Finding a publisher to take a punt on historical fiction can be tricky -- when that fiction is written in a shadow language and based on a campaign of guerrilla warfare against the Norman invaders of the 11th century, perhaps even more so.
Yet, The Wake, from Paul Kingsnorth didn't find an adventurous publisher -- it found hundreds of them. Those supports, those patrons of the arts have found their faith rewarded as the book has become the first crowd-funded book to be long-listed for the Man Booker Prize. And that's a significant moment for the book's publisher, Unbound, but also for the publishing industry as a whole. A tale, so firmly rooted in the past, is pointing the way to a viable future for book publishing -- a model of crowds and social authors.
While The Wake hasn't yet even been short-listed (yet), it faces down the first criticisms of the crowd-funding model: that it only goes for the easy wins, the crowd-pleasers. Still less does it pander to the other oft-lobbed criticism -- that this is some form of vanity publishing, writing with funds but no merit. Instead, this was a book which the traditional publishing industry had decided would not happen -- and this was a book which found its audience, through the democracy of digital.
It's there that the real signs of revolution lie -- while the arbiters of taste in mainstream publishing looked away, the crowd-funding process meant that it was worth a punt. With crowd-funding, the financial strains of producing such a book are de-risked by a financial process that raises the funding before publication. If the book didn't find an audience, then the audience would never be able to find the book. It would remain unpublished.
It's a model which shifts the balance of power -- the important connection is now not between writer and publisher, but between writer and the readers, the people who matter. The mechanics of digital communication allow an author to find those people willing to back their own judgement in that most personal of cultural choices, fiction, and to build a connection from which both benefit.
The nature of that digital connection does, however, change the nature of the author's role - by financial necessity, the publishing process becomes more social. While the creation of fiction remains a lonely process, a battle between author and page, the process of publishing now has an added social dimensions.
To succeed in this world, authors now need to develop a new skill, and emerge from their garrets to learn the techniques of digital fund-raising. And it's not always easy. Manipulating social media cachet and turning it into something of value is becoming a useful 21st Century skill, but it doesn't necessarily naturally coincide with the ability to craft a decent sentence. But it does offer the chance to the readers to become involved in the process, to back an author they believe in - to become the early adopters of both a process of publishing and of the writing itself.
So while Paul Kingsnorth offers proof that literary fiction can thrive in this new world, he also shows that to do so, the successful author needs to emerge, posting and tweeting, into the digital world. Old-fashioned quality fiction has a new, digital, route to market.