Buying Time to Make Good Art

© Disney, DuckTales

© Disney, DuckTales

Crowdfunding isn’t a new idea, but we haven’t spent much time discussing it here at Pub Crawl– and I think it’s becoming increasingly relevant to writers today who have more options than ever to publish their work.

Platforms like Kickstarter and Indiegogo have been around for more than seven years, and by far have become the best known way to finance projects and products by appealing directly to the consumers who want them. In comparison to the old standby of PayPal donations, and its many limitations and hassles, if enough people are interested in your Kickstarter project, you will raise enough money to hopefully deliver on your promises. But if you don’t have enough support, your proposed project usually goes away quietly.

Many authors have successfully used Kickstarter to self-publish books, using the funding to hire editors, proofreaders and artists; distribute them in print and electronic forms, and even market them. Considering one of the largest hurdles for self-published writers is spending the money to make their books as polished and professional as traditionally published books (or perhaps even more so), this is a fascinating and exciting way to get work out to readers, as well as promote books before they’re released.

Slightly newer to the scene is Patreon, which has quickly become “the world’s largest crowdfunding site for artists and creators” since it was established in 2013. In a nutshell, Patreon allows people to provide ongoing support to an individual–not necessarily for a particular project–through a monthly commitment of as little as $1. As implied by its name, it’s evoking the old patron model of enabling creative work, while offering supporters incentives like exclusive content, early access, and sometimes even a voice in what work gets produced.

(Another site that has recently appeared is called ko-fi, basically an online tip jar that lets fans buy you a cup of coffee with the click of a button, perhaps more as a sign of appreciation than a viable, continuous income stream.)

Essentially, what all these crowdfunding services offer is a way for fans to buy time for creators to make more of the thing they enjoy, and let them know their work is valued and in demand. As a writer with a job and a toddler, a sink full of dishes and piles of dirty laundry, I often must be picky about what projects I sign up for and prioritize the paying work — contracted books and stories — over the shiny ideas I want to play with, or the unpaid blogging I might want to do. So getting “paid” by patrons to write a fun short story that I may not be able to sell (or the novel I may not be able to sell, yikes)  has a certain appeal. My friend N.K. Jemisin recently launched a Patreon that will allow her to quit her day job, the dream of many a writer, so far attracting more than $3800 in less than a week as of this writing.

The simple fact is most writers can probably produce more if they only had more time, and 40+ hours a week is a lot of time.

As more writers I know create Patreons with a wide range of success, I’ve been thinking more about this phenomenon. (Interestingly, as far as I can tell, not many YA writers have embraced Patreon, but it seems to be gaining popularity in the science fiction and fantasy community, of which I am also a part.) The truth is, I personally have a difficult time separating the idea of crowdfunding from charity, even though intellectually I know that people are buying something they want or rewarding you for something only you can provide. Part of me also imagines this as creating yet another array of deadlines and expectations and obligation to your supporters, who are basically making an investment in you and your work. You have more time, but on some level you’re also more accountable, potentially to dozens if not hundreds of people. How much do you ultimately owe them for helping make it possible?

But I am also aware that one of my hangups is the fear that I won’t get much support, or that I’ll be “competing” with all the other Patreon creators out there for the same dollars. Who needs an additional metric for comparing their own success to that of others? And before you remind me that you shouldn’t compare yourself to others, and that writing and publishing isn’t really a competition, allow me to suggest that this isn’t an entirely irrational consideration. I think a solid fan base is essential to a successful Kickstarter and Patreon, so your newer writers, less published writers, and debut writers probably won’t benefit from them as much — or at all.

What do you think about crowdfunding creative efforts — would you consider it for your own work? Have you supported any Kickstarter or Patreon campaigns? What would get you to donate your money to support a writer beyond buying their published work?


4 Responses to Buying Time to Make Good Art

  1. Marc Vun Kannon May 25 2016 at 6:52 am #

    I did support a kickstarter campaign for a project related to my favorite TV show Chuck, mainly to see if some kind of a wrap-up movie could be made. (It wasn’t, but I’d already started work on rewriting the story to wrap it up properly so I didn’t mind so much.) The most obvious alternative is to trade money for a part in the book, although then you’d have to be careful to treat the character well, or risk losing the support later. I’d much rather keep firm control of my own story, even if it means going it alone.
    I’ve often thought movies would be a good bit more self-financing if people could buy a bit as an extra in some scene, but I guess there are union rules against it, or something. The unfortunate thing is that the authors who need the support, the unknown strugglers, are the ones who won’t get it.

    • E.C. Myers May 25 2016 at 9:22 am #

      I must have missed that Kickstarter for Chuck. I would have supported it too! I think the Veronica Mars Kickstarter, the gold standard for crowdsourced film funding, did offer walk-on parts, and I believe Omaze offers the same. But I bet there’s a lot of paperwork involved, especially if there’s a speaking role.

      The unfortunate thing is that the authors who need the support, the unknown strugglers, are the ones who won’t get it.

      Many published authors with multiple books and even awards are still struggling or could use support, though probably not in the same way. But I agree that the unknowns, especially those just starting out, are unlikely to get much help from these funding sources — and unfortunately that could make all the difference in them getting published, or getting published earlier at least.

  2. S. Usher Evans May 25 2016 at 9:55 am #

    I ran a Kickstarter for my book The Island and blew past my original goal of $400 in 90 minutes. I ended up fully funding all the costs of printing, edits, and cover four months before the book came out.

    I wanted to make it abundantly clear a) the book was finished and b) the money was to offset costs already sunk in. I treated it more as a preorder campaign than a crowdfunding effort. Crowdfunding can very quickly rub me the wrong way, especially if they’re asking me to subsidize their lifestyle while I’m eating ramen. (Understanding, of course, I’m free not to contribute.)

    There are some cases where a Patreon makes sense to me, like in the case of Jamie Broadnax at Black Girl Nerds. But in other cases, giving people money to write seems…meh. I’d rather someone purchase a book and get their friends to do the same. I’m a bit of a free market-er that way.

    • E.C. Myers May 25 2016 at 10:10 am #

      I’m glad you had such a positive experience with Kickstarter! I like the pre-order angle too. Now that I think about it, whenever I contribute to a Kickstarter, I tend to choose the reward that gets me the product as soon as it’s available. There’s a very clear quid pro quo. In general, the more precise people are with where the money is going, the more likely I am to want to support it.

      The only Patreon I support at the moment is for the Lore podcast. I really enjoy it, and contributing gets me two extra mini-episodes a month, transcripts and citations for the source material, and a print collection of episodes, so there are ongoing deliverables that I feel I’ve “subscribed” to.

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