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 !