Friday, July 5, 2013

You Want Me to Pay For This?

by Sheila Connolly

I belong to quite a few writing-related loops (or whatever they're called now), not that I read all of them regularly.  But I enjoy keeping tabs on what other people are doing, which gives me some insight into what other writers believe are the most current and best marketing tools in this very competitive and quickly-changing business of writing and publishing.

But a week ago I read one post that rocked me, although I suppose it was inevitable:  a writer has set up an account on Kickstarter to pay for the production of his next book.  Yes, he want his "friends" to subsidize the design, printing, marketing and promotion for his latest book.  He offers a menu of rewards for the investment.

Now, this is a writer (who I don't know personally and will not name) is not a novice.  He published two books (both mysteries) less than a decade ago, and he has published two more since as ebooks only.  He admits they were modestly successful, and received some positive reactions from reviewers—things we all hope for.

But now he's ready to quit his day job and try a different strategy for his new thriller, and he wants his past/future readers to finance it.  And he thinks this will give him more exposure and reach than either finding a traditional publisher or publishing it directly himself. He wants the money up front to pay for marketing, copy editing, book design, formatting, printing, audio, website updates, launch parties and a tour.

This person wants to raises $18,000 through Kickstarter for all of the above expenses. Please wait until I stop laughing.

Now, I consider myself a modestly successful writer.  I have something like 15 books out there, two of which were NYT bestsellers.  I've been writing full time for nearly a decade now.  And $18,000 exceeds my personal promotional budget for all my books in a given year—and for the past few years I've published three or four each year.  Heck, it exceeds most of my net annual income from writing over the past few years. Yes, my publishers cover a lot of the tasks on that list above, which are not free—and they take a hefty cut of the sales proceeds to cover them. Do those numbers add up?  I have no idea, but they come with the package of being published by a major publisher, who gets my books into a lot of bookstores.

But I manage my own website; I produce my own newsletter; I buy ads in appropriate publications; I travel to conferences (with promotional materials that I design and pay for myself) and library and bookstore signings. I have never had a formal launch party, and I certainly haven't gone on a sponsored tour (my main publisher seems to reserve those only for the famous and well-established authors in its stable). My publisher does not pay for any of these—I do. I don't expect strangers to pick up the tab.

Is this author na├»ve?  Arrogant? Does he have a lot of friends with deep pockets? (Apparently he's already found one who was willing to pony up $1,000, the top sum, although it could be his mother.) I suppose he thinks it's worth a try, and it's an interesting experiment.  I will watch to see how well he does.

But I'm still troubled by the overall tenor of his pitch.  He considers $18,000 a "lean and mean" (his words) budget for this.  He's willing to let his backers do the editing for him if they chip in at least $80. That sounds like a recipe for disaster to me—editing by committee is never a good idea. As far as I know, neither splashy (expensive) launch parties nor national book tours are standard for a mid-list (at best) author.

If this author went the traditional route, he would need to sell a whole lot of copies to earn $18,000.  Yes, the publisher would earn more. I think I'm missing part of the equation here. Maybe I'm just too mired in the traditional way of doing things. (As an aside, I think Kickstarter is a great concept and can do a lot of good—I just don't see how it fits here.)

What do you think?  Is this the wave of the future, or a waste of time?


JJ said...

I saw the same 'ad', Sheila, and wrote it off as a bad joke. Or certainly someone who has no rational understanding of publishing. I was shaking my head with every other sentence. I'm with you that Kickstarter has a place but not with random projects such as this.

SandyG265 said...

I think it depends on the author. I know that C.E. Murphy raised money on Kickstarter to write a novela that was a spin off from one of her series. Her publisher wasn't interested but her fans wanted it enough to pay for it. For the minimum donation you recieved an e-copy. For additional donations you got other things including a print copy.

I don't think this would work for every author. I think fantasy fans are used to paying for things they want since some small presses release limited edition titles which can go fo $$40 for a 200 page hard cover. And they manage to sell them.

D. Jean Quarles said...

I had a similar feeling when an aspiring author wrote to me and said she needed to pay off school debt and wanted her friends to help her write a book - send in your stories- so she could publish and make lots of money quick. Hmmm.

Elizabeth Zelvin said...

I find myself hoping he won't succeed. I'd rather the results disproved the absurd hypothesis. But publishing and everything connected with it is so crazy these days that I can't say I'm sure it won't work.

BTW, launch parties in bookstores are free. Say $50-75 for wine from a discount place like Trader Joe's. At Otto Penzler's Mysterious Bookshop in New York (the last one standing of formerly four mystery bookstores in Manhattan), I'm pretty sure they still provide the drinks. You can serve snacks if you want ($100-200 tops, less if you make the food yourself), but it's not essential. And a bookstore launch is great for author-bookseller relations, because the event makes money for the store. In other words, you don't need venture capital or even a fat advance to celebrate when your book comes out. :)

Polly Iyer said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Polly Iyer said...

I'd never heard of Kickstarter, but I went onto their website and was stunned to see the projects more that 100% funded, even some from people whose name I recognized. I'm curious how the people who fund these ventures recoup their money. One book was pulled by Kickstarter because it appeared to be a how-to on assaulting women. Makes you wonder how careful they are in accepting the projects on their site.

JJM said...

Polly Iyer wrote: "I'm curious how the people who fund these ventures recoup their money."

We don't. It's never a question of recouping our money, because it's not an investment as such. We do get some form of reward, its nature dependent on the amount pledged, but it's never worth the amount of the donation in retail terms. What we get, instead, is knowing we have helped someone fullfil a dream, or produce something truly worthwhile.

You do have to look carefully at the proposed project. The one Sheila Connolly describes, given the writer's background ... meh. I wouldn't participate. But, two years ago, I helped fund a two-week run of an off-Broadway musical. Every time I listen to the original cast album (and it's a pretty good one), I "recoup" my "investment" in personal satisfaction. Worth it, definitely.

Karen Cioffi said...

I guess the saying that if you live long enough you'll see everything pertains to book publishing also. I've received a couple of requests (through LinkedIn members) to fund the authors' books.

If I had the time, I'd email back and ask them to fund my projects.

The world, I fear, has developed a 'I want it now and don't want to work or pay for it' philosophy.

Steven M. Moore said...

Hi Sheila,
I participated in a Kickstarter campaign to amplify eFiction's reach (I don't remember the details--I've published two short stories in eFiction in the past). My thoughts? I considered this a donation to support an eZine--I think we need more of them. I never expected to see any return for my money. As far as I know, the campaign failed. Moreover, eFiction is fast becoming just a vehicle where writers can get their stories critiqued by other writers (yeah, another one of those).
I'd never seen a campaign for a book, though. $18,000 for one book? What's he want, a cover from Alejandro Obregon? Gold-inlaid letters for chapter beginnings? I don't get it! I know you can't show his budget without revealing his name, but it sounds absurd, especially for this guy writing on a shoestring budget.