Monday, February 18, 2013

Adventures in Indie Publishing: Is Crowdfunding the Future of Publishing?

In the last couple years, crowdfunding has become one of the premier ways of funding projects. Across the board, there are some great advantages to this. The project might not have a place being funded by traditional investors or companies, or too risky for them to consider it. It might just be small, a one-off thing, or something else beneath the notice of larger, monied entities.

As pertains to this glorious site, there are a multitude of projects worthy of your time and attention- comics, tabletop and video games, movies and books. I could talk ramble for days about any, but (predictably) I want to address books (and, quite frankly, it’s the more interesting crowdfunding subject).

For reference, on Kickstarter, a publishing project is far less likely to be funded than almost any other category (thanks to Bart Leib for calculating the % funded/odds of success for publishing). Given the success a lot of projects see in the other areas (comics and games leap to mind), why is this?

Goals are set too high: Last month I broke down how much it costs to publish a book. If the goal is $15,000, where exactly is that money going? Funding physical printing, perhaps, but even that raises questions. Start with an epub and go from there.

Your book isn’t worth $50: While there are a lot of cool rewards I have seen associated with books (cover art prints, signed copies, shirts, stickers, etc), in the end you’re paying for a book. If those additional rewards raise the pledge amount, the dollars won’t flow.

Just who are you, anyway? The majority of projects on Kickstarter have no name recognition behind them (which is why they’re on Kickstarter in the first place). But in light of the above, it makes it a little hard to throw money at a no-name author, especially if it seems overpriced or suspect.

Over-marketing. Or under marketing, for that matter. Some creators put their project up and expect it to be an instant sensation (Kickstarter does not put as many eyes on a project as you might think). Others spam their social media to the point where no one wants to hear about it. There’s not a magic bullet for it, but marketing probably makes a huge difference.

Saturation: It’s harder to stand out from the crowd on a page full of books. There are less pictures to catch the eye and set a project apart. Within games, for example, you have a myriad of choices- board game, card game, RPG, tiles, the list goes on. A book is, well, a book. The description will virtually always follow the same formula- plot, with a little background. There is almost no way to tell if it will be good when stretched over 50,000+ words. You are, in essence, asked to judge a book by its cover- which may not even be completed yet.

So while numerous novels have fallen victim to the above problems, one area that has seemed to do well are short story collections and anthologies. Unidentified Funny Stories jumps to mind, as does Crossed Genres, which raised nearly four times its goal. Short collections and anthologies address most of the problems above- the authors will have some reputation behind them, or at least you can sample the writing. The goals are far easier to tie into the book, and saturation is less of a problem, since you’re paying for a bunch of stories anyway.

So is it the future? Probably not, but it's definitely a part of it.

Brian White runs Fireside Magazine, a monthly multi-genre magazine, which is in the midst of a Kickstarter to fund it’s second year, and has already seen a trio of successful campaigns for its first three issues. He was kind enough to play along for...

Five Questions with Brian White

1. With crowdfunding short story collections, how do you handle submissions?

For our first three issues, most of our stories were from writers who we invited to be in Fireside. It made sense to have writers lined up ahead of time so that potential backers could see who they would be getting stories from. It also made sense, since we were starting the magazine from scratch, to have the writers lined up rather than first going through submissions.

After we funded our second issue, we felt like we were in a place to start taking submissions. We were open for a month and picked up eight stories, one of which we used in Issue Three. The other seven will be appearing during Year Two, if our Kickstarter is funded.

Also, if the Kickstarter is funded, we plan on opening to submissions for flash fiction on March 15. We will be running two pieces of flash in each monthly issue, and all of those slots are open.

2. With your recent shift from crowdfunding each issue to now funding an entire year, where do you see Fireside after that year- and even further down the road?

After funding three issues one at a time last year, we hope funding an entire year at once will put us on a more stable footing and create certainty for both our readers and for the magazine. We also hope to use this breathing room to give us time to shift from crowdfunding to subscriptions as our main source of cash.

3. What do you feel the key factors are for a crowdfunding campaign to be successful?

I think the main thing goes back to something Amanda Palmer said last year: if you want to crowdfund, first you need a crowd. Kickstarters and other crowdfunding projects live and die by word of mouth. You have to at least have a core group of people interested in what you are doing. They become your base, and they support you both with pledges and by spreading the word to their friends and on their social networks. Besides the logistics, that is another reason we have had writers lined up before a Kickstarter: they each bring their own crowds. It's a lot easier to sell a magazine if you have a built-in audience of the writers' fans to sell it to.

It's also important to stay on top of the campaign and not be afraid to market it heavily during whatever time period it is up. I know some people hesitate to flog their Kickstarter or whatever too much, but you have to keep it out there in front of people because it can take more than one exposure to it to generate a pledge. You can of course do too much and people will tune you out; but there is a balance.

Finally, having a good range of rewards, starting with your basic product, and the working up through a variety of premium extras that give people lots of entry points, pledge-wise. If you have big gaps in the reward prices, say from $25 to $100, you might end up just getting that $25 when someone would be interested in pledging $50 or $75.

4. How do you think crowdfunding will affect publishing in general in the coming years?

I think that crowdfunding, which has really exploded in the past year, will settle into being one of many ways for people to try to make a living creatively, along with traditional paths and things like self-publishing on Amazon. I don't know if the volume of projects will keep increasing, but I think it's here to stay. People like connecting directly with projects that interest them, and they like being a part of bringing them to life.

5. As someone who has ran multiple successful campaigns ad backs a lot of projects, any advice for the creators in the audience?

You have to have a clear, well-thought-out presentation of your idea. I've passed on backing a lot of projects that, when I look at their pitch, it is either unclear, or muddled, or has wildly unrealistic goals (either high or low) that show the creator hasn't thought through the fulfillment of the project. Tell people what you are doing, why it is important to you, and what they get out of it, and get out of the way. And, please, make sure you've thought through every dollar you need, and don't ask for a dollar more or less.

(Many thanks to Brian for taking the time to answer those- I have thoroughly enjoyed the first few issues and highly recommend backing the second year. Brain is also one of the more entertaining people on Twitter and you can catch back issues of Fireside on the website for free)

What I’m doing, in case you care:

Work on the Sprocket Books site rolls merrily along, and should be fully functional by the end of the week. I am already plotting next month's AiIP, which will talk about the rise of hybrid publishers, and not just my own plan to take over the world.

I am also taking next weekend, and hiding myself away in a cabin with a bottle of gin and my laptop to finish editing on the first 3024AD collection. So by the end of next week, there will be a firm release date and even more good news about what is to come.

As to that first collection, I struggle a little with how to describe it. It’s not a serial novel in the traditional sense, although is most certainly is a serial novel. But it has other stories there that only relate to the main story, or rather, cross paths with it. But they tie into other stories that are yet to come, so maybe the whole thing is one big serial. Take from that what you will. In any case, if you like hard science fiction, drama, intrigue and interstellar gentleman thieves, stay tuned.

What I’m reading, in case you care:

I just picked up Seven Wonders, by Adam Christopher on the recommendation of my friend Matt, and while I just started it, it is already scratching several itches. Superheroes are woefully under-explored in novel format and Adam seems to have done a great job. In fact, there is quite the list of books from Angry Robot in my (digital) to-be-read pile.

I mentioned awhile back I am working through Worlds Other Than These, I am still working on it, but it has my recommendation based purely on Moon Six, a clever take on time/dimension travel. Steven Baxter does a fantastic job of capturing the feelings in the story, mostly of isolation and loneliness. If you’re into that.

In case you missed it Friday, I want to read your stuff. Rather, I want to showcase quality indie/self-published books. So if you have one, send an email that meets the criteria (if you don’t read I will also assume you can’t write) and I will do my very best to check it out.