So I usually don’t jump in on internet kerfuffles, but the recent blowup over Stacey Jay’s kick starter really caught my attention. The short version is that author Stacey Jay started a kickstarter for her next YA novel after her publisher declined to buy it. She factored in living expenses as part of the money to be raised, and got a lot of blowback for that choice, so much, in fact, that she ended up canceling the Kickstarter and apologizing.
I'm not the only person to weigh in. There’s a Roundup at Bookshelves of Doom. And I particularly liked the response written by Chuck Wendig and Laura Lam. So I’ll just share a few thoughts.
1. What is the biggest cost of writing a book?
My dad, a lifelong businessman, once asked me what my biggest cost was for a self publishing project I was planning. I started quoting a rundown of editing costs, cover artist quotes, etc, but he stopped me halfway and said, “No Livia, your biggest cost is your time.” And of course, he’s right. This is business 101, but somehow for writers, the idea of time being a valuable thing is counterintuitive.
2. Startup adventures.
At MIT, I had some talented classmates who developed a cool idea for a health monitoring iphone app. They applied to venture-capital programs,and were awarded 30k for three months of living expenses, as well as office space and mentoring. Everybody viewed this as a good thing, and now they have an awesome app.
Now, you can quibble and say that venture-capital companies get a percentage of the profits, the model is different, etc, etc… But really, does anyone think that if those same friends from MIT had run a kickstarter, they would have gotten the same criticism for guilting others into "financing their dream of being stay-at-home full-time programmers"?
The issue here is perception of art as work vs. play. And yes, art is play for many people. But writing good commercial fiction is skilled labor that takes time, training, and practice. I’ve never read Jay’s work, but from all reports, she has a fan base and a sizeable backlist, and any writer who has gotten to that point got there by treating writing as work, and not as a hobby.
3. Rich people art vs. poor people art.
Would I use Kickstarter to fund my next book? No. Not because of any ethical issue, but simply because kickstarters are a pain to put together. They take a percentage of the money you raise, and the prizes and rewards take time to send out. It’s so much easier simply to self publish the normal way; upload to Amazon/Nook/ITunes and have then take care of the details.
The thing is, Kickstarter is for people who need the advance money. I'm very lucky to have a spouse who can support both of us. And believe me, as I start putting together my submission package for my next book, I am acutely aware of how privileged I am, compared to my many colleagues who rely on that advance check to pay the rent. And it strikes me as funny that if my publisher were to decline my next book, and I were to self publish it quietly, I would be considered a proper, rule following writer, while someone like Stacey gets called privileged and entitled.
Advance funding for writers, whether through a publishing house or crowdfunding, has always served as a way to support artists while they work. If advances were to disappear, art would still be created, but it would be disproportionately made by people with disposable income and time. This isn’t a threat or emotional blackmail. It's simply the way the world works.
4. Crowdfunding as the future.
And here’s where I get really speculative. The digital era has changed everything, and as we move into the future, artists of all types are wrestling with issues of copyright, piracy, subscription models, etc. I remember reading about an institute that pays writers a flat fee for novels (around $50k or so) and then releases their work into the public domain. And I wonder if artists will turn more to advance crowdsourcing both as a way to ensure they get paid, and also as a way to be more free about their copyright later on. Just speculations, but I, for one, certainly hope that writers and readers will be open to to new ways to fund and create art. It will be a rocky path, and as with any endeavor, will result in more failures and successes. But the future is bright, and I'm excited to see where it all leads.
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