Thursday, May 23, 2013

Investing In a Book is Not the Same as Buying One

A lot of authors are kickstarting (or, I can only assume, Indiegogo-ing) novels these days, essentially doing what established writers have been telling wannabe's not to do for years: attempting to sell the idea of a novel before having the novel itself.

Obviously, this was advice mostly given to those who had written very little in their lives and thought that a great novel idea was somehow a ticket to stardom - as if they actual work of writing the novel were trivial rather than the actually valuable part of the whole package. Same went for making videogames, in case you were wondering. I see that same trends and same advice repeated ad infinitum in both spheres to the hopeful masses.

I have to admit that this irked me at first with novels where it did not with games. I have proudly backed several games on Kickstarter and intend to continue doing so, as creating a videogame often requires investments beyond the bounds of a single creator laboring away lonely in their basement. Multiple team members, proprietary technology, art and sound resources, etc etc.

But novels? Generally the only thing standing in the way of their completion is the author finding the time to write them - a problem which would seem to be nonexistant for authors who have already "gone professional" and assumedly spend a fair deal of their time writing. Thus I scoffed, at first, at the idea of professional authors kickstarting novels they hadn't written yet. Most of the ones I looked at didn't even have so much as an opening chapter - just some concept art and, indeed, a fairly bare "concept" of the plot.

Of course, being the "live and let not-give-a-fuck" sort of fellow that I am, my reaction to all this wasn't of the they shouldn't be doing this variety. It was more of the would I ever do this? sort, with a decisive lean towards no.

Having thought about it some more, I can't be so sure. I generally see Kickstarter used for novels by fairly niche authors, who have a small but devoted following. These authors aren't getting filthy rich on their books. They make a modest but livable income. They have a proven track record of providing quality products (this is the most important thing in crowdfunding, for me!). Only an utter idiot would throw that reputation away in a scheme to get quick 10 or 20 grand (or whatever the number) up front.

I haven't heard of any audiences being burned on kickstarting a novel, whereas I have heard sob stories from nearly every other sector. Furthermore, it does open up some rather exciting options - offering cool things like big, silk-screened maps to backers without worrying if it'll earn out the investment you made up front.

Of course, when I think of doing such things myself, I remember that I can kickstart extras-packages like that without kickstarting the novel itself. Somehow it seems more honest to do it that way. After all, I don't really intend to write anything I don't think there isn't paying audience for - nor do I intend to write anything just because there is a paying audience. That is to say, I won't write anything I wouldn't enjoy writing (what is the point of pursuing professional authorhood, after all, but to truly enjoy what we do for a living?).

Obviously, I'm a long ways from actually needing to make any decisions on the subject. My thinking, though, is constantly evolving, leading me to repeat something I've been saying a lot:

I'm so excited to be in the game now, while everything is changing.


  1. I know one writer who used Kickstarter to help get a comic book off the ground--getting some assistance with the art and printing. It worked out okay. He earned his needed amount and the project launched. Not like he's selling millions, but those who participated weren't disappointed,and the work is published and reaching a small additional audience that may continue to grow.

    So with writing...and someone working to self-publish a novel, maybe helping to offset paying for top-notch cover art for example, through Kickstarter, makes sense to attempt.

    1. Comic book writing would definitely fall more with games than novels, in my (ahem) book. Unless the writer is a talented artist they're going to need to hire somebody else to help them, and illustrating a comic book is a pretty massive task.

  2. I agree that kickstarting a unwritten novel is a terrible idea, for some of the reasons you suggested. I would, however, understand kickstarting an already written novel that is made available (at least in part) online in order to actually print the book. This is what many webcomic artists do, which works quite effectively. Of course, this highlights the "self" in self-publishing... The writer would have to find a printer and manage sales later, but it's a way to print things for those writers strapped in cash. So really, backers are pre-ordering a print version of the book, which is totally reasonable.

    (Hey! I still read your blog! And sometimes your stories too :P)

    1. Hi Gail!

      I agree, getting something printing is certainly different. Especially a comic, which is usually a good deal more costly than getting even a print run of a novel.

      Personally, being that CreateSpace exists, I don't see myself wanting to do any large pre-paid print runs in the immediate future, but you never know.