Crowdfunding as a Publishing Strategy

Tales of the Emerald Serpent I’m reading a really cool book right now, but in spite of my best efforts, life has gotten in the way and I won’t have it finished in time to meet my deadline for the review. So I’m going to discuss some things related to the book, and I’ll tell you the title when I get to the end of the post.  (That’s not it pictured.  But I will talk about that book as well before we’re done.)

This particular novel is one that is being crowdfunded by the author. More on that at the end of the post as well.

I’ve been meaning to address this subject for a while. When most people think of indie publishing, they picture a book, or rather a story, be it novel length, novella, or short story, being made available through different venues and in different formats. (Kindle, Nook, Smashwords, etc.). And that’s a very valid method publishing.

In this particular model, the author assumes all of the upfront financial risks. In other words, the author pays all the costs and hopes to make back his/her money and hopefully some profit as well. These costs include cover art, editing, copy-editing, formatting, and the usual expenses incurred in publishing a book. (For the sake of this conversation, we’ll restrict ourselves to authors who don’t sign with any outside body which takes a percentage of the sale price for doing part of the work.) Depending on the desire, financial constraints, skills, and comfort zone of the author, some of this may be contracted out for a flat fee (rather than a percentage of sales). Or they author may elect to do some of the work herself. We can all point to examples ranging from completely done by the author, poorly or well, or completely contracted out once the manuscript is finished.

But there’s a different sort of inide publishing. One that is just as viable, but where the author doesn’t assume as much of the risk, or in many cases any of it.

I’m talking about crowdfunding, of course. For those who might not be familiar with this method (I’m talking to both of you.), crowdfundng in general is a way by which individuals and companies can raise funds for particular projects. What typically happens is that there are different support levels. Each of these levels has some type of reward associated with it so that the supporters feel like they’re getting some tangible value for their dollars.

tobias buckellThis is becoming a popular method of putting together a book, whether the book has a single author or is an anthology. Tobias Buckell (pictured left) crowdfunded a novel (The Apocalypse Ocean), one of the first to do so. Emma Larkins interviewed him about the experience.  She is also crowdfunding a novel of her own.

But others have begun to do so as well. I have several in the queue to review.

Before I tell you what they are, though, I want to throw something out for discussion. It seems to me that unless there’s some name recognition to the project, either the author, the editor, or a contributor in the case of an anthology, a crowdfunded publishing project will have a hard time getting off the ground.

What do the rest of you think?

One of the advantages I see in crowdfunding is that it allows a project, be that project book, comic, music, or whatever, to find an audience. Not everything will have the mass appeal the major publishers are looking for. Some things just naturally have a smaller audience. Crowdfunding gives those projects the opportunity to see the light of day and find their audience. And if they break out and become huge, all the better.

Dinocalypse-NowHere are some things I’ve got on my shelves that were crowdfunded. This list isn’t complete, but it contains titles I’ll be reviewing here over the next few months, along with one I reviewed on my blog that I really liked.

First, there’s Dinocalypse Now by Chuck Wendig. From Evil Hat Productions, this is the first in a series of novels that look like they’re going to be a heck of a lot of fun. It’s basically a mashup of all kinds of pulp tropes from the 1930s and includes superheroes, talking apes, and of course, marauding dinosaurs.

Matt Forbeck made a name for himself last year with his 12 in 12 campaign on Kickstarter. He crowdfunded four trilogies, each different in tone and style from the others. And while he’s still working on finishing them, what he’s put out so far has gotten plenty of positive buzz. I’ll probably review the first novel in the Shotguns and Sorcery Trilogy, Hard Times in Dragon City. It’s a blend of two of my favorite genres, noir and sword and sorcery.  It’s just recently been made available to the general bookbuying public.  Supporters got their copies last fall.

Tales of the Emerald Serpent, shown at the top of the post, is a shared world anthology edited by Scott Taylor. Of the books I’m listing, this is the only one I’ve read yet (review here), although I’ve either got them or will be receiving them as rewards for crowdfunding campaigns. This one was a lot of fun, had stories by some of my favorite authors and some authors who I’d not read before. I’m hoping there will be some followup volumes.

Bradley Beaulieu recently ran a very successful Kickstarter campaign to publish all of his short fiction to date. Lest Our Passage be Forgotten and Other Stories was so successful that Beaulieu had to add stretch goals. Right now he’s writing additional stories and having interior artwork commissioned.

Shadam-Khoreh-CoverWhich brings me to the novel I didn’t quite get finished and will be the subject of next week’s review. The Flames of Shadam Khoreh is the concluding volume in Beaulieu’s The Lays of Anuskaya trilogy. What makes this particular book so unique is that it had already been accepted by the publisher of the first two volumes of the trilogy. Due to scheduling and other issues, Mr. Beaulieu took the book back and is publishing it himself. The Kickstarter campaign for the book began last week and has already met its goal and is now working on its stretch goals.

Mr. Beaulieu was kind enough to send me an advance electronic copy of the book, and I’ll tell you this much. It’s good. It’s very, very good. I should be able to finish the book in the next day or so, certainly in plenty of time to have the review posted next week. Look for it.

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  1. I view Kickstarter, as it relates to novels, as a win-win for an Author. Let's say you want to fund some challenge coins for your military-science fantasy series. You could give out extras as promos, and pledgers would get one as well. let's say no one's ever heard of your series. Well guess what? Even if your project fails, NOW people have heard of it. Kickstarter readers. You just basically placed a commercial for free on the Kickstarter site.

    As for raising funds to finish a novel… I am amazed that works. I think the only funds an indie writer really needs to raise are promotional ones. For ads, for a publicist, that kind of thing.

  2. Great post. I'm actually running a Kickstarter right now for my science fiction novel Hollow World. I wanted to return to self-publishing (currently published through Orbit) and I wanted to "do it right" so that meant hiring very expensive resources for cover design and editing. I originally estimated $3,000 for this and so that's what I set up my funding for. I still have 16 days yet and I'm approaching $16,000! What's really neat about this is now you can have and do everything that traditional publishing does. It's certainly a brave new world.

      1. Michael, Thanks for the link. I've been swamped at work lately and am just now getting my head above water. Your column is one I read but am currently behind on. I'm looking forward to reading what you have to say.

  3. I'm a fan of Kickstarter and Crowdfunding as well. I've backed a number of projects, mostly poetry collections or anthologies. They've all been successful and some have even made several stretch goals. To answer your question about whether a well-known name is necessary for the project's success – well, it certainly doesn't hurt. Most of the projects I've backed have either been put forward by someone I am familiar with and/or included a Big Name. Others I've backed because I think/thought the topic was brilliant or important (Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction From the Margins of History; The Future Embodied Science Fiction Anthology) not because I knew anyone (at first). There will always be risk involved in such a venture and if you do something like it you must be prepared to do everything in your power to get the word out and keep getting it out. Sometimes they can take on a life of their own, if it catches people's imaginations, but I expect it takes a lot of work to get people interested, finding new places to make it known, etc.

    1. Diane, most of the projects I've supported on Kickstarter have been anthologies or single author collections as well. I only listed a few of the ones I've supported. So far, other than the one I mentioned and one that's still going, all of them have met their goals. I'm sure it takes a lot of work to run a successful Kickstarter campaign. I completely agree with your assessment of what it takes to succeed..

  4. Keith, have you heard of the Kickstarter-type platform specifically for writers, Pubslush: They allow writers to keep the money they raise even if they don't meet their goals. Unfortunately they don't seem to be very well known as yet. And the quality of the books available for funding seems rather poor. But what do you think of their business model?

  5. Thanks for the recommendations, Keith. And this is certainly a ripe subject.

    I'm a Kickstarter fan, and I've seen brilliant successes, but I really feel for the people who don't fund successfully. The public "failure" element has to be tough for most folks, however there's a lot to be said for the exposure factor.

    Happy reviewing!

    1. I've seen some great stuff from Kickstarter, and I suspect we've only seen the tip of the proverbial iceberg when it comes to using it to publish. I agree with you about the "failure" aspect. There was a project I pledged last year, a collection by a writer I'd not heard of. This author had gotten the endorsement of a prominent author/editor, which is how I heard of the project. Unfortunately, the project didn't take off, and the author pulled the plug on it before the deadline. I was really disappointed, because this person seemed to be a fresh voice. I only hope the author has kept writing. This was one of the things I was thinking about when I asked the question about how much name recognition was necessary for a project to be successful.

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