Dec 8, 2011

Kickstarted to the Curb

I’ll get right to the point and say it; I don’t get the recent trend of authors using Kickstarter to fund their projects. And because I don’t get it, I really don’t support it or plan to go that route myself.

“Hold on there just one second, Mr. Hypocrite!” some of you might say, “Haven’t I seen you retweet other authors’ Kickstarter projects?” To which I’ll freely admit that I have. Why? Because A) I’m happy to help promote my fellow writers and B) I know that my opinion does not necessarily represent yours. Thus even if I don’t “get” something, that doesn’t mean I won’t help pass it on to someone who might.

And no, this doesn’t mean I always retweet things I don’t agree with. I just mention this so that I don’t get a bunch of comments along the lines of “So will you retweet my stuff even though I’m a drug-dealing KKK member who votes along Nazi party lines?” Let’s not be stupid here, shall we?

Don’t get me wrong, I understand Kickstarter itself just fine and I’m a fan of it. I think crowd-sourcing for new business ideas is a great idea. Let the masses decide what is a worthy project and what isn’t. Personally I think it’s better than a bank in that you don’t have the creditors knocking on your door. Likewise I think it’s better than investors who otherwise might be eager to swoop down and not only claim a healthy ownership of your company but might also be tempted to add in more of their two cents than might otherwise be asked for.

In addition to this, I can also understand various other creative types using Kickstarter to try to fund their projects. For example studio time can be very expensive for a singer, and if I like their samples then I’d probably want to give them a chance to see what they can really do. But funding someone to write a book? Sorry, I’m just not seeing it.

Even more mind-boggling to me is the asking price of a few of the pre-funding requests that I’ve seen. I’ve seen a few manufacturing start-ups on Kickstarter asking for $10K or less to help them build out prototypes and market them. Comparatively, I’ve seen a couple of authors asking for far more than that amount. I don’t want to point fingers but should it really be twice as much to help fund a book as it would be for another group to begin mass production of their widgets?

To put this into perspective, I’ve written four books so far. Far less than some but more than others. In other words, probably enough to have worn the new car smell off of me. As far as I am aware the actual process of writing cost me nothing but my time (and maybe a few sanity points). Now you might ask me whether or not I consider my time to be valuable. I would truthfully answer that I certainly do. However, valuable or not, it is of my own free accord that I choose to spend that time writing books. The commitment is mine to make, whether it be weeks, months, or years.

The second part of this equation is in how I choose to get my work out there. I choose to self-publish as it appears many of the Kickstarter projects I’ve seen also do. In choosing this route I realize that I am giving up on certain potential benefits (like cash advances). However, in return I gain a greater share of the end sale and much greater control over my work. Personally I find it a fair tradeoff, and one that will hopefully become (monetarily) profitable with time.

Writing aside, does this mean the journey is free? No, of course not. Even ignoring basic staples such as food and shelter there are certainly expenses involved. At a minimum there’s cover design and editing to take into account. I can take it even further and invest in layout services, etc etc. However, I also consider these expenses to be mine to take into consideration. The hope being that I put in the time, effort, and cost up front, market the ever living hell out of things, and then you, good reader, maybe come along and decide to take a chance on my mental ramblings (at which point you immediately join my “Rick’s favorite people” list :) . In return you get a finished waiting necessary. If that happens enough times I eventually recoup my costs and maybe even come out a few nickels ahead of the game. If it doesn’t then I either keep trying or pack up my crayons and head home.

So that brings me back to the folks on Kickstarter. Are these “have their cake and eat it too” attempts? In other words trying to have the best of both worlds; the cash advance of traditional publishing but retaining all of the freedoms a self-pubbed author has? I could see that and it’s certainly a tempting prospect.

Or perhaps it’s all about marketing. Maybe putting a project on Kickstarter is more about building advance advance that you get to decide whether or not it’s even worth your time to start writing. Perhaps in some cases there isn’t even a realistic expectation to reach their funding levels. Maybe it’s all about eyeballs and attention, neither of which are bad things for writers.

And then there’s the more pragmatic possibility. Are the upfront costs meant to not only cover the costs of the book but also provide those little living staples like food and shelter? I can understand that, especially given the current state of the economy. I don’t think anyone would argue that writing the next great literary masterpiece from the confines of a dumpster wouldn’t be a bit challenging.

Or maybe it’s all some combination of the above. I don’t know and I’m honestly curious. Despite the bitching nature of the above (welcome to the world of blogging!) I don’t have a personal vendetta against those who go this route. If you use this and it works for you, I think that’s great. In fact I’m hoping that maybe a few of the Kickstarter-ers (yeah yeah, I’m making up words now) might chime in down in the comments to let me know their thoughts on this. I’m not seeking to condemn you. I’m just seeking to understand you. And at the end of the day it may very well be the case that you are simply just that much better at this game than I am. Or not. Either way, though, I’d love to be enlightened.


Crazy Life of a Writing Mom said...

This is sooo interesting, especially your intuitive thoughts at the end. I'd never heard of Kickstarter before. Sooo wild!

Unknown said...

I've never heard of this Kickstarter thing. Sounds interesting, but I'm not sure that's the kinda thing I'd go for, honestly...

Cary Caffrey said...

I considered Kickstarter for perhaps 2 minutes before dismissing it. Considering all the things we have to take care of when writing and publishing, Kickstarter seemed like one more thing to clog up my time.

I prefer concentrating on the writing and the promoting. Going the independent route is an investment in time (and in myself). I'm beholdin' to no one, not even kickstarter, and it's quite liberating creatively.

Rick G said...

Elisa, Nick I've been aware of Kickstarter for a while, mostly from the gadget perspective. A lot of people have used it to find new (and fairly interesting) iPhone / iPad dongles and such. It's a pretty neat service and there are a couple of really cool success stories from it. With regards to that I like it and highly recommend it for anyone who has that million dollar product idea but is wary of funding it through loans.

Rick G said...

Cary, agree with you 100% on the writing and promoting.

dougbittinger said...

Having a background in manufacturing (custom furniture) I can see where something like kickstarter would be enticing, but as a writer... nah, not even interested. As you say, the costs are not that exorbitant to produce a good book. Sound to me like the new version of an artists patron.

Holly said...

I haven't heard of Kickstart either, but considering I like bouncing new ideas off future projects I'm sure I would have come across it eventually. This seems like some stuff to consider though.