As an independent author, I will never have the much-coveted (and reported-on) 7-figure advance. The reason being, of course, that I am my own publisher, and so can’t give myself an advance. Or so I thought.
Recently, as I was looking through my email messages, I saw a call for independent authors to apply for a free pilot course on crowdfunding for authors. (For those of you who don’t know, crowdfunding is NOT, as you might think, “begging for money for a cause.” I’ll explain why in a bit). I thought, “Why not?” I applied, then forgot all about it. A few weeks later, without even expecting it, I got an email confirming that I was one of 9 authors chosen to take a course to design a crowdfunding campaign to publish a new book.
To be honest, it couldn’t have come at a better time. Publishing independently requires a lot of capital up front. Without the financial backing of a publisher, you have to find your own investors or simply save up and pay for everything yourself in advance (which is what I was doing). And if you’re serious about creating a quality product (as I am), then you’ll have to pay a little extra for good editors, interior designers, and cover artists.
A little about Crowdfunding
Initially, I was very leery about crowdfunding. I’m sure you know what I mean. How many requests to pay for someone’s medical bills do you see every day on Facebook, right? So on the one hand I felt a little obnoxious asking for support for publishing books when people are dying. On the other hand, I was also just unsure about asking people for money at all (it’s part of my upbringing).
But then, something clicked in my head. I wasn’t asking for money, actually. Kickstarter is an interesting platform, because it’s not built on asking for donations. It’s actually a platform where investors (not rich ones, just regular joe’s like you and me) who love the arts can help brings creative projects to fruition. But as in any investment, they expect to get something in return. And that’s where Kickstarter gets interesting.
The backbone of any campaign is the reward tier structure. Basically, you offer your investors gifts in return for their financial support. That’s where it really started to make sense for me. Rather than wait for readers to buy my books after they’re published, why not gather a tribe of eager readers even before the books come out? It’s basically a pre-order sale, but at a discount that they’ll never see on Amazon or even on my own website.
A tiny soapbox speech about gatekeepers
It used to be that getting published by a major publisher was a matter of prestige. And it made sense, because editors used to look for quality of work. Editors used to pride themselves on finding the “next Hemmingway” or “the next Virginia Wolfe” or whoever. But that has not been the case for a while now.
And I’m not making this up. No less venerable a personage than the late, lamented Ursula LeGuin wrote about this for Harper’s Weekly about ten years ago. Here’s her withering assessment of the state of modern publishing:
Moneymaking entities controlled by obscenely rich executives and their anonymous accountants have acquired most previously independent publishing houses with the notion of making quick profit by selling works of art and information…Some of them are so alert they can scent out promising new writers. Some of them have their eyes so wide open they can even proofread. But it doesn’t do them much good. For years now, most editors have had to waste most of their time on an unlevel playing field, fighting Sales and Accounting.
In those departments, beloved by the CEOs, a “good book” means a high gross and a “good writer” is one whose next book can be guaranteed to sell better than the last one. That there are no such writers is of no matter to the corporationeers, who don’t comprehend fiction even if they run their lives by it. Their interest in books is self-interest, the profit that can be made out of them—or occasionally, for the top executives, the Murdochs and other Merdles, the political power they can wield through them; but that is merely self-interest again, personal profit.
The exciting relationship between a promising young writer and a grizzled editor as shown in the recent movie Genius is basically no longer a reality.
This means that many a good book that doesn’t make instant profits may never get traditionally published.
But in the age of Amazon, readers themselves have become gatekeepers. They can browse a library of literally millions of books, because some of them (though independently published) are actually quite good. And the internet allows access to such readers in ways that were previously impossible. For me, that means that the book that I’ve had edited by one of the better professionals in the field, with a cover designed by Stephen King’s own designer, can get in front of people who might be interested to read it, even if I don’t have the might of Tor or Harper Collins at my back.
As a result…
So when I offered potential readers/investors the chance to pre-fund the rest of my Raven Son series (all five books), I was hoping to raise enough money to cover production costs (that’s it). That would allow me to write and publish the entire series by the end of 2018 and put it in the hands of eager readers, confident that I’ve done everything I can to make the books as good as a traditionally published novel.
I could then confidently send my manuscript to my editor Michael Rowley, who has edited writers like Katherine Arden (The Bear and the Nightingale) and Andy Weir (The Martian)
And he’s a really nice guy, to boot, with a great love for fantasy as a genre.
I also would have the luxury of continuing to employ Stuart Bache to do my covers. He’s worked with John LeCarré, the Tolkien estate, and Stephen King. In his own words, he “hopes to change the landscape of self-published covers, single-handedly if necessary.” Basically, his job is to make his books look no different than a book written by Neil Gaiman (see this amazing video of him opening up his newest paperback). And he does a gorgeous job of it, as far as I’m concerned:
To my shock and surprise, my Kickstarter campaign funded completely within 24 hours. And here’s where Kickstarter as a platform really shows its advantages. It is all-or-nothing, meaning that if you don’t fund the whole amount in time, you don’t get anything. Conversely, if you do gather enough support, there is no cap to how much you can fund. So professional Kickstarter users have come up with the idea of a “stretch goal.”
Basically, the creator of a project can set new goals to fund ever more complicated additions to his project. For me, that meant that certain things I had been planning for the distant future could now become realities. In particular, the following will be available throughout the course of 2018:
- audiobooks of all 5 books in the series
- hardcover versions, including a special numbered and signed limited edition version of book 1
- mass market paperback versions of all 5 books
- illustrations for an extra special limited edition hardcover version of book 1
I was also able to do some exciting extra-special bonuses, which you can see in this graphic:
As of today, the Kickstarter crossed $20,000.00 in funding. We need another $5,000.00 to ensure a budget for illustrations by a professional artist.
I’ll be introducing my audiobook narrator as soon as the project concludes. I’m very excited about his work.
In the meantime, if you’d like to help the project reach its $25,000.00 goal to help fund a series of professional illustrations of The Song of the Sirin, here’s the link for the Kickstarter page.
Oh, and yesterday I finished the last rewrite of book 3, The Heart of the World. It’ll be published in mid-March. Or you can get an early version of it (either electronic, or signed paperback) if you support my Kickstarter.