As you likely noticed, if you pay attention to me on the web at all, I’m currently running a Kickstarter for my second book, Hungry Ghost. I’m raising funds to pay my cover designer and my editor, both of whom worked for free on my first book, Lunatic Fringe. I’m closing in on 1/2 funding as of this writing and I’m over the moon at the response from eager readers all over the country.
It took a lot of hand-wringing for me to do this, however. I was raised as a self-sufficient Midwestern capitalist, and it’s hard for me to get used to asking folks for money. As a career non-profit art center employee, I’ve done nearly every job related to gallery management and theater production except for what we call “development”, i.e. raising money.
Ultimately with some thoughtful discussions with friends and peers, and excellent experiences from others who have crowd-funded their own projects, I finally decided to take the plunge and do it. And here’s why:
1) It’s not charity. Crowd funds aren’t donations. They’re (in most cases) a preorder. With some larger, ambitious projects, there’s no guarantee the project managers will fulfill on their promises. However, my book is nearly done, and I’m going to pay my freelancers regardless, so there’s no risk that the book (and t-shirts, and release party, etc.) won’t happen. It’s going to happen. I’m just asking people to buy it now instead of March when it comes out.
2) For better or worse, crowd-funding is becoming expected among creatives of my generation. With Lunatic Fringe, people were asking me why I didn’t do it. With book #2 I told people I thought about taking out loans or doing payment plans for my freelancers. My peers thought I was crazy. I set-up preorders for Lunatic Fringe on my website and folks flocked to order them. The Kickstarter is the same principle on a large scale.
3) The old support systems are dead. In the mid-nineties (when I was in high school), there were 124 feminist bookstores in America. Today there are 9. Toronto’s Women’s Bookstore (not America, natch) is the most recent to succumb. I was hoping to visit it on my next tour, but it’ll be gone by then. Back in the day, I would have this system of righteous ladies and queers to help me get my book out there. Today, we have all the great new technology, but fewer of the surviving support systems.
4) It gives fans an opportunity to show visible support. Not all my readers are on twitter or facebook, come to my live events, or write reviews. Having a Kickstarter allows fans to support me and give my work some love, while receiving a bit more recognition. I never know who buys my book on Amazon unless they email me or leave a review elsewhere. With Kickstarter, I can send personalized thank-you emails and they’ll get signed, personalized books instead of the usual fare.
5) It’s a venue for publicity. Kickstarter is a popular website, and many people browse it to see what creators are up to. This is a way for more people to learn about my book, even if they don’t back it.
6) It fosters transparency & accountability. Right off the bat, you know I’m giving 1k to my cover designer and 1k to my editor. I’ll be using the rest for merchandise fulfillment, book set up, shipping, and release party prep. I’ll be transparent with the use of the funds so supporters can guarantee I’m spending the money ethically and they can learn how self-publishing budgets work.
7) It incentivizes the artistic process. All businesses have investors. Some of these folks expect a direct return on their investment, others are “angels” (i.e. they don’t expect their money back). The investors in my project can gain returns that are greater than their original investment. This looks like fun gear, books, personal interactions, and one of a kind experiences. Most folks won’t get to enjoy my work on these levels, which makes it special for the backers and forces me to be extra creative and engaged in the work.
8) It allows me to focus on the work. If I had to hustle to earn an extra 2k to pay my designers, plus all the funds necessary to make the book happen, I’d be ignoring the point of the book itself. It sucks being broke and trying to do a good job on your art. Knowing that I won’t sink even greater into debt to make Hungry Ghost happen will allow me to devote the time and attention to the editing process and book production that my book and my readers deserve.
And yet, I still feel weird. It’s hard for me to shout my deservedness from the mountaintops. It’s not my style. But, I’ve seen the success for the artists and the enthusiasm from the fans for all sorts of projects. You don’t have to have Amanda Palmer mega-success to make crowd-funding worth it. You just have to have a modest goal, a fanbase, and a quality offering.