'A writer's work has value and should be paid for'
As our #FutureChat recap comes to the ether, my Bookseller colleague Philip Jones, in Cornerstone in joint venture with Unbound, is reporting that the UK's Penguin Random House imprint Cornerstone will take over publishing trade editions of books crowdfunded on the Unbound platform. Jones writes:
Unbound said the joint venture would allow it to focus on its core business of "crowd-funding innovative, challenging books and developing the direct relationship between authors and readers". Unbound will continue to fund and produce its own special first editions for subscribers who pledge via the website, but the editions distributed through the book trade will be produced and sold by Cornerstone under a profit-share arrangement.
As a specialised presence in the crowdfunding arena -- expressly created for the realisation of author-led projects -- it's hard to argue with John Mitchinson's comments in Jones' write-up:
John Mitchinson, publisher of Unbound described the deal as "a win-win for our authors". He said: "They get all the excitement of reader-contact through crowdfunding combined with the security of knowing that the trade editions of their books are being sold and distributed by the most effective team in publishing.”
But in the wilder West -- where book projects are jostled in a swelling crowdfunding drive for dance, theater, photography, fashion, technology, film, food, art, games, and more -- the digital dynamic has a way of putting the challenges of publishing on a more public pedestal than they've stood for many decades. That's something that Friday's #FutureChat about crowdfunding with The FutureBook digital publishing community confirmed.
Crowdfunding has in some ways pulled the author out of the shadows, exposing of of the steps of the process to the reading public.
With that, Jordan Koluch (pictured), writing in Authoright's online magazine (page 14) before Christmas, seems to have hit on what would become a bit too much exposure at Kickstarter for some folks blinking in the new year's glare.
By early January, YA author Laura Lam would be guest-posting for Chuck Wendig about the case of writer Stacey Jay, who "ended up taking down [her] Kickstarter [campaign], and writing a blog post saying she’s stepping back from writing as Stacey Jay for a while."
In that post about her Kickstarter retreat, Jay wrote:
The only thing I don't apologize for is believing a writer's work has value and should be paid for....expecting a writer to write for free [is wrong] because it is their "art." Art is not devalued when it is paid for, it is lifted up and respected and I believe we're all better as a people when that happens.
The question at the center of much discussion about the Jay (pictured) incident revolved around her Kickstarter campaign's appeal for three months' living expenses to fund the writing time for a new book.
Critics argued that a bookish crowdfunding campaign should limit its pitch to direct work-project-related costs along the lines of editing, cover design, and other professional production services.
"Kickstarter is to fund projects and products, not lives," Wendig summarised the complaints in his rejoinder. He and Lam had come to the defense of Jay in their four-hander. Wendig asked, "What, she and her family should starve while she writes the book?" Wendig went on:
You’re yelling at a woman in a boat because you’re mad at the ocean. Meaning: if you don’t like the Kickstarter option, or self-publishing, or traditional publishing, okay. Criticize the mode and the model. But sniping at those using those models is, to my mind, a little bit of dirty pool.
But did you hear about the Kickstarter efforts that didn't get funded?
Our #FutureChat had been been prompted by The Bookseller's coverage from Charlotte Eyre of Kickstarter's announced 2014 success, in which, Eyre (pictured) wrote, "Publishing was the third most common type of project on Kickstarter, with 2,064 successfully funded ventures worldwide, after music (4,009) and film and video (3,846)."
In our walkup to #FutureChat, I'd then pointed out that since 2009, Kickstarter's publishing projects have failed to fund, slightly more than two-to-one, a track record less happy than some crowdfunding boosters realise.
And by the time our chat began, frequent participant Jane Steen in Chicago -- who worked with the Alliance of Independent Authors' Orna Ross on the Ethical Author Code announced at November's The FutureBook Conference -- had posted her own perspective in Asking too much: Is crowdfunding a viable replacement for the publishing advance, and do we even need one?
Steen (pictured) summed up the Jay-triggered controversy:
Stacey Jay’s Kickstarter disaster—the YA writer attracted a storm of criticism and a huge number of tweets both for and against her when she asked for living expenses as part of a Kickstarter campaign—is a textbook example of how the fragmentation of the book market brought about by online bookselling, one-step self-publishing and POD has caused a shift away from the way authors have earned their money for the last half-century without providing a replacement with which everyone’s comfortable.
And as recently as Monday, Jane Litte at the influential romance-based "Dear Author" site was working through crowdfunding issues in The Downsides of the High risk, Low Reward Kickstart Business Model. Litte writes, "One of my primary problems with an author KS [Kickstarter campaign] is that it shifts the risk from the author to the reader...The reader who donates, no matter at what level, may never see a return on her donation. This is why I call it a gift."
And Litte (pictured) cleanly dismisses ideas of a Kickstarter campaign working like an advance in publishing:
An advance is money a publisher pays an author in advance of royalties earned. And the publisher keeps the first dollar of every sale until the amount of the advance is met and only then are additional sums of royalties paid by the publisher. Additionally, advances are paid in splits.
Such an array of entry points to a complicated suite of issues were at play in #FutureChat.
If anything, what is clearest about crowdfunding as we all place our bids here on 2015 is that the digital publishing community may be as widely conflicted on such methods of project finance as it is on so many other issues. Disruption, in case you were wondering, is still very much at hand.
Here -- with our thanks, as ever, for a lively, intelligent, and friendly debate -- is a sampling of highlights from the discussion about crowdfunding. And potato salad.
Having interviewed many kickstarted authors, they all had a great experience, just didn't mention groceries! @Porter_Anderson #futurechat — AuthorRise (@AuthorRise) January 9, 2015Quick to the mark, Pubslush, Hellen and Amanda Barbara's New York-based publishing crowdfunding company:
Crowdfunding is much like publishing. You need a solid plan & be ready to work very hard to be successful! #futurechat — Pubslush (@pubslush) January 9, 2015
@Porter_Anderson What do the crowdfunders expect for their contributions? @TheBookseller #futurechat — Carol Buchanan (@CarolBuchananMT) January 9, 2015
@Porter_Anderson #FutureChat. @kickstarter is the Slush Pile made public. Not every author can run a successful campaign AND 1/2.. — Jess E. Owen (@JE_Owen) January 9, 2015
@Porter_Anderson @kickstarter 2/2 ...write a saleable book. If you study the actual campaigns, you'll know why many fail. #FutureChat — Jess E. Owen (@JE_Owen) January 9, 2015
#Crowdfunding is not illegal or immoral. I've just never felt right about it for authors. #futurechat @Porter_Anderson — James Scott Bell (@jamesscottbell) January 9, 2015
@jamesscottbell @Porter_Anderson Same here. But maybe it is just the smell of potato salad.... #futurechat — Tim @ Stoneham Press (@StonehamPress) January 9, 2015
@StonehamPress @jamesscottbell @Porter_Anderson ARGH don't even talk to me about potato salad >_< #FutureChat — Jess E. Owen (@JE_Owen) January 9, 2015
OOoooo hi @jamesscottbell! @Porter_Anderson I use it for the sole purpose of a hardback print run. Pay for my own editing, etc. #FutureChat — Jess E. Owen (@JE_Owen) January 9, 2015
@Porter_Anderson The keys to crowdfunding seem to be incentives and professionalism. #futurechat @Kickstarter @TheBookseller — Laurie K (@eridani99) January 9, 2015
I have avoided crowds ding. I do not have the fan base to be successful, I'm afraid. #FutureChat — David Neal (@WalrusWinks) January 9, 2015
...If I give money, I want that money and time to be put toward the PROJECT, not to entertaining me. #futurechat — Camille LaGuire (@camillelaguire) January 9, 2015
@Porter_Anderson If your tone is desperation or "GIMME THIS OR ELSE" it's going to explode. #futurechat @Kickstarter @TheBookseller — Laurie K (@eridani99) January 9, 2015Nicole McArdle is marketing director with Pubslush.
@eridani99 @Porter_Anderson @Kickstarter @TheBookseller It's all about taking an organic approach to asking people to contribute #futurechat — Nicole (@nicolemmcardle) January 9, 2015
I think we're in a phase where we're working out exactly what crowdfunding is for. It will stick around, but not for all. #futurechat — Jane Steen (@janesteen) January 9, 2015
I've run 2 successful Crowdfunding campaigns on @kickstarter and @pubslush. If anything else, it's a HUGE amount of work. #futurechat — Ben Galley (@BenGalley) January 9, 2015
An author really has to ask themselves whether a foray into crowdfunding is worth the time away from writing. #futurechat — Ben Galley (@BenGalley) January 9, 2015
@RicardoFayet agree, but I don't know how hard some authors think it out @StonehamPress @BenGalley #futurechat — Jane Steen (@janesteen) January 9, 2015
@RicardoFayet @janesteen @StonehamPress @BenGalley Yes, absolutely. But you must consider it a part time job, not free money. #FutureChat — Jess E. Owen (@JE_Owen) January 9, 2015
@JE_Owen @RicardoFayet @janesteen @StonehamPress I would actually say more like a full time job, especially during the project #futurechat — Ben Galley (@BenGalley) January 9, 2015
@BenGalley Do you think what you raised in both cases was worth the amount of time you spent (and the rewards)? #futurechat — Ricardo Fayet (@RicardoFayet) January 9, 2015
@StonehamPress @kickstarter @BenGalley That's not crowdfunding anymore imho, that's "equity crowdfunding". #futurechat — Ricardo Fayet (@RicardoFayet) January 9, 2015
I'd rather spend my time crafting a great book than learning to "run a campaign." #futurechat — James Scott Bell (@jamesscottbell) January 9, 2015
@jamesscottbell Or write a book about running at great campaign... #futurechat — Tim @ Stoneham Press (@StonehamPress) January 9, 2015
@CarolBuchananMT @jamesscottbell Learning to "run a campaign" is the same as how to sell a book. You're just doing pre-pub. #futurechat — Pubslush (@pubslush) January 9, 2015
What about subscription? another form of crowdfunding, just on delivery not up front. @StonehamPress @Porter_Anderson @janesteen #futurechat — AuthorRise (@AuthorRise) January 9, 2015
@RicardoFayet @StonehamPress @kickstarter @BenGalley Then the readers really are like a publisher :D #FutureChat #noThanks — Jess E. Owen (@JE_Owen) January 9, 2015
@AuthorRise can subscription be compared to crowdfunding? Subscription is more businesslike @StonehamPress @Porter_Anderson #futurechat — Jane Steen (@janesteen) January 9, 2015
Sure, both ask readers to pay for work, and both show the author readers are there @janesteen @AuthorRise @StonehamPress @Porter_Anderson — chris weber (@Chris_C_Weber) January 9, 2015
@CarolBuchananMT @Porter_Anderson The whole emphasis on incentives. That's a waste. #futurechat — Camille LaGuire (@camillelaguire) January 9, 2015
@pubslush @stonehampress If there's a potato salad project, I'm all in. #futurechat — James Scott Bell (@jamesscottbell) January 9, 2015
#futurechat We proofread a book funded by Kickstarter last year--funds helped author create a very professional product, but a lot of work. — Carla Douglas (@CarlaJDouglas) January 9, 2015
@CarolBuchananMT @kickstarter @Porter_Anderson Here is my last campaign, with all rewards listed: http://t.co/ggbRKVNrs1 #FutureChat — Jess E. Owen (@JE_Owen) January 9, 2015
I just dispatched my @Kickstarter backer rewards yesterday. Does bring a smile to your face, however: #futurechat pic.twitter.com/yWo4JAhOuf — Ben Galley (@BenGalley) January 9, 2015
@BenGalley @Kickstarter What rewards did you give Ben? #futurechat — Tim @ Stoneham Press (@StonehamPress) January 9, 2015
@StonehamPress @kickstarter a huge range, from getting drawn into my graphic novel, to skypes, paperbacks, posters, and artwork. #futurechat — Ben Galley (@BenGalley) January 9, 2015
Curious why it feels wrong to get an advance from readers? @Porter_Anderson @jamesscottbell @thebookseller #futurechat — chris weber (@Chris_C_Weber) January 9, 2015
@Chris_C_Weber author can easily default, no contract @Porter_Anderson @jamesscottbell @thebookseller #futurechat — Jane Steen (@janesteen) January 9, 2015
@pubslush You have a point. If readers go into it, they are already positive about it. If you deliver, they're happy. Yes? #futurechat — James Scott Bell (@jamesscottbell) January 9, 2015
@Porter_Anderson Contary to popular belief, I don't really make a personal profit. It all goes to the books & book product. #FutureChat — Jess E. Owen (@JE_Owen) January 9, 2015
Is there such a thing as asking for crowdfunding without the rewards (except the feel-good factor?) #futurechat — Jane Steen (@janesteen) January 9, 2015
@StonehamPress @CarlaJDouglas @pubslush I'd love to give to a crowdfunded grant, with only strings that they finish the work. #futurechat — Camille LaGuire (@camillelaguire) January 9, 2015
@Porter_Anderson @janesteen That'd be a tough sell at this point, I think. Patrons/funders are conditioned to be incentivized. #futurechat — Laurie K (@eridani99) January 9, 2015
@Porter_Anderson @janesteen Well @pubslush offers a way to have supports enter any dollar amount for no reward #futurechat — Nicole (@nicolemmcardle) January 9, 2015
.@nicolemmcardle @Porter_Anderson @janesteen @pubslush and there were quite a few backers in my project that did this! #futurechat — Ben Galley (@BenGalley) January 9, 2015Justin Kazmark joined us -- like Pubslush's input here, recognize that Kazmark does PR for Kickstarter. He, Pubslush were most welcome in #FutureChat, all comers are. But it's good to "know your chickens," as the Italians say.
@jamesscottbell @Porter_Anderson Alexander Pope, Mark Twain, Walt Whitman and others started it: http://t.co/b4ZIYjN7Wh #futurechat — Justin Kazmark (@jkaz) January 9, 2015
.@jkaz Good point. Cheeky Whitman also wrote some of his own reviews. #FutureChat — James Scott Bell (@jamesscottbell) January 9, 2015
What bothers me about crowdfunding is that it seems to reward marketing skills rather than the quality of the work. #futurechat — Jane Steen (@janesteen) January 9, 2015
@janesteen Isn't that true in the overall book market, too, though? #futurechat — Pubslush (@pubslush) January 9, 2015
@pubslush Yes it is...and what's up with that? #futurechat — Jane Steen (@janesteen) January 9, 2015
I see crowdfunding as a marketing tool to get readers invested in the creative process similar to Wattpad #FutureChat @Porter_Anderson — Dan Wood (@DanWoodOk) January 9, 2015
@StonehamPress wouldn't you want backers who just have faith in you & don't expect multiple rewards? #futurechat — Jane Steen (@janesteen) January 9, 2015
@janesteen @StonehamPress Not sure it's about rewards but about exclusivity& inclusion; it's saying 'I helped, I was involved' #FutureChat — Karla (@HonestlyKarla) January 9, 2015
@Porter_Anderson so we should be asking successful rich authors to support the starving ones? :D @jamesscottbell #futurechat — Jane Steen (@janesteen) January 9, 2015
maybe instead of cash, authors could crowd fund for groceries? @Porter_Anderson @BenGalley @CarolBuchananMT @thebookseller #futurechat — chris weber (@Chris_C_Weber) January 9, 2015
There's nothing to stop an author simply setting up a Donate button on their site. #futurechat — Jane Steen (@janesteen) January 9, 2015
@Porter_Anderson ask me after I post out all 120 reward packs ;) #futurechat — Ben Galley (@BenGalley) January 9, 2015
Main image - Shutterstock: Rangizzz