J-F. Dubeau is a graphic designer and brand specialist form Montreal, Canada. As part of learning to cope with a crippling addiction to story telling and long form narratives he has spent the past five years writing and learning to write. His first novel, ‘The Life Engineered’ is currently in production at Inkshares and will be released as part of the Sword & Laser Collection in early 2016. He is currently funding his second book, ‘A God in the Shed’ and he thinks you should pre-order a copy as a way to help him and support new authors. When he’s not writing or winning his bread and butter, J-F. can be found hiking or snowboarding. While he does both, J-F. hates jogging about as much as he loves telling stories, thus the balance is maintained.
by J-F. Dubeau
Have you heard? There’s a new player in the publishing game. She’s loud and assertive and making a splash. I see her walking around the field, making clever alliances and building profitable relationships. She’s climbing the ladder. Her prospects are good, only surpassed by her ambitions. Make no mistake however; she’s not a dirty player and she’s not perfect either, but she is important to the evolution of the game and it’s surprising how the commentators aren’t mentioning her name more often.
I’m talking about Inkshares. The little startup is beginning to make waves in the industry and has the potential to truly disturb the established order. At first glance, it looks like one of the many crowdfunding platforms that are multiplying like proverbial lagomorphs all over the internet right now. Yet another contender trying to be the next Kickstarter or Patreon. Seen from another angle though, Inkshares might look like a simple self-publishing company. Another crowded market of wannabes hungry to be the next big thing. I’ve been guilty of calling it ‘the Kickstarter of self-publishing’, a complete disservice to the startup.
Here’s what Inkshares really is; the democratization of the publishing slush pile. I’m no expert, so forgive the conjecture, but it seems to me that the slush pile is the enemy of the publishing industry. It sits there, huge and unconquerable. Hungry for resources to go through it and sift out the gems within. The rare and few profitable submissions that can, either by the strength of their raw quality or established following, generate profits. How much money is wasted in these resources? How many awesome books fail to find purchase as they get lost in the noise? Someone had to come up with a solution and that someone might be Inkshares.
On Inkshares, books are submitted by writers who run a crowdfunding campaign, gathering readers and followers until they reach a predetermined goal (750 pre-orders for digital books, 1000 for soft covers). The twist is that while there is a dollar value attached to each pre-order, that number doesn’t immediately matter compared to the actual pre-orders. Once the goal is reached by the campaign, the book goes into publishing.
A normal crowdfunding platform would hand over the cash (taking their cut) and let the writer handle the rest. Editing, formatting, design, cover, printing, distribution, sales, etc. All of it falls not the shoulders of someone who is usually unqualified and unwilling to handle these tasks. Worst, it takes precious time away from the writing. A wise writer might turn their manuscript and funds to a self-publishing platform at that point.
This is another angle where Inkshares differs. Talking with Jeremy Thomas, CEO at Inkshares, I learned that the startup sees itself as a genuine publisher, albeit one that follows a model for the internet age. Having gone through the publishing process myself, I can testify to the truth of this. Funded books are handled very much like they would be by a traditional publisher and everyone who has a hand in them shows genuine interest in the book’s success. Inkshares works with suppliers such as Girl Friday Productions to handle the editing, design and layout. Once the book is ready, it gets distributed through a partnership with Ingram. This allows the book to show up in places your garden variety self-publisher doesn’t usually reach. Inkshares also markets the books by reaching out to appropriate media (some contenders to the Sword & Laser Collection contest were featured on SF Signal earlier this year), issuing press releases and helping with convention appearances. I have yet to go through this part of the process, so there’s certainly room to drop the ball, but I have no reason to believe it won’t go as smoothly as everything else.
One statement from Thomas that sticks in mind is how Inkshares wants to publish best sellers. Probably not exclusively, though that would be a lofty goal, but having a few books break the best seller lists in a handful of categories would legitimize the startup in the eyes of many. As someone who’s publishing a book through Inkshares, this pleases me.
The current reality:
Inkshares has had some good hits already. They’ve so far published 10 books (9 physical and 1 digital) and have around 40 more in production. Amongst the published works are Gary Whitta’s Abomination, Luke Murphy’s Blasted by Adversity (an insightful account of the reality of being a combat veteran) and The Man Within (a biography of Winston Churchill). It’s also attracting the attention of already published authors like Andrew Mayne (Angel Killer, Name of the Devil) who mentioned his interest in the platform on his podcast ‘AfterThings’. Manu Saadia’s book, Trekonomics is also buzzing right now with a recent interview in the Washington Post.
The big names are important if Inkshares is going to work as a publisher. While their current effort seems to focus on attracting writers, it’s by becoming a marketplace for books both published and in the process of funding that it will truly shine. It’s a difficult balance to maintain this early in the process and so far the startup seems to be taking the right steps. In spring they ran a contest in collaboration with The Sword & Laser podcast and book club, attracting several aspiring authors along with whatever supporters they could bring with them. The experiment must have been a success as they are repeating it with a second contest, this time associating with internet juggernaut The Nerdist.
Currently, Inkshares boasts tens of thousands of members, over two thousand of whom are writers. As more books get funded and published, I expect the number of the later to skyrocket, but it’s my opinion that to maintain a good rate of funding, there needs to be more readers. Therein lies the balancing act. Attracting enough writers to find some of the diamonds in the rough, but also sufficient supporters so that they hit their goals. Inkshares has a credits system in place to take care of that angle. Almost everything a member does on Inkshares will earn them credits. Signing up earns credits, referring books earns credits, even getting your first follower earns you credits. This means that you can get free books, or a reasonable discount is relatively easily. Assuming the books you support get funded.
In my opinion, this isn’t a feature that Inkshares is pushing sufficiently. I’m told that the credit system isn’t a temporary measure though and that gives me hope. As a writer, I am eager to see a larger pool of potential supporters. More importantly, I want to see these members treat Inkshares like a proper marketplace worth visiting regularly to shop around for new projects to back. The credit system encourages supporters to go back to Inkshares and shop around, looking for other projects to back with their credit and finding great books in the process. There’s something magical about being part of the process that brings a book from concept to reality. A sense of ownership that can’t be found by simply browsing Amazon. Inkshares is banking that this feeling becomes addictive to its members.
Inkshares is particularly relevant to the Science Fiction and Fantasy genres. There are a lot of us with weird and interesting ideas and very few publishers that will take a second look at our work. However, if we can bring our own audience to the table and Inkshares can get the legitimacy it’s looking for, we might see an explosion of new and innovative fiction in the genres. Speculative fiction seems to be having difficulty pulling itself into the present, being so steeped in traditions and well established ideals. Having a new publisher that challenges the old norms might help shake things up and get us to take a fresh look at ourselves. If nothing else, it’s one more door for aspiring writers like me to walk through, hopefully finding an inviting home on the other side.
Currently, Inkshares is in the middle of it’s second Science Fiction and Fantasy writing contest. This time they are working with the Nerdist. There are some incredible looking books competing to get published and be inducted into the Nerdist Collection. For writers, it’s a race. A grand marathon of social media appeals and the hunt for supporters. For readers, it’s a feeding frenzy. A buffet of new and promising works, all of which have a chance of being published. Personally, I’m looking forward to A.C. Weston’s She is the End, Robert Wren’s Ophelia Doll and A. J. Ainsworth’s These Old Bones amongst others. Of course, I have my own book in the running; A God in the Shed which I encourage you to take a look at,but with over 250 entries in the contest there is bound to be something for you to fall in love with and become a part of with your support.