Crowdfunding Your Novel – Good or Evil?

Books

The other day I was at a barbecue event with friends and we were talking about the idea of crowdfunding. For those who haven’t heard the term before, crowdfunding is an online campaign for artists and entrepreneurs to raise money to help cover the costs and mitigate the financial risk of their creative or business ventures.

Authors are getting on the bandwagon. There is a trend in social media for authors to fund their writing projects by seeking donations based on the book’s idea. It’s a great idea, in theory, and many authors have made money this way. In some cases, replacing the advances given to them by large  publishing companies. Even Marketing Wizard, Seth Godin, is crowdfunding his latest book.

Since traditional publishing houses typically only publish books that have a pre-existing fan base, it can be difficult for new authors to be acquired by a large publishing house. According to the Cadence Group,  crowdfunding  can “provide financial backing and proof of market viability for a new author, giving them the accreditation needed to be successful in the publishing industry.” 

It’s an innovative new way for self published authors to cover the costs of their next book and get paid to write it. But what about the idea of a book being a product that is supposed to make money? There would need to be some integrity required from the author to provide either a print or ebook copy (and other swag) in exchange for a donation.

Advances, however are just that: an advance against future sales. Crowdfunding seems to free the author up to make money on the book in addition to its sales, as opposed to making money off the book after it makes those sales.

I’ve also seen small publishing houses use sites like Kickstarter or Indiegogo to crowdfund for their magazine or anthology that’s going to be published. It gives them a chance to pay the authors and cover their printing, advertising, and distribution costs.

But what about authors who already have publishers? Or are locked into contracts and want to invest in promoting their book for bigger sales?  How would that work? Some publishing houses don’t pay much of an advance. More often than not,  publishers today expect authors to get out there and promote themselves online, which can take a lot of the author’s time. While the major houses have distribution in all the retail outlets, smaller publishing houses (and many Canadian publishing houses) don’t have that kind of distribution. In other cases, large publishing houses might only support a novel so far, not paying the hefty fees required to give the book placement. In those cases, would it make sense for an author to take matters into their own hands?

Given that crowdfunding is a trend, and possibly the future of writing, Would it be ethical for an author to crowdfund the novel in order to get that advance and cover the extra costs involved in promoting their book on their own? Is it only for indie (self-published) authors, or is it a good idea for all authors regardless of what route they took to publication?

This is where I ask you for your opinion. I would like to know what you think, as followers of my blog. At first, I personally rejected the idea of crowdfunding, but when it comes to promotion and distribution of my own books, published by a small house, would it be fair to ask for advance funding to cover some of the costs I’ve incurred, that my book sales (at a lesser percentage than self-published authors see) have yet to cover.

If so, what kinds of rewards would interest you. I’m open to any and all suggestions.

 

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8 thoughts on “Crowdfunding Your Novel – Good or Evil?

  1. Rena Traxel says:

    I donated to have a graphic novel done by an author that is already known. A author that has books published through HarperCollins. But the graphic novel was a side project. In return I get a signed copy of the graphic novel. I like this idea but how are consumers going to know they can trust an unknown unless of course in the example above the unknown is paired with someone reputable. I don’t think it’s unethical. People aren’t being forced to back a project. I would be hesitant to back someone I don’t know. Who knows if their writing is any good or if the project will go through an editor. But that unknown could give away the first chapter or a short story to prove their writing is good then I wouldn’t be so hesitant.

    • lvoisin says:

      Hi Rena, Those are great points. I especially like your comment about knowing the author. Would you back a friend’s novel?

  2. Kacey Vanderkarr says:

    I’m with you on this, in that I’m not sure which direction I should go. With an upcoming publication, I’m realizing all the costs incurred to market a book, even if you do have a small press backing you. Large bookstores make it impossible for authors to make money (Um, hello, B&N takes ALL of the profit from book signings, so the author, who wrote the dang book, makes absolutely ZERO and may even be out the cost of swag and freebies.) I wasn’t familiar with crowdfunding until I read your blog- but I’m fairly familiar with the idea for other ventures. It may very well be the way things are headed, but I have to say, how disrespectful is this to artists? That we are expected to work without pay? I can’t tell you how frustrating it is that I have friends who troll the internet to download free books and refuse to BUY a book at all.

    I guess this has turned into an author rant. I think that it’s SAD that this is necessary. Everyone should be paid for their work and I think that it’s a vicious cycle that’ll never get better.

    If this is the way it is, then I guess we better get on board, because hard work certainly isn’t making us any money.

    • lvoisin says:

      Hi Kacey, I’m glad I could introduce you to crowdfunding :). I had a friend who did it for her film, but she used it to pay her staff, and didn’t make much herself. When I mentioned it to friends, they thought there isn’t much cost to writing the novel, except a writer’s time and effort, which is what book sales should (hopefully) cover. They don’t know the costs of social media, publicists, memberships to organizations that will list your book, all of it costs the author. I wonder if an author asked for funding and explained where the costs would go if it would make a difference. Self-published authors have editors and book covers to pay for as well. It is an interesting concept. But the bottom line may be: Would you support an author doing that?

  3. Owen Stairs says:

    Crowdfunding is really a form of patronage, democratized and enabled by the internet. It allows people who are not rich to be patrons of the arts.

    There are two kinds of patronage, relationship based patronage and reputation based patronage. So patrons will support those they have a relationship with, out of love, respect or kindness, or they will support someone who has been shown to have the necessary skills and personal resources to produce whatever the proposed project may be.

    Because crowdfunding is based on the idea of many people supplying small amounts of money, it is less likely to be a useful source of relationship based patronage. But for people who have already have an established reputation, crowdfunding can be a powerful tool for supporting projects which may not be considered for professional corporate support.

    The danger with crowdfunding is in revealing too much, and potentially having your brilliant idea, whatever it may be, stolen, and this would especially true with an idea for something like a novel. In order to get a crowd excited enough about a project to actually support it, they need to have some idea of what that project is about.

    So, I guess in answer to the original question, crowdfunding can be a useful source of support for any artistic project, including a writing project, but especially with a writing project you would have to be very careful with what you gave away to attract the necessary support. And unfortunately crowdfunding is not likely to be a useful source of support for any artist without a proven reputation, which would make it virtually useless for new authors.

    Unfortunately the first skill a young artist needs to learn is the hustle – the art of self promotion. It’s not enough to simply be an artist, and the argument could be made that this has almost always been true.

  4. Shilpa Mudiganti says:

    Great point and something that interests me a lot. According to me, Crowdfunding is really to support the cost of producing something. Just like VC or angel investment. The production costs range from industry to industry. If you are starting a tech company, it is the cost of the software development, staff salaries, marketing, etc. If you are producing music, it is studio costs,etc.
    Crowdfuning a book is a little tricky but not confusing at all. You would typically crowdfund for a self-published book. I do not think it is right to say that there are no costs to writing. In fact, writing is only part of it. The real costs are to editing, cover design, and as you correctly pointed out, marketing. The more budget you have for it, the better you can make the finished product.
    I agree with Owen that a lot of it is driven by relationship and there is no way to actually get this done without the risk of too much exposure too. But then, it is a calculated risk. There are benefits and disadvantages to it. Benefit being the freedom to have enough moolah to do the things that will get a reader LOOK at your book and disadvantage being you are risking the idea, the whole process to the world who can potentially steal it from you.
    If I were to start Inkspell Publishing again, I would probably go for Crowdfunding. But not without building my network first.
    Thanks for a thoughtful article! 🙂

    • Llewen says:

      As for rewards that would interest someone who had helped fund the production costs for a novel, the obvious one is an autographed first edition copy of the final product. 🙂

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