Thursday, August 15, 2013

Kickdegogo Your Book

By Steve Weddle

Last year, Rutgers blogger Dave White briefly asked about Kickstarter. And you responded with your thoughts.

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.
Now, it seems as if writers have no shame have new avenues for getting your money before the book comes out. Indiegogo. Personal blogs.

In the traditional method, a publisher supported the effort of getting the book out, by paying the author an advance against future royalties. The publisher would then pay for the printing and distribution and advertising and so forth. We've had many posts about how that's changed in terms of what publishers pay for. This isn't that.

What Kickstarter and Indiegogo and, well, the web itself, allow writers to do is interact directly with millions of fans.

I recently read a post in which an award-winning author asked for donations so that he could continue to pay for his life of sending the kids off to daycare while he spent his day writing. His fans funded this request. Good for him.Good for his fans. It's lovely to have that kind of support.

I am not in any way judging what other people do. I'm not saying this is right or that is wrong. If you can get someone to pay you $10 to fart the National Anthem, then stock up on your broccoli. Whatever. If you're farting art, all the better.

I'm all for unconventional methods of writing. My current project is being written entirely in blue ink. Not black.

BookRiot recently posted some bookish projects worth Kickstarting. Check them out and see what you think.

And here's a post about how ridiculous Kickstarter is, looking at people who want you to donate so that they can make signs for homeless people. There's the nastiness of using the homeless as your fodder for comedy, but the point holds.

This dude got $500,000 to fund a book he'd already written.

This anthology doubled its funding goal.

I'm just wondering, as authors, whether we're doing this right. If you have a project that requires big upfront costs -- overseas travel, scientific equipment, prototypes -- that's one type. It's a project.

There's another type in which the Hollywood millionaires want you to fund the movies they want to make. I guess that's another type. See: Veronica Mars.

Then there is most of us. Not the hiring of an artist for a graphic novel. Not the trip to Ashendenvilleburg to research a murder from 1837.

I'm looking at the author sitting at her kitchen table, writing along each day instead of going to work at Auto Zone. Are you fine with sending that person a check for $50 so that you can get an early look at the PDF? I mean, that's kinda how Harper Lee wrote MOCKINGBIRD, right? Isn't that the story? Someone granted her a year's worth of money so she didn't have to dayjob it?

I get that cover art for a self-pubbed book is expensive. Or should be.

I get that proofreading and editing cost bucks, and that your book doesn't have the traditional path that takes care of that.

Using Kickstarter as a pre-order machine does have a certain appeal for self-published/DIY/Indie authors, I think. I can see getting the $10 from everyone upfront, then using that to buy good cover art and professional editing and all. I get that.

But the donating in lieu of dayjob seems different.

And, of course, what's the harm? If I want to send $20 to Arturo Bandini or Kilgore Trout, what harm is there? I'm giving them money so they can write. What business is it of yours?

If you have a writing project you need funds for, tell me about it. Need money to cover the printing of some cool hardback you have planned? Dude, sign me up. You need to pay artists ahead of time to illustrate a great noir story you want to tell? Yes, ma'am, that's a project I can dig.

Funding a specific project that needs upfront money? That seems like the sort of thing Kickstarter was set up for.

Do you like the idea of authors asking for money so they can focus on writing their next novel? So they don't have to work eight hours a day -- or more -- like most writers? Should we think of this as public grant money directly from the public?

When an author says he/she needs funding to attend conference and pay for kids' clothing and daycare and a high-speed internet connection, I figure we might already have a way to take care of that. An advance. A royalty check. God forbid, a dayjob.

It's clear the writer enjoys the idea of being a writer.

When authors ask for money to cover "life's expenses" so they can write full-time, it seems they're asking for me to fund a lifestyle.

And that lifestyle isn't a project I'm interested in funding.


Thomas Pluck said...

I agree with you on this one. While I would like to write full time, I can't imagine asking for donations for basic needs, short of bankruptcy or health issues. I've donated to writers who've been struck with illness, but I did it out of simple human charity, not so they could avoid having to work harder or change their lifestyle.
My experience with kickstarter has been middling. I wouldn't use it. I'm paying for a cover, editing, proofing and design right now, out of pocket, for BLADE OF DISHONOR.
I'm all for the "want another book in this series? Prove it!" kind of kickstarting. I think we'll see much more of that in the future and I like it.
Rich obsessed fans can push it over the edge, or a bunch of avid ones can chip in their $10 and truly crowdfund it.
I envy many writer friends who do it full time, but I like my job and it gives me plenty of material (human interaction) and doesn't interfere with me writing 4-6 hours a day (My lifestyle involves very little TV).
Sure I want the lake house with the writing room overlooking the area where the foxes fuck, but I don't feel entitled to it. Hell, some of the best writing's been done in squalor, so maybe I ought to crowdfund backwards and give away my salary so I have to write from a smelly laundry closet.

Gerard Brennan said...

Mr Pluck

"Sure I want the lake house with the writing room overlooking the area where the foxes fuck, but I don't feel entitled to it."

You just got yourself a new fan, sir.

Anybody listen to the Joe Rogan podcast (I know Benoît Lelièvre does)? He summed it up quite well in a random comment that stuck with me.

"Kickstarter made begging cool."

He was joking, but still, I don't want to beg.


Dana King said...

So far, it's unanimous. I can see kickstarting to raise money for actual costs, but for living expenses? I tried to be a musician; I'm trying to be a writer. I'm no advocate of starving, but if you want to follow your muse, it won't kill you to make some sacrifices.

Unknown said...

I'm with Thomas on this.

I've never quite understood the point of asking the public to contribute to cover art or other design and layout work for self-pubbed books.

Doesn't the cost of cover art, professional editing, or a research trip for that matter, fall under the umbrella of legitimate business expenses? If you treat writing and self-publishing as a business then you can deduct these things from future tax bills (assuming you're lucky enough to make profits).

I can understand crowdfunding if you wanted to produce a film of your work, or create a project that involved multi-media, or start up an independent publishing business, but asking for assistance to support your writer's lifestyle just seems downright fucking rude.

Chad Eagleton said...

Crowdfunding is like anything. It’s good and bad. Are there people asking for money for stupid shit? Of course. Are there people throwing their money at stupid shit? Of course. Are there scammers out there? Of course. I don’t think any of that’s ever going to change – just check your spam folder. But, honestly, you don’t even have to go online to see this, just walk into a grocery store and visit the bottled water aisle for proof that people continually throw their money away.

Is it a little irksome when Spike Lee and Rob Thomas (Veronica Mars creator) crowdfund a project? Sure—I suspect though that a lot of that has to do with our own sense of sour grapes—“That’s bullshit. How come a millionaire can go on Kickstarter and raise millions of dollars! I can’t! Kickstarter sucks!”—and probably triggers the scarcity fear part of our brain.

I think, however, that a lot of these issues will even out as crowdfunding becomes more commonplace. Because above anything else, I think crowdfunding is one of the most exciting things to come along in quite a while. Not only does it let you test ideas, but it lets you fund projects that would normally never see the light of day because they don’t meet some common denominator/bottom line/marketability factor that a group of MBA’s came up with. It puts what gets made in your hands and that’s a powerful thing. Hell, that’s been the American people’s problem for years—not thinking economically about their power.

I mean, let’s go back to the Veronica Mars movie. Here you have a cult tv show that people loved, but was screwed by the networks. Fans have been clamoring for a movie since it went off the air 7 years ago, yet WB kept passing until they finally agreed to distribute it if Thomas could raise the money. So Thomas went on Kickstarter and asked the fans and they ponied up big, proving the WB execs were clueless.

But beyond consumer projects like books or movies, I’ve participated in crowdfunding to help desperate people with medical bills, send kids to camp, provide funds to RAINN, and start independent media collectives abroad. And I think that’s fantastic.

I would much rather see these conversations be about what we can do to make crowdfunding better. Because now we come to what really strikes me about these complaints: someone successfully crowdfunding something does not undercut your work or your goals, nor does it cheapen anything you “earned” through your hard work. There’s no one path to anything.

And Joe Rogan? If he thinks Kickstarter made begging cool, maybe he should remove the Amazon support link from his site or stop shilling for other people’s Kickstarters....?

Holly West said...

Good one, Weddle.

Part of my problem with crowdfunding is that authors are asking funders to "co-publish" their books, which is false, as far as I'm concerned. The people who fund these projects don't generally get any portion of the royalties from these books. So if Author X earns 10k to self-pub his book and he's giving away books and invites to the launch, etc. that's all his investors get. HE gets everything else.

To me, that's not really such a good deal for the so-called investor. And the Veronica Mars project? Forget about it.

Now the pre-order model is a better description of what these kind of projects are, but I still reject it completely. Perhaps I'm too enmeshed in the way things have traditionally been, I don't know. I probably am. And like you say, if people will pay you to fart the national anthem, that's on them, not you. Who are you to give up free money?

But that guy whose whining about wanting to write full time so please pay for my kids' daycare and conference travel? I still want to punch him in the face.

Dana King said...

Holly makes a point I hadn't even thought of. I was working on the "this is unseemly" premise, but she's right: this is a way to get investors you don't have to share any profits with.

Did Mel Brooks think this up?

Holly West said...

I love a good "Producers" reference.

John Ramsey Miller said...

If you write a page a day before you go to your big boy job, (even with days off) you'll have 300+ pages. We've all heard that and its true. Funding your art is what you do until your art funds itself.

Anonymous said...

I don't want someone to fund my lifestyle. I don't even want that fancy a lifestyle. I'm not even interested in Pluck's fox-fucking lake house. Hell, I'd be thrilled with a travel trailer parked at a National Park or campground in exchange for running firewood around or pointing out reservation sites. At the moment, I just want a day job that makes me so miserable that when I leave, I physically and mentally have nothing left for writing, even though I have time. It's not "writer's block" so much as a blanket of depression that I can't always lift. *sends out more resumes*

That said, I don't want to pay for someone to stay home and just write, but I can see how if a midlist author with a job at AutoZone (or some other low-paying job) wanted to be able to meet his or her fans at a conference once in a while and could talk said fans into pitching in enough fives and tens to make it happen, I'd have no problem with it -- provided said author spent plenty of time talking and hanging out with these people. On the other hand, James Patterson starts kickstarting his touring schedule and someone needs to start kicking him.

I also see the economy shifting. There are more and more "gig" jobs and fewer "career" jobs. More manual labor and skilled trades going unfilled because everyone got chased off to college while degrees are netting things like hostess at TGIFridays. Maybe, as stupid as it sounds, this is just symptomatic of this shift in how people view work. (There's seriously a whole site devoted to people paying other people to do things like their grocery shopping and parking their cars. People pay dog walkers. Other people order diet food in a box instead of cooking. It's a weird world out there.)

Neliza said...

Really, after trying four different logins, it let me post anonymously?

Bill Cameron said...

I "backed" Veronica Mars, and was glad to. It was a story I want to see more of and it didn't seem to be happening any other way. For a few bucks I get a t-shirt and a chance to see a movie I'd like to have the chance to see. If Rob Thomas ends up making a jerbillion dollars off the movie, what do I care? I went into it with my eyes open, knowing all I would get back was that t-shirt and the chance to buy a movie ticket. The movie might be great, it might suck, it might be meh. But however it comes out, no one held a gun to my head.

I've backed a few other projects as well, and given the fungibility of money in a sense I was paying for them to sit and write as much as I was paying for cover art or whatever else. So what? If I buy a traditionally published book, I'm paying for the author to write—either at home or in a coffee shop or on their yacht in the Aegean Sea. Once again, so what? If I want the book, I pay for it. If I want to pay for it in advance through Kickstarter and maybe get a tchochke too, then I do.

Sometimes, it's a proven quantity like Rob Thomas or Chuck Wendig, and sometimes I take chance because a project looks interesting. My choice, my money. If I'm disappointed, the creator in question probably won't get my money again, but that's the chance I take when I buy a movie ticket or a book that's traditionally funded too.

Finally, I know two people who personally went the crowdfunding route, and it's not like you click a button and a few weeks later you have a swimming pool of money. It's a shit ton of work, and all on top of the creating-something work which is what they were trying to support. It's not, "I'm tired of dragging myself to DethCorp for another day of drudgery so I'll trick the plebs into funding a lavish lifestyle of peeled grapes and massage chairs." It's an alternative route to achieve a goal that is neither more nor less unseemly than all the other ways people chase their dreams. I mean, good grief, have you seen the way aspiring writers behave around editors and agents? Kickstarter begging is the height of dignity in comparison.

Chad Eagleton said...

I'd like to add -- I second what Bill just said.

Holly West said...

After thinking about this a lot yesterday, I came to the conclusion that yes, Bill is right.

It's A) none of my business what people spend their money on and B) I have a policy not to criticize other authors on their choices and I violated it on this issue.

But what really got me thinking was this: Is crowd funding a book any different than paying an author at other points along the way? If a person funds a project they are going into it knowing what they're getting up front and taking the chance that they may not like the product. Just like if you buy the book at a bookstore. If whoever's in charge of the kickstarter project defaults on their promises that's another issue but really doesn't have anything to do with what we're talking about.

I'm not sure why I had such a bug up my butt about this issue (especially since I've funded several projects myself and even participated in a indiegogo charity project) but for some reason I couldn't get my head around it. Crowd funding my own project is not something I'm interested in at this point but I've been known to change my mind. I think it's because I couldn't personally see myself asking others to fund my project that I somehow got it in my head that there was something fundamentally wrong with it on some level (that I couldn't quite define).

If someone is asking for money to fund his lifestyle (as Steve puts it and I kind of agree with that) it's up to me whether I do it or not. If someone decides they want to, that's cool, and if not, that's cool too. I will refrain from punching anyone in the face regardless of their choice.

David Y.B. Kaufmann said...

What's the difference between the Kickstarter model and the old Patron system (see Samuel Johnson's opinion of that)?

How is funding a "lifestyle" different than funding a "project"? Isn't funding the "lifestyle" (author's royalties which funds the lifestyle) part of funding the project (writing, production, marketing)? If the writer writes and the reader buys the product, isn't he ultimately paying for the writer's lifestyle?

Are we quibbling over names, privilege, product, reputation, delivery - or some combination thereof?

I get the distinction, but it reminds me of a line from Spock.

A thought-provoking post.