and wonderfully controlled, the descriptions of landscape and nature wonderfully done. But as you are reading a weirdness in the events begins to insinuate itself until you find yourself in the middle of an extraordinary SF story about time and history.

I think it’s special because the writing is so beautiful, because it champions the importance of one person’s (and in the context of the time, importantly, one woman’s) actions in vast events and because it allows for huge ideas without ever overwhelming a very human story.

It’s so economic too – genre has tended to fall victim to commercial demands for massive books and series to carry massive stories – Aliya’s book shows you can also tell a story with huge ramifications in dozens of pages, not hundreds.

3) What makes genre fiction a good fit for Unbound’s model?

First and foremost I think it’s the genre community. There’s such a strong link between readers and authors (via conventions and social media), such a sense that they are in the business of genre together that I think there’s a fantastic opportunity to tap into that for crowdfunding – to give readers even more of a chance to be part of a book’s success story, to allow them to get their hands on the books they really want, that the authors really love without, perhaps, some of the very necessary restrictions of the standard publishing model getting in the way.

Because the genre is so varied, because the authors are so creative I think there are sometimes ideas and books that struggle to find a place and these are often the books that are very personal to the authors and therefore have a chance to be very personal for readers too – crowdfunding is a lovely way to make the personal work. A

lso because of how it has been used in other genre media crowdfunding is a familiar model for lots of fans and one which can readily translate to books for them.

4) What do you most look forward to in your new role?

Talking to authors and readers, discovering what new favourite books there might be out there that haven’t been able to find the light of day. I know all too well from my years in publishing that there can be many reasons for a book not to have found a readership and I understand that often those reasons are valid and proper within the traditional model.

Having the chance to explore a different model with authors old and new seems to me to have endless opportunities. Having just moved to Scotland I’m also looking forward to learning more about authors (both inside the genre and out) in this part of the world and establishing links between them and Unbound.

5) What advice could you give fiction authors who currently struggle with crowdfunding?

Well I think we need to take into consideration that working with crowdfunding is a new thing for me as well. But what I have learned already is that I think it’s helpful for authors to remember how valuable favourite books are to them, how caught up they were in the excitement of a book, how close they felt to the author over it. Publishing is a tough business working inside tight margins and with huge risks and it’s easy for that sense of value to come under pressure.

Crowdfunding seems to me to be about emphasising the value – sometimes in unexpected ways. It’s about remembering how special a book can be for an individual reader and being motivated by that. I think you could be surprised by how involved some readers want to be and also by how excited they can be about the story around the book and how being a part of that can be important to them.

If the author can convey their excitement about their book to the reader (one-to-one contact works best for that) that’s the thing that will make a crowd funder work. A crowdfunded book is the best possible illustration of the fact that there is a market that shares your excitement.

And finally if the whole notion looks daunting I’ve sat down with our team of advisors who help authors with their crowdfunding and really had my eyes opened to how much there is you can do as an author to fire up that excitement. There are so many possibilities and Unbound are there to help.

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