Interview with Samuel Dodson: Crowdfunding, Philosophy and Dogs

Picture Credits: Mark Bowsher

Samuel Dodson: Crowdfunding, Philosophy and Dogs

Tell us about your project in one line. 

All philosophers stole their ideas from their dogs. Our book reveals this long-forgotten truth.

Will we laugh? Will we cry? Will we contemplate?

Hopefully you’ll laugh! It’s a satirical, illustrated book – perfect for gifts and coffee tables – but you could say it’s contemplative, too. After all, it answers some pretty important questions, like, “is there even such a thing as a ‘good’ dog?”; “are tennis balls always real?” and “is a bark truly worse than a bite?”

What triggered your idea? 

Well, firstly I love dogs (who doesn’t?!), and I’ve always thought there’s so much they could teach us about the world. There’s something incredible about the unconditional love that dogs show us that is part of the reason, I think, that any house that has a good dog inside instantly feels like home.

But on top of this, I’ve always been fascinated by ideas – by politics, philosophy, history, literature – and all the myriad ways human beings have conversations with one another; how we express ourselves and make sense of our world and realities. But human beings are both supremely intelligent and prone to acts of supreme ignorance. Surely, dogs are the more intelligent animals; because they love, listen, and forgive. We merely don’t understand the genius that goes behind the eating of rotten apples.

The inspiration for the book hit as clichéd as a lightning bolt. I was walking through a park here in London, where I saw a Labrador staring at the trunk of a tree. There was nothing there that you or I could see; but this dog was transfixed. Was the dog was contemplating the very existence of that tree? Suddenly I had a vision of an illustration with this dog and his tree, captioned with the words; ‘to tree or not to tree, that is the question’. Within 5-10 minutes, that idea had ballooned (like a Labrador who may or may not have just eaten a whole, unguarded bag of food) into an entire collection of images and quotes from philosophical canine masterminds. I went home and immediately put a short pitch down on paper, sent it to my sister (who is the most incredible illustrator), and she somehow deciphered my notes and turned them into these beautiful drawings.

From then on, it just grew and grew as we added more ‘fur’lisophical stories and illustrations together, re-writing the history of philosophy as it should be understood: with our four-legged friends as the masters.

Tell us about your publisher Unbound? How does it all work? Did you approach traditional publishers first? 

I first heard about Unbound from a friend who runs his own indie printing press. He recommended them to me as one of those rare publishing companies who take chances on new ideas and new authors. The reason they’re able to do this is that the authors need to raise some of the funds for their books first, through crowdfunding to minimize the risk.

This means asking potential readers to ‘pledge’ to support the book in order to help it get made. You could think of it like asking people to pre-order, just really, really early. In return, they get exclusive access to rewards and other merch.With our book, for example, you can get original, unique art prints and even personalised portraits (paw-traits?) of your dog.

Importantly, everyone who pledges gets their name in the book, which means they’re forever and always a part of the project – so if & when it makes it to bookstores, people can say their name is on the bookshelves of Waterstones, Foyles and even the British Library.

Crowdfunding has been a pretty disruptive force in the publishing sector in recent years, even though, as an idea, it goes back centuries (Samuel Pepys crowdfunded his dictionary, for instance). Part of that is because traditional publishers are less and less willing to publish books they deem to be a financial risk. There’s a reason we see more and more prequels and sequels and reboots and celebrity memoirs, and fewer books by new authors. The fact that Unbound are challenging this model is probably why they’ve been so successful so far – picking up awards left right and center. When I saw what they were doing, I went straight to Unbound and pitched them my idea. They’re a selective publisher, which means their editing team decides whether your work is of a high enough standard for them to offer you a contract. It took about 4 months after the initial pitch and half a dozen meetings with their team before we signed contracts and launched the project.

Are you feeling confident? How have you tried to win people over? 

Nothing cures vanity quicker than crowdfunding, as they say. It forces you to confront social norms of being British – being very self-deprecating and modest, and actually shout about this amazing creative project you’ve created. We’ve poured the proverbial blood, sweat and tears into this project already and currently a third of the way towards our target, which can feel pretty daunting. But at the same time, nothing reaffirms your confidence in the goodness and altruism of other humans than when you see a new pledge come in.

It takes a leap of faith for people to pledge to buy something that they won’t receive for perhaps a couple of years (publishing being such a long process as it is, and you’re asking people to buy a product before it’s been made). So we’re offering lots of things alongside the book that people will hopefully really love. Pledging for the book allows any dog owners or lovers to buy personalized portraits of their four legged friends by Rosie, the book’s illustrator and my sister, and also an all-round incredible artist.. People can also pledge to come on a (philosophical) dog walk with me (and, perhaps most importantly, my dog, Reg) in scenic locations around London (where I live) and Bath (where I’m from). 

But I guess the main thing on offer here for people who are considering supporting the book – or some of the other amazing books that Unbound are currently featuring – is the opportunity to be part of something genuinely unique and original. If and when Philosophers’ Dogs is published, it won’t just be ‘my’ book, or my sister’s book; but our book. It’s a collective endeavor that helps bring people together at a time where so many things in our world seem to try and want to drive us apart.

I know that not many authors wrap up in the initial 90-day period, how much longer before you complete your crowdfunding? What has been your most successful tactic so far? 

We’re a third of the way towards our target (which is around £15,000 – it takes a lot of money to publish a book properly!). Some books on Unbound publish within a day or two – others take a year or more. I hope we can reach our target as soon as possible, so that people who have pledged already can get their books quickly! But, as Aristotle’s dog once said, “one must wait for the treat for as long as it takes; and in the waiting, one may find there was a treat hidden all along”

In practical terms – friends and family have been the most amazing people. Not only in terms of their generosity but also in their willingness to go out and spread the word to people they know. There’s also the social media side of things – and you can follow me, and Philosophers’ Dogs on Twitter, where I spend a lot of the day tweeting inspirational philosophical quotes that have been corrected so that they represent the real canine masterminds behind them.

When social media marketing doesn’t work out, I can always resort to voodoo rituals where my partner and I read out names of potential supporters while dancing with all the free dogs in London in front of giant bonfires… 

Have you found there is an Unbound community or do you feel you’re on your own?

Unbound have been really supportive and their editors and marketing team are always up for brainstorming ideas for getting new pledges. But on a day-by-day basis, it is down to you – and so balancing this on top of a day job and life admin and all else besides, can be tough. I wouldn’t recommend buying your first home during crowdfunding! There shouldn’t be any illusion there, it’s hard work. But there’s also an incredible community of Unbound authors (both those who have already published their books and those who are on their own crowdfunding journeys), and they are just the absolute best bunch of creative folk out there. They make sure you’re not alone.

The illustrations accompanying your text make this an original and compelling work – do you see your book going places? 

It is such an honour for me to be working with my incredibly talented sister, Rosie, whose illustrations for the book are absolutely stunning. She is one of the most talented artists I know and she deserves so much recognition for her work. I’m constantly in awe of her ability to take notes and ideas I have – often half-formed ones at that – and turn them into such beautiful drawings and illustrations.

Obviously I’m biased here – but I do think the illustrations add something to this book that you can’t find elsewhere, and will hopefully make readers want to return to its pages again and again to discover new details, and hidden jokes. I can’t wait to start working with Ro on some of the other creative projects she and I have discussed. There’s the small matter of literary cats, for starters…

Having crowdfunded my own short story collection with Unbound I am often asked, Would you do it again? Would you? 

Ask me again if we reach 100%!

Tips for wannabe crowdfunders? Myths to dispel?

  1. It is hard, hard work. Leave your ego outside before walking through that crowdfunding door.
  2. Your friends and family are everything.
  3. Other writers are not your competition. Learn from each other, support one another. Compete with the system; not each other.
  4. There is no better feeling than discovering someone new has pledged for your book. Enjoy it!
  5. The whole thing can feel terrifying, but, as Plato’s dog once said: “Courage is knowing that you do not need to fear vacuum cleaners.”

Thanks so much and good luck with smashing your target Samuel ! 

Catherine McNamara

About Catherine McNamara

Catherine McNamara grew up in Sydney and went to Paris to study French. She ended up in West Africa running a bar. Her short story collection 'The Cartography of Others' is finalist in the People's Book Prize and won the Eyelands International Fiction Prize. Her flash fiction collection 'Love Stories for Hectic People' is out in May. Catherine lives in Italy and has great collections of West African sculpture and Italian heels.

Catherine McNamara grew up in Sydney and went to Paris to study French. She ended up in West Africa running a bar. Her short story collection 'The Cartography of Others' is finalist in the People's Book Prize and won the Eyelands International Fiction Prize. Her flash fiction collection 'Love Stories for Hectic People' is out in May. Catherine lives in Italy and has great collections of West African sculpture and Italian heels.

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