Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Thoughts on Kickstarter

I don't really have a fully formed opinion on Kickstarter yet, but something about it seems kinda shady to me. 

On the outside, everything seems hunky dory.  I mean, you know people want the book, movie, graphic novel, or TV show because it's crowd sourced.  And then it's like the crowd owns a piece of it.  So that's kind of cool.

But, at the same time, doesn't it seem like you may not trust your work to sell otherwise?  You're basically begging for an advance, and then doling out the material.  You're trying to even the odds.  Which is okay, I guess. 

Also, I'm always curious what happens to the money.  I'm sure it's different with movies, because those are expensive... but with books?  When I self-pubbed WITNESS TO DEATH, I went for it.  I spent money on promotion, cover, and formatting.  It wasn't cheap, but I felt like I was confident I'd make that money back and then some.

And I did.  WITNESS did pretty well, in my eyes. 

But it didn't cost me near what people are asking for when they Kickstart their novels.  So, the question lies, where does the money go?  Are people using it on a mortgage payment?  Author photos?  Or are they doing something with their books I don't know about?

I'm not writing this post to make people angry.  I truly don't know the answer.  I need more information to understand.  My opinion isn't informed yet.  I'm just going on gut reaction....

So, if you could fill me in on Kickstarter, I'd really appreciate it.


Steve Weddle said...

I see Kickstarter as a way to fun projects that have start-up costs.

Video games.
Independent films.

I've seen some Kickstarter campaigns for novels in which the author is asking for money to fund a research trip out of state and cover design and typesetting.

I think Declan Burke had a thing a couple years ago in which he asked folks to commit to purchasing his new book and then he'd have them printed and could cover whatever expense. I think that's kinda like a pre-order.

Kickstarting a project is a great way to support something you believe in.

I just wonder how much 'start-up cost' fiction writing has.

Thomas Pluck said...

I wrote about this myself, and I agree with you. I prefer it best when it's like a pre-order, and you don't pay a premium for being a supporter.

There is not much overhead in self-publishing, but I like the idea of an author judging his or her audience's reception for another book in a series. If you have so many things you can write, why not measure the response if you can?

On the other hand, I know a blogger/journalist who hasn't had any fiction published, who has managed to raise $5k to self-publish a story collection. I sincerely hope it is a well designed book, since she wants $15 for the PDF file. And the stories are already written, so it is not like "writing for hire." I thought that was somewhat arrogant, and I did not support her project, because I edited one of her stories a year ago, thought it needed a lot of work, and was ignored. Not very promising.

However, if a writer with a proven track record wants to be paid in advance to write another book in a series, a known quantity... I don't see why not. I anted up for Christa Faust's next Butch Fatale book, and Kickstarter allowed her to offer a cool Ace Double style paperback as one of the options, something we'd likely never see otherwise.

Kickstarter campaigns for anthologies allow writers to be paid without the editor laying out a lot of cash, too. Fireside Mag kickstarts issues. I signed up for that. It costs me the same as if I waited for it, so it is like a pre-order. I fully support that sort of venture.

Bryon Quertermous said...

Chuck Wendig has made a few good points on this in the comments on his Bait Dog page. You can't look at KS as just a fancy pre-order system. Chuck called it part pre-order and part pledge drive. It's available, like Thomas says, to help contribute to and support writers we like.

I do agree with you that a lot of these projects seem overly generous in their estimate, but that's up to the individual backing the project to determine. As with anything the site can be used for good or evil and one should venture in with caution and knowledge.

Chuck said...


Yeah, here's why it's not shady: because nobody's putting a gun to anybody's head and saying: "Contribute or else."

You contribute: the book/film/comic happens. You don't: it doesn't. It is elegantly democratic.

I Kickstarted BAIT DOG because I didn't know if I had the audience. SHOTGUN GRAVY sold well enough and had lots of great reviews, but it sold at a very low price and wasn't sure that it was sustainable in a larger way. Kickstarter allowed me to prove that it was.

As Byron said, it all depends on how the Kickstarter-er (not a word) views the process, and I view it as half pre-order, half artist patronage.

But once again, the democracy of the thing presents itself: if that's a problem, then one shouldn't contribute. And that's not said with any dismissal -- I mean, that's how it's supposed to work.

That said, complaining about Kickstarter is the new complaining about self-publishing.

-- c.

Bryon Quertermous said...

This Byron sounds like a smart fellow...

Chuck said...

Oh, also -- related, though coming at it from the side --

Here's another way Kickstarter is good for authors: success in that space looks good to publishers, if that's of interest. Having been successful with two Kickstarters (BAIT DOG and DINOCALYPSE NOW) was, I believe, enticing when it came time to put other books out there on submission.

-- c.

Chuck said...

I'd trust Byron far more than I'd trust a Bryon. Bryons tend to known deviants. KNOWN DEVIANTS.

(Ahem, sorry for the misspelling, sir. My fingers obviously think you should be renamed.)

-- c.

Dave White said...

As Chuck pointed out on Twitter, I kind of stacked the deck of my opinion by using shady. I realized halfway through the post that I really didn't have a true opinion on Kickstarter and was trying to revise it, but still leave in my initial thoughts. Shady may be an unfair word, but I'm going to leave it in... because that's how I originally thought.

Anonymous said...

I've backed a few novels using kickstarter from the Dinocalypse Trilogy by Evil Hat to two of Matt Forbeck's 12 for 12 novels. I think it is a great way for an author to a) judge interest in their project, b) get some money to do whatever they need to do it with it and c) offer some unique items to people who are willing to back them.

No one is being forced to do anything. Don't want to back a book? Then don't. However the idea that getting a book going via kickstarter is some how shady is laughable to me.

Bryon Quertermous said...

Dave, you stacked the deck by being a boob. But thank you for valuing our entertainment over your public image.

And Chuck, I have a relatives who have "fingers" that think my name should be spelled that way. And as I am a known deviant it's an easy mistake to make.

Zoe E. W. said...

Well, I don't even know where to begin. First of all, when a author asks for money over the cost of the cover and editing fees, what they're doing is putting together money to pay for marketing online. While the Kickstarter campaign may pull in a number of dedicated fans who already know the author, they still will want to get that book out to people who didn't know about the Kickstarter promotion.

This is not to say you have to factor in extra funds for promotion, but it's not a bad idea. My editor and I chose to use Indiegogo in an effort to get her money for her bills. She had volunteered to edit for me, bless her, but she's in desperate need for cash to pay off student loans, bills, and other expenses, and she has a baby to take care of as well. But we didn't think we'd make the minimum goal for Kickstarter, and I suggested we do an Indiegogo campaign instead. We've got 65 hours left to our campaign and have secured $288 of our $555 goal. On the one hand, it's not as much as we hoped to get, but she will still get some money to give her breathing room, and for that, we're both grateful. Truly, without these kinds of incentive-based funding drives, She'd still be flat broke.

And on that note, I've seen four blogs this week already about how Kickstarter is a "cyberbegging service," and I'm surprised how many author seem to want to poison the well for other artists and authors. Consider Crossed Genres, a magazine that went under due to a lack of subscriptions. They started a funding drive and have enough money now to pay every author pro rates for a year. Their campaign will do a lot of good for many authors this next year. Or look at The Furture Fire's We See a Different Frontier an antology project about colonial stories told from the other side of the tranditional viewpoint. This is the kind of project that publishers would shy away from for being too awkward to market, so the editors markted directly to the readers and made so much money they can pay pro rates, hire on a co-editor, and put together a solid marketing plan. THAT'S the point of Kickstarter, to fund projects that might have slipped through the cracks without early financial support from fans.

But instead of highlighting the positives, some authors seem to be grousing that this all "reeks of desperation." And it's simply not true. I'd suggest that before you talk badly about a community-based service that's doing a lot of good for creative indies in multiple markets, maybe you could do more research, and less shooting yourself and everyone else in the feet.

Anonymous said...

I don't know about anyone else, but the thought of an author spending a load of money on their author photo is really amusing to me.

I don't know though. I mean, essentially what it comes down to is consumer responsibility. If they want to contribute £5 or £50 to fund a novel, then that is there decision.

It's not really the author's fault (though, I'll get into that a bit later) if someone contributes a large amount for something that may not even be funded anyway. The consumer is the one taking the decision and taking the risk.

But in regards to what they're spending the money on . . . I honestly don't know where it's all going. Maybe I'm just being naive, but I'd like to think that whatever they are using the money for is key to the production of their novel.

I will say this, though. The different levels (as in, "if you pledge this amount, this is what you can get") definitely encourages people to pledge ridiculous amounts of money, that they wouldn't have otherwise, for something that doesn't appear to be worth all the money. That is the main problem I see with kickstarter. I honestly think it borders on exploitation. But other than that, it appears to be a fairly legitimate way of getting your novel out there.

Nick said...

I've seen alot of authors post novel plans online on Kickstarter and real often they don't say anything about why they need the money.
They just say if you give them money at this level they'll give you a copy of the book and at this level they name a character after you and at this level they give you a copy of this other book and at this level they will even skype with you or your bookclub.
It seems like this is like someone said more about preordering a book and buying this thing rather than helping an actual artist fund a project.
If it's like that then you are not funding a project. You are funding a person.

Victor Gischler said...

Just saw your tweet, Dave.

For me, I have a very specific project that can't really go to a publisher, so a successful kickstarter project gets me off the dime. (Check out Blogpocalypse for a more in-depth explanation.)

My 2 cents.

Dave White said...

I guess part of the question lies in the fact that I've seen some Kickstarters advertised where the book is already done, edited, been shopped, and is about to be e-pubbed. What's the money for then? I can understand it if you want to pay for covers, editing and some promotion, but... when everything is done...

Zoe, you're paying for the editing with your fundraising.

And the crowdsourcing idea is kinda cool.

I'm just confused.

(And yes, the author photo line was supposed to be funny.)

Anonymous said...

Posting this as anonymous because blogger seems to hate my log in details today;

There seems to be something in the air at the moment about questioning KICKSTARTER. It's in vogue. Which isn't to aim a kick at Dave for raising it. I think his questions speak to a genuine issue, and I think the time is right for a re-evalution of KS.

Which also isn't to go all out in the other direction and say the service is wrong.

I think it's a transparency issue. What I think we have is something that's a very young and new take on
a very old idea. I know several people who've used it to raise funds, and each of them is a totally stand-up artist who has used KS to raise funds needed to work on a project. Comic books, albums, novellas, i've seen people I know raise funds to produce each of them. And these guys are transparent about what they're doing. "This is what I need, this is why, this is what the money will pay for, this is what you'll get."

I think the key is whether the folks using it are being upfront. In the comic book community this week, a few industry insiders started to publicly raise concerns about the cost of printing a comic vs the costs some KICKSTARTER projects are asking to raise.

And that's where we're at, I think. If the artist is being honest about what the funds are needed for, and how the funds will help the project to completion, then we're all good. But with anything that's gotten as big and popular as KICKSTARTER, it's worth having this conversation and asking the questions, just to keep it honest.


seana graham said...

I don't think I could really weigh in on Kickstarter when it comes to books, but I had a great experience with it when it came to funding a local community project. A high school teacher used it to get money so that her class could do mosaics that would then be used to decorate one of our local bridges. You donated from a variety of levels and even the lowest levels got invitations to be as active a part of it as they wanted. I didn't really do much but contribute a small amount of money and then go to the unveiling or whatever you would call it. It was very gratifying because the bridge looked beautiful and the kids and families were there, proud and excited.

I suppose the only downside is that probably the larger public should be funding these projects, but since that's not what's happening in the moment, it's nice that an alternative has opened up.

Jeff Xilon said...

I have to say that I find some of these attitudes cropping up about Kickstarter quite disturbing. Two attitudes in particular are bothering me.

First are the folks who seem to be trying to define what is acceptable as a kickstarter project. Look, if kickstarter approves it then its acceptable. That's between the kickstarter and the people applying for a project. People outside of this dynamic trying to set rules for everyone else is crap.

If you want to use kickstarter then do it the way you want, if someone else wants to try something in a different way then leave them alone, it's really none of your business.

Similarly, the second (and somewhat intertwined) attitude showing up in these conversations seems to be a desire to protect people from being taken advantage of. Could we find a more demeaning attitude?

Who do some of you think you're protecting by raising these questions? Its like you think kickstarter backers are a pack of know-nothing children. Laurence Pratt, for example, thinks people are induced to spend "ridiculous amounts of money" by the tiers system. Why assume the folks buying into the higher tiers aren't making an informed choice about how to spend their money? If it makes them happy to spend it and they like what they get for it who are you to criticize?

The same goes with Dave's complaint about the finished books. If the author says the book is finished and is asking for money for whatever reasons they say then what's the problem? No one has to give them money! If people do, then they've made a choice of how to spend their money. You folks choose how to spend yours and leave everyone else alone.

Look, if someone backed a project and was unhappy with the outcome or weren't given what the artist promised they'd get then I could see those people making complaints in the specific. But general worrying and criticizing how an artist and his patrons choose to interact financially is crap.

Anonymous said...

Well, I mean, for writers with day jobs choosing to pay for cover or formatting or editing or whatever is one thing. For writers, like you mentioned Chuck, who make their money from writing to decide they're going to fund a "fun" project by spending time that could otherwise be spent on paying projects, on top of the expenses, it might be nice to know there's a built-in audience.

For projects that are finished, I suppose they person could be looking for marketing costs or conferences... It could also be this person didn't feel comfortable asking for money for something he/she wasn't sure would be done in a month of so and the money's to pay for the costs already accrued, but weren't really part of the house budget.
In the end, it comes down to supporting projects you like or believe in or are done by people who want to help or because you won some lottery money... Or not supporting projects because they seem shady.

Dave White said...

More power to the Kickstarter people, in all honesty. I just didn't get it and was trying to share my initial reaction. You are all showing me I'm wrong. Which I'm glad to hear.