Crowdfunding Fiction River: An Interview with Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Kristine Kathryn Rusch
Kristine Kathryn Rusch

My post on crowdfunding a few weeks back generated some really great discussion and seemed to tap into something of interest to a great many people. This topic, like the rest of publishing these days, is very dynamic, so it’s one I’m going to return to on a regular basis.

Two of the people leading the charge into the world of electronic publishing are Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. They’re prolific authors, publishing award-winning fiction in a variety of genres under multiple names. They’re also accomplished editors. Rusch is a former award-winning editor of Fantasy and Science Fiction. Smith has been a fiction editor for computer magazines and an art editor for Simon and Schuster. The two of them together ran Pulphouse Publishing, one of the most critically acclaimed small presses of the late 80s and early 90s. (I’m looking at an almost complete set of their hardback anthology series as I write this.) They both won World Fantasy Awards for their work on Pulphouse.

Their latest venture is the bionthly original anthology series Fiction River, which will debut on Tuesday, May 23. It is a crowdfunded project.

Kris was kind enough to take a few minutes and answer some questions about Fiction River and the experience of crowdfunding.

Keith West for Amazing Stories: You both have extensive editing experience. Why did you decide to return to editing?

Kris: The new world of publishing made it easy. As I say in my introduction to Fiction River: Unnatural Worlds, we could return to editing without all the headaches of editing. The greatest headache for me was working for someone else. I also grew to hate the slush. So we could design Fiction River to exist without slush, and we didn’t have to answer to anyone. It was ideal.

ASM: What made you choose the name Fiction River?

Kris: We came up with a lot of ideas, but we liked this one the best. The plan is to have an anthology series that has no set genre. In the first year alone, we have a fantasy volume, a volume that has both hard sf and mainstream stories, a time travel volume (is that sf or fantasy? It depends…), a paranormal romance volume, an urban fantasy volume, an off-world science fiction volume, and a mystery special. We’re planning even more genre surprises for the second year. So we needed an overall name that would reflect a flowing journey not some set destination. Somehow, we came up with Fiction River.2940016751405_p0_v1_s260x420

ASM: Why did you decide to use crowdfunding on this project?

Kris: We wanted to gauge the interest. If the Kickstarter project failed, we wouldn’t have done Fiction River. It was that simple. If no one wanted to buy it, then we weren’t going to do it. We funded so fast that we were stunned, and then we were excited, and now we’re just plain thrilled to hold the first volume in our hands.

ASM: Have either of you ever crowdfunded a project before? And would you do it again?

Kris: We hadn’t done crowdfunding before, and we will do it again with the right project. It’s not easy. It takes a lot of work. But it’s really fun too.

ASM: What was the most challenging thing about the whole process?

Kris: Figuring out what works now as opposed to what worked 20 years ago. As far ahead as Dean and I are in this new world of publishing, we also were formed in the old world, so we occasionally make assumptions that aren’t accurate for the modern market. Or we underestimate how easy something will be. A lot of the behind-the-scenes stuff proved easier than expected, and one or two things were harder. For example, we couldn’t find a good place to do a quality limited edition any more, so we put that on hold, at least for the first volume.

ASM: What was the most fun or exciting?

Kris: It’s all been fun and exciting. Every single step. The crowd funding. Inviting the authors. Reading the stories. Actually putting an issue together, then holding it in my hands. What’s really cool now is listening to what WMG Publishing’s Audio Director Jane Kennedy is doing with the upcoming audio edition. Wow, is that going to be good. And initially, that was just an afterthought for me and Dean.

ASM: If you could do one thing differently in this project, what would it be?

Kris: Nothing so far. And that’s saying something!

AMZ: How did you apply the things you learned from Pulphouse to Fiction River? What things were the same and what things were different?

Kris: We couldnt’ do this if we hadn’t done Pulphouse. Or F&SF. Plus two of the people who work at WMG worked in actual newspapers, one of them a newspaper publisher and the other handling newspaper subscriptions. So they just took to the technical subscription sides like ducks to water.

It’s easier now to publish something and reach people. Twenty years ago, we had to go directly to booksellers. Today, booksellers are hard to find, but we can reach subscribers with a touch of a button. I don’t know what will happen next week when the first volume actually goes live and people can order directly off Amazon, B&N, and in other bookstores, but that’s very, very different. We have subscribers already and no one but us has seen an issue. That’s unbelievably cool.

Photo for Kickstarter.medium
Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rusch

ASM: You both run popular blogs in which you write about trends in publishing and give advice to writers. What would your advice be to an author who wants to use crowdfunding to finance a book?

Kris: The author needs an existing fan base. Or a supercool idea. Or both. At least 30% of the income will go to the crowd source site and to the rewards, so plan for that. And don’t promise something you can’t deliver. Have a good video or at least an interesting one, and underestimate how much you’ll need. If you get greedy, you won’t make your goal, and then all that effort will be wasted.

ASM: Given that things are changing rapidly in the publishing world, and no one really knows what’s going to happen, do either of you see crowdfunding as a viable publishing model on a large scale?

Kris: I think it might be for the right projects. Have you seen what just happened with the Veronica Mars Kickstarter project? That’s a Hollywood level project and it funded up. Of course it had that existing fan base, and Rob Thomas had already done the research so he knew what he was getting into.

So many projects fail because the person doing it basically says, “Give me money and I’ll do something cool.” That never works. You’re going to fans and asking them to pre-buy something. It had better be something they want. With that in mind, crowd-funding is the way of the future for many works that wouldn’t exist otherwise.

ASM: If you were conducting this interview, what question would you ask that I haven’t?

Kris: If my brain weren’t mush from all the deadlines and the various things I’m trying to get done, I might think of something. But right now, I’m shutting off the computer and letting myself rest…

ASM: Thank you very much.

Fiction River will be available in electronic and print formats. You can preorder at these vendors:  Amazon  Barnes and Noble and of course, from the publisher WMG Publishing. I’ll do my best to read the first volume by next week and review it. If I’m not able to finish the book by the time I need to upload next week’s post, I’ll review it the following week. So stay tuned.

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