Crowd-funding Robert Heinlein

by Henry Farrell on September 26, 2017

Farah Mendlesohn, a long time friend of Crooked Timber, writes:

I had to withdraw my book on Heinlein from the original publisher due to length. As I explored other options it became clear that no academic publisher could take it without substantial cuts, and no one who read it, could suggest any. In addition, the length would have pushed up the price for an academic publisher beyond what people could afford. Unbound, a crowdsourcing press, have agreed to take the book and have been able to price it at £12 for the ebook and £35 for the hard back.

The crowd-funding site is here. I’ve read and loved two of Farah’s previous books on f/sf (and have been contemplating a reply to her analysis of Neil Gaiman’s The Wolves in the Wall for several years) – I’ve no doubt this is going to be great.



Quite Likely 09.26.17 at 8:54 pm

Maybe just put it online in ebook form and set up a donation box?


JakeB 09.26.17 at 9:05 pm


I enjoyed Rhetorics of Fantasy a great deal and will look forward to this new book.


mike shupp 09.27.17 at 2:57 am

Hey, a book on Heinlein’s writings? I’m in.


derrida derider 09.27.17 at 4:03 am

If the publisher’s readers think it is too long, it is too long. They are objective and know the audience, the author is not and does not.

Not wishing to be unkind, but is Farah certain that the reason that “no-one who has read it can suggest any [cuts]” is not because the readers were kind friends or themselves overly prolix? Successful authors are ruthless on this, not hesitating to drop their most beloved passages if they don’t add to the core thesis or narrative.


Maria 09.27.17 at 4:27 pm

Done, thanks Hen.


Farah Mendlesohn 09.28.17 at 8:17 am

Thank you Henry.

Quite Likely, even at its simplest a book like this needs a professional copy editor, an indexer and a designer. Those don’t come cheap.

The crowdfunding is now at 96%.


Francis Spufford 09.28.17 at 1:25 pm

I’m in, too. Funding now at 98%.

Derrida Derider, Farah may have turned prolix and mushy, but only if she has experienced some catastrophic event alienating her from her entire previous publishing history. I for one would like to read all of what she has to say about Heinlein, not just some of it. The ruthlessness of authors sometimes manifests itself in digging their heels in and refusing to do what publishers suggest, and sometimes they’re right to.


Adam Roberts 09.29.17 at 7:33 am

Project is now fully funded.

Now (full disclosure: Farah is a friend of mine, and I also have a project up for crowdsourcing, unrelated to the discussion in this thread) what’s seems to me most interesting about all this is what it means for academic publishing. As it stands, University presses operate a hyperbolic pricing strategy that limits the pool of purchasers to libraries and, er, that’s it. Unbound do very handsome books, and there are many people in and outside the academy likely to find a critical study of Heinlein edifying and interesting and happy to pay £35 where they would never pay £85 or £120 or whatever. Plus there is a large number of academic writers interested in getting their work out to readers at a less exorbitant price than the standard model. Indeed, if what this route catches on, the Uni presses will have to have a long hard think about their business model.


Rob Barrett 09.30.17 at 3:17 am

I dunno, Adam, I find that CUP and OUP aside, most university presses are far more affordable than the commercial publishers handling scholarly books. My own book was published by Notre Dame at a price of $35, and Minnesota’s books are routinely no more than $30-40 a pop.


DCA 09.30.17 at 1:46 pm

In response to (8): I don’t see this model being used by many academics, because the main reason for getting your book published by an academic publisher is that it has then gone through peer review–and anything not so reviewed doesn’t count for promotion decisions. One answer is to replace the reader-pays model with an author-pays one, with the library at the author’s institution providing the funds. Publishers (and authors) can resist this because it looks like vanity-press publishing, but some publishers have developed this as a path. For example, the University of California Press has an author-pays option called Luminos; this produces standard books, online for free and print-on-demand for not a lot of money.


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Collin Street 10.01.17 at 12:43 am

You could disaggregate the editorial and print processes; libraries acquire digital files and — if felt necessary — arrange for hard-copyisation locally.

Because, seriously, the kit you need to make POD books is pretty attainable; digital printing presses are just giant photocopiers/printers, and the perfect binders and guilotines can be had for… about 10k for both? so most larger print shops have them already.


Collin Street 10.01.17 at 12:45 am

Which is to say: anybody who can produce a physical book can produce a print-on-demand book, you don’t need special equipment for the PODness. And the ability to produce physical books is extremely widely distributed and, honestly, significantly underutilised.

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