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 naïve? 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?