The Business Rusch: Getting Rid of the Middle Man

Business Rusch free nonfiction On Writing

Full confession: I stole this title from an Entertainment Weekly article that I’ll be referencing later in this blog post. This title fits what I’m going to do so much better than something dull like “Crowdsourcing” or something profane like “!x!?! the Suits.”

I’d been planning to write about crowdsourcing projects for a while, but I hadn’t had a good handle on the topic. Then, this week, I got these things in my e-mail on the same day:

A royalty statement from one of my current publishers.

A survey sponsored by a major arts organization.

Four Kickstarter notifications from the projects I’m backing.

At the same time, I discovered via Twitter that SF Signal does a monthly list of the crowdsourcing projects it knows about, providing links for sf fans to support sf projects. SF Signal admits it doesn’t cover everything and encourages readers to let the website know the projects it missed.

Sunday, I went to see Argo at the historic movie theater in our little town. The theater is in the last 40+ hours of its own Kickstarter project (which I will explain below). Plus, Argo has as its fake movie center an sf movie. I learned on Twitter (again!) that the sf movie subplot was mostly abandoned in Argo, but was in fact based on an existing project for Roger Zelazny’s ground-breaking Lord of Light novel. That movie never got made, but in what is becoming true crowd-sourcing tradition, a documentary about that movie, the scandal behind it, and the whole real life Argo subplot reached its Kickstarter goal earlier this month.

Also, in November, Dean and I have been ramping up Fiction River, our anthology series, which we initially funded on Kickstarter. We’ve chosen guest editors, set the genres/topics for the first six volumes, sent invitations to some (but not even close to all!) of our favorite writers, and received some stories already.

Crowdsourcing seems to be the theme of the month.

As some of you know, I’ve also been spending November promoting a Kickstarter project for some friends of ours. They own the local movie theater, and it must get a digital film projector (which costs upwards of $60,000) or close completely. The theater has been struggling with the change to digital for a while; it has been unable to get certain first-run films in 35 mm format, so the theater has had trouble competing with the local six-plex for some time now. (All of this in a town of 7,000.)

The theater—the Bijou—has fought back with art films, indie films, and oldies—like this weekend’s upcoming showing of one of my favorite movies, The Philadelphia Story.  The theater has also maintained its position as the center of our small community. For example, when Bob’s Beach Books held a massive book signing this summer, authors spoke about writing and publishing in the Bijou rather than in the bookstore.

I wasn’t really paying much attention to this crisis the theater was going through until I started letting people who follow me on social media know about the Bijou’s Kickstarter project.

Then, a not-so-small fact came to light courtesy of journalist (and sf writer) Michael Armstrong in Homer, Alaska, who had covered a similar crisis for Homer’s theater.  Apparently, the major movie studios helped fund the major theater chains’ switch from 35mm film to digital film. I don’t pretend to understand how all the funding works. What I do understand is that it’s easier for a chain movie theater to jump through the hoops the studios set up than it is for a small town theater like the Bijou.

An industry blogger and owner of two small movie theaters, Michael Hurley of Maine, estimates that as many as 1,000 movie theaters will disappear because of this forced conversion. He writes,

The brain trust in Hollywood seem committed to playing a game of diminishing exhibition returns and appears ready to write off huge swaths of the ticket-buying public. You can bet that the same people who spent $150 million to make “Mars Needs Moms” have crunched the numbers and believe they can live with a lot fewer theaters in this world.

The attitude caught me. Not Hurley’s, but that of the major studios. Maybe they can live without fewer theaters in the world, but the people in Homer, Alaska, and Belfast, Maine, and Lincoln City, Oregon, can’t. In the past, we wouldn’t have been able to save our little theaters.  There simply isn’t enough money in towns this small to fund a $50,000-100,000 conversion on a movie theater that might eek out a $20,000 profit in a year.

Think of the disaster we all would have faced.

And it’s not just movie theaters. I’ve been writing about all the writers who vanished because their projects weren’t “big” enough to interest a major publishing company. Or the projects were “risky” because they weren’t like anything else. If the publisher couldn’t publish the book as “The New Twilight!” then the writer was told to write something else. And when that something else didn’t pan out, well, some writers just gave up.

The Entertainment Weekly article that I mentioned above wasn’t about movie theaters or writers. It was about comedians, filmmakers, gamers, and musicians who used a variety of crowdsourcing methods to fund projects that the suits in each industry felt weren’t viable.

From people only those in the know had heard of to familiar names like Steven Van Zandt, Jon Stewart and Bill O’Reilly, and Louis C.K., many artists have successfully used some form of crowdsourcing to get a project off the ground this past year.

What does this all mean? Well, it’s yet another way for the ambitious artist to get her work before the public. Of course, there are tricks to doing a successful Kickstarter project. I’ve seen more projects fail than succeed, mostly because the people who planned the project didn’t research how Kickstarter works, or fail to understand the business that they’re involved in.

For example, I watched one project fail miserably when the person who put it together asked for ten times the amount of money than similar projects had received. That same person had pitched the project traditionally, and had gotten offended when all of the major publishing companies told him that he was asking too much money for his project.

Had he but researched how such projects went together, he would have known how unreasonable his request was.

Other Kickstarters that I’ve seen fail had really dull pitches, an excruciating video, or bad rewards for donors (or nonexistent rewards! Here, the person seems to say, give me money because I’m faaaah-bulous) .

And the knock against Kickstarter is that only people with an already existing fan base succeed. That’s true up to a point: if you have a fan base, you’re better off than the folks who are starting from scratch. But I just watched the Bijou raise funds from all over the world, not because of the theater’s fan base, but because small theaters in general have a fan base. Everyone loves the movies; that’s one of the premises in Argo, and it’s true.

Am I saying everyone should crowdsource their projects? Hell, no. I just went through a Kickstarter project for Fiction River, and it’s stressful. Keith Altomare of the Bijou claimed he didn’t sleep in the weeks it took the project to get the minimal funding for the theater.

I’m not going to do a Kickstarter project on everything I write. Not everything is Kickstarter worthy. Plus, I used to work in listener sponsored radio, and I spent years doing on-air fundraising. You wear out your welcome very fast if you continually go to the same people for money. I actually shut off one public radio station when it fundraises because it does so badly. I wish they’d realize they’re in the 21st century, and learn the new methods. Sadly, I should be the most sympathetic audience member they have instead of someone who shut the station off. After all, I used to do that job. I know how hard it is.

Not every crowdsourced project is done on Kickstarter. There are as many ways to crowdsource as there are to create. This blog is crowdsourced. As long as you folks continue to donate, I’ll continue to write the nonfiction blog.

I know of a number of novelists who are serializing their books online, with a donate button at the end of every chapter, and are happily surprised to see that their donations are increasing as the books go along. What this means, folks, isn’t that all books should be serialized, but that the writers who are doing this successfully are also writing good books.  (Also, I would recommend that you finish a book before serializing it on your blog, just in case something in your life goes awry or you have to go back and add a gun in chapter one so that you can shoot that gun in chapter fifteen.)

I’ve mentioned before how I appreciate the loss of the middle man. But this week truly showed me on a deep level what kind of world we’d live in if crowdsourcing hadn’t gone mainstream. And I mentioned all of the reasons at the start of this blog.

First, that royalty statement. It is missing both some information and some promised money—money the publisher has owed me (and known it has owed me) since early last year.  The publisher had promised I’d get this money in October. I won’t. If I’m lucky, I’ll get it in April. Or I’ll have to fight for it.

As Dean said as he shook his head over yet another royalty fight facing me, the third this year, “It’s a wonder anyone survives in traditional publishing any more.”

I certainly wouldn’t be earning a living at it—a reasonable, above-poverty rate living—any more. In the last few years, I earned about one-quarter of what I used to earn in my bad years. The advances have gone from survivable to insulting. And now publishers are fudging on royalties owed. It’s disgraceful and hard.

Second, that survey from the arts organization. The arts organization has been around for at least fifty years. It has given awards to writers whose names you would recognize, writers who have made a living at their careers for their entire lives as well as New York Times bestsellers. (This detail will be important to something I mention below.)

The arts organization also gives grants to recipients it deems worthy. Back when the organization first came to my attention, the grants were bridges that got the writer to full-time freelance status. I don’t know how the grants are being billed now.

I do know that the survey was myopic in the extreme. I took it and got stuck on the second question: How do you earn your living?  The survey gave me a bunch of choices, from student to full-time minimum wage work to career outside of the arts to professor.

However, it did not list self-employed, or business owner, or on your writing.

That’s right. The arts organization once designed to help writers become self-sufficient no longer recognizes that writers could be self-sufficient. Or small business owners. Or self-employed.

It was appalling, and yes, the comments section of the survey got a long, pointed letter from me. Because most of the writers this organization recognizes do make a living at their writing—even if that living isn’t as good as it was ten years ago.

But the next four e-mails were all from Kickstarter projects run by full-time freelancers. From anthology projects to magazine startups to calendars, these projects caught my eye, generally through friends or social media. Sometimes I’d back for the smallest amount, and sometimes I’d fork out hundreds of dollars.

I missed funding the documentary about the Zelazny sf project by a few hours, but I plan to see the film when it’s out. Sometimes I participate in a crowdsourced project because I like the people involved, but mostly I do so because I think the project is worthy—something I want in my library, I want to see, or I want to hang on my wall.

None of these projects would have gotten funding through some arts organization, nor would they have made it through the byzantine system set up by the studios/publishers—ah, hell, let’s just call them suits.

And if the project had made it past the suits, then the artist who proposed the project probably wouldn’t have made any money on it. Or the artist wouldn’t have seen any money for  years after the project got released.

Recently a friend started contract negotiations with a medium-sized publisher that I’ve worked for. The contract the friend forwarded me was shockingly bad, worse than any I’d seen in the last year, grabbing every right, including rights to all of my friend’s future projects. The contract only paid for the first project. The rights to the other projects could have been tied up for decades without payment because this once-honorable publisher got greedy.

Fortunately, my friend is smart and has been negotiating the contract to something that passes for favorable to him. He still has one major deal-breaker to go, and since I’ve negotiated with this company myself, I have a hunch they’re not going to budge. He’ll have to determine if he’s going to walk away. I know I did, and I don’t regret it.

Here’s the thing: He has a fan base. He could put the same proposal that got his editor’s attention on Kickstarter or Indie-gogo, asked for a few thousand dollars from his fans, and he would probably make more money three months later than he would make in a year from the publishing company. And that doesn’t count all the other earnings on the project after it is through its Kickstarter phase.

It’s time for writers to explore all of their options. And many of those options should not include middle men.  The suits don’t care about midlist writers or indie films or small movie theaters. They care about whatever bottom line they see, and they don’t care how they reach that bottom line.

But the readers, film goers, music fans, and the rest of us out here in the real world do care.  Only 702 people funded the documentary called Science Fiction Land, based on the true story behind Argo. Only 424 people have backed the Bijou Theater so far (although you can make it 425, if you pledge a few dollars before Friday). Only 314 people backed Fiction River, our anthology project.

None of those numbers are big enough to impress any suits. The middle men would laugh at both the amount of money raised and the number of fans who backed the projects.

But here’s the thing: more than 702 people will see Science Fiction Land. Thousands of people will attend the Bijou in the next few years, watching digital movies in its historic theater. And Fiction River has only just started to build its subscriber base. We plan to be around for years.

Kickstarter is, as the name suggests, a kick-start, a beginning. It is what arts organizations were in a darker time, a bridge to a more successful dream.

Other crowdsourcing projects, like serialized novels or blogs that ask the readers to set their own price for the information they’ve received, follow a different model. They’re like the newspaper you used to buy on the way to work. You never subscribed because it was too expensive to do so or because sometimes you got the paper for free on the subway or someone had left a copy on a table in the diner. You paid only when you really wanted the paper, but you knew it would always be there.

In the past thirty years, the idea of something always being there has gone away.  Popular TV shows got canceled because they weren’t popular enough. That still happens, yes, but some shows have gone on to have web episodes. Some start as webisodes and never make it to the big screen—whatever that screen may be.

Book series got interrupted in the middle (and can now be finished. Yay!). Musicians stopped getting record deals and had to play in clubs (and now you can find their independently produced work all over the web).

As I mentioned last week, I’m just thrilled at how wide open the world is, how many opportunities artists of all stripes have now.

What the artist needs now, is courage. The artist must take risks and sometimes the artist will fail. The key is to figure out what the past mistakes were, improve, and try again.

The difference now is that we’re in it for the long haul. Yes, the middle men aren’t necessary (although sometimes they can be useful). But the people who expect to get rich overnight through things like Kickstarter or other forms of crowdsourcing generally will fail.

Those who use these tools as tools to build that bridge to a big project or to a long career or to years of maintaining a business generally will succeed. Not because their first outing was successful; it probably wasn’t. But because they have a vision. They care more about the project than the money.

The middle men care more about the money than the project. That’s why they make crazy short-term choices like shutting down successful (if small) local theaters because the theaters don’t earn “enough.” Those short-term decisions often bite back hard, but you know what? Usually by then, the middle men who made those decisions are gone, and other middle men have arrived just in time to clean up the mess.

As an artist in today’s society, you are responsible for your own successes and failures. Do your best to capitalize on the former and survive the latter. You won’t always make the right choices, but now, at least, you have choices. And that’s a very, very good thing.

As I mentioned above, you folks fund this blog. It needs to earn enough money for me to continue writing it every week instead of the fiction, which is my bread and butter.

You folks also provide me with great links, fantastic comments, and marvelous e-mails. I thank you for all of your support.

I couldn’t do this without you.

Click here to go to Paypal.

“The Business Rusch: “Getting Rid of the Middle Man,” copyright © 2012 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch.



47 thoughts on “The Business Rusch: Getting Rid of the Middle Man

  1. Stephen, if the experience of members of the US’s largest Christian writers’ group is any indication, WestBow will offer you only what their agreement says. It is very unlikely they will take your project to Nelson, who are extremely picky about what they will publish under that name. Westbow’s is a very expensive package for work that you can get via CreateSpace or Smashwords for a much more acceptable amount of money.

    My take and what I’ve heard through the grapevine. Publishers use phrases such as “you may be picked up by our royalty paying house!” as worms on the hook. Do not bite. It doesn’t happen often.

  2. I read and passed on to my writers’ group your blog entry “The Business Rusch: The End of the Unprofessional Writer.” It made a lot of sense, but I don’t think everyone, even those who should, truly get it. I read a response from Patricia Rice touting the Book View Café as a group that understands the problem. Unfortunately, I found: “Membership in Book View Café is limited to authors who have been published by traditional, advance-and-royalty paying print publishers.” The irony.

  3. Nobody has commented on Kristine’s description of a publishing house laying claim to a writer’s future production. All of it, not just one option for one book. How can that be legal? And what does the wording look like? this is truly beyond the pale even for traditional publishing.

    1. Elizabeth, no one is commenting because this is becoming common. It’s all in the wording of the non-compete clause and in the options. Publishers could tie up the rights for years without paying a dime.

      And as for it being legal, here’s the thing: In contract law, if you sign the document that does these things, it’s legal. The only way to break a contract is to go to court, and then only if one party does something truly illegal (asking for the real firstborn child) or if a judge deems that a party has overreached. One judge might think so, but another might not, so it’s better to avoid signing bad clauses in the first place.

      Oh, and look at my posts from the summer called “Dealbreakers.” That explains some of this as well.

  4. Re: Contract. Names or it didn’t happen …

    Kidding, of course.

    I know why names aren’t given, but I suspect if the industry suffers even a partial collapse with the midlist fleeing in mass names and accusations and reveals are going to start flying out onto the Internet. Could get ugly but also illuminating.

  5. If it hasn’t been mentioned already (I didn’t see it mentioned) there is a great book on Kickstarter called “The Kickstarter Handbook”.

    The post supplements that book very nicely 🙂

    Thanks Kris.

  6. Thanks for this. I’m doing the prep for a soft launch of my first book (YA) in January, to be followed up by another in Feb or March. I’m finding that the costs, while minimal, are adding up, well over two grand when you figure in artists, new web site, proofing, etc. This is for a POD and e-book. Maybe crowdsourcing would be the way to go. Even $1,000 would help a lot and build a fan base (another benefit – because that’s something I’ll need to do anyway). Can you point to anyone who has done this with fiction? A first-time author? Thanks,

  7. First, I’m really pleased to discover this blog! A family member pointed me to it when he saw the post about crowdsourcing. I just successfully funded the publication of a true crime book about the 1925 murder of a Kansas woman. I have a pile of rejection letters about this project, and many of those rejections praised the book: “We love it, we love the writing, you’re the person to tell the story, we don’t want it.” I might have given up if it were fiction, but the story was true, and I couldn’t stand the idea of the history disappearing because I couldn’t sell it to a traditional publisher.

    While all of these rejections poured in during a two-year period, I worked on establishing my platform as a teller of Kansas history and building an audience. By the time I was researching a Kickstarter campaign, I had a solid audience. I was really thrilled to have so many friends and family back the project, but I was also really thrilled to have backers I’ve never met like the project, back it, and follow the facebook page. It was validating to have perfect strangers come forward and say that they thought the book sounded interesting and they wanted to read it. Thanks to the miracle of eBook and POD publishing, I will able to get the story out there in the spring and keep it available for potentially years to come.

    I did run into one surprise: a reputable POD company told me they were not interested in working with me because I funded the project through Kickstarter. I was told they don’t fund beggar writers.

    The campaign is over, but if anyone would like to take a look at my Kickstarter campaign, they can see it here:

    1. Great, Diana. Thank you so much for sharing this.

      My only comment is that it sounds like you went to a POD publisher that uses the warehouse method instead of using Createspace or Lightningsource. They don’t care how you do what you do, and they get you into distribution systems, and…the best part? You only pay for the books that get shipped, not for a big print run. So for your next project, something to think about.

      Again, thanks for sharing your experience.

  8. I second, third, and eighteenth the Kickstarter/crowdsourcing paradigm. I’ve seen everything from 3D printers to a rolodex of animation cards get funded.

    What’s time-consuming is the necessary planning and market work that people should be doing anyway.

    When you start researching Kickstarter, keep in mind that Kickstarter doesn’t allow the projects that didn’t succeed to be readily available. I think this is on request of the people doing the projects. I’ve seen third party research estimating that about 50% of the projects get funded.

    Overfunding also presents problems for the project runners.

    But compare that with the standard ways of getting your project out there. Hmmm….

    1. Thanks, Carolyn. The good thing about overfunding (even a little bit) is that it pays the fees that Kickstarter and Amazon take. So if you need 20K and you got 23K, you have essentially paid your fees and you net a bit more than 20K.

  9. Crowd sourcing strikes me as being quite like the old system of private patronage for artists but turned on its head and made democratic. But instead of having to compose flattering poems for one rich guy you get to choose your own project and invite lots of people to support it.

  10. I’d be very interested, Ms. Rusch, to see a follow-up on crowdsourcing and fundraising methods that do not use Kickstarter. You see, I’m in Canada, and only U.S. and U.K. residents are eligible for Kickstarter. I’m sure you have plenty of other interested readers outside those two countries, and others who do live in the U.S. or U.K., but their projects aren’t suitable for Kickstarter for various reasons.

    1. I’m not familiar with crowd sourcing outside of the US, even though I know there are such sites. This is the first I heard that a non-US resident can’t use Kickstarter for a project. Can the non-US residents comment on where someone can go to do something similar outside of the US?

      1. For France, the first paragraph of this article shows it’s very difficult to do that for french people too :

        It was interesting to see crowdfunding is new even in United States of America, following the “JOBS act of 2012”, and that your president Obama used it massively for his last campaign.

        1. Thank you, Alan. I think what happened with the political campaign is that it was never identified here in the U.S. as crowd-sourcing. Our politics on both sides of the aisle have intermittently throughout our history been funded by individuals and “the crowd.” The difference in 2008 was the massive use of the internet. But good point.

          And thank you for the update on France. That helps.

          Other folks…any thoughts on Europe?

          1. I quickly looked into this for Canadians because only permanent US residents were allowed to use Kickstarter. IndieGogo is the big one that comes up: I like that you get the pledged money even if you don’t meet your goal ((4+3)% fee to Indiegogo if you do make your goal; (9+3)% if you don’t make it). Kickstarter takes up to (5+5)%, but if you don’t make your goal, you get nothing. Kickstarter apparently gets a lot more funding, though, so I’d be glad to see it come to Canada.
            I’m with Steve M, though, in that I don’t have many expenses and don’t know what I would crowdsource for. Still, it’s a great way to cut out the middleman for sure.
            Here’s a blog about Indiegogo:

  11. I think established fanbases help Kickstarter projects in two major ways. Obviously they instantly provide a large number of people who already know that they will like the project and are inclined to fund it — but the other issue is publicity.

    I will fund a book on Kickstarter even if I’ve never heard of the author before, if I like the pitch and (crucially) if I can easily find a sample of the author’s writing somewhere on the internet. I don’t really care about rewards as long as I will end up with a DRM-free ebook for a fair price (I live somewhere which is expensive to ship to, so I seldom take advantage of physical rewards, unless I can get a lot of stuff I’m really keen on in one package).

    None of this matters, however, unless I have some way of hearing about the Kickstarter, which is much less likely to happen if I’m not already following someone connected to the project. I somehow totally missed SF Signal’s crowdfunding roundups even though I’m subscribed to their feed, so thanks for this post. 🙂

  12. Interesting post, Kris. I’d be interested in a post with more of what you and Dean have learned about what helps make a Kickstarter project a success (or a failure).

    Happy to have been part of the Fiction River supporters. And I’m one of the 702 in the Science Fiction Land group. Hard to resist that one, being a huge fan of Zelazny and Lord of Light, plus with the Cdn angle on the Argo story.

  13. Well, I am on my second serial of the year. I’m not making money yet, but I am most certainly having fun.

    And furthermore, the novellas I am serializing would most certainly have never seen the light of day any other way.

    My problem with things like Kickstarter is the amount of work involved. I just have too much to write to take time for it. As a reader, however, I do kick in for it sometimes.

  14. Really great post, Kris, thanks! I haven’t ventured into crowdsourcing yet, so it was really great to get a thoughtful opinion from someone who has done it. One thing I’d like to ask, do you have some thoughts on the criteria for deciding which projects are good candidates for crowdsourcing and which are not?

    1. My opinion only, Steve.

      The project has to:
      1. Appeal to fans/outsiders. It can’t just be a vanity project.
      2. You need to have related merchandise/offers that people will want–like the Bijou with its t-shirts and film strips.
      3. You need to have realistic expectations. You don’t fund if you set the price too high. (If you get $35,000 and you set your goal at $40,000, you get nothing.) So make sure you can do the project at the price you ask, and make sure the price you ask is in a reasonable range for what you’re doing.
      4. Make sure that you have enough $$ in rewards gifts to equal your goal. If you want to make $20,000, but you only have $10 rewards, you’ll need more supporters than if you have awards ranging from $5 to $10,000.
      5. Make sure your rewards don’t eat up the funds you’re asking for.
      6. Make your project sound as cool as it is. I might not want a bear made of buttons, but if you convince me that it’s the best thing I’ve ever seen, I might contribute $5.

      That’s a short list. I hope it helps.

      1. Thank you for the fabulous answer, Kris! That’s far more information than I expected! A very good list of what’s required if you WANT to crowdsource.

        But what if you DON’T want to crowdsource? I understand why you and Dean crowdsourced FICTION RIVER–you have a lot of upfront expenses–like paying writers and editors. And I’ve watched a gaming company work on crowdsourcing gaming development. Essentially if you have big start-up costs, crowdsourcing seems to makes sense.

        But for a writer publishing a novel the start-up costs are small, so why bother? I could see an established writers who’s just starting out on indie publishing doing it. And I was intrigued by the example of serialized novels with a donate button. But once a writer develops a steady income stream that he or she can live on, the old projects pay for the development of the next new project. In a way, publishing existing works does the same thing as formal crowdsourcing: it pulls together a group of people who might be interested in project X and gets them to (indirectly) contribute.

        Anyway, just wondering if I’m missing something. Again, this crowdsourcing subject is very interesting to me since I know so little about it. Thanks again for providing such an insightful perspective.

        1. A lot of writers do have up front expenses, Steve. They need to go elsewhere to research, or something along those lines. Traditionally published writers making the transition to indie publishing could face two or three years with no real income as they make the switch. Going from advances to getting paid on publication (or just after) might a long time without income. So a Kickstarter will bridge the transition.

          1. Oh, yeah, I think you’re right. That’s what I’m really trying to think through–when do you HAVE to do something like Kickstarter. Indie writers just starting up is a good example. And writing a book that requires expensive research (e.g. traveling to Scotland to prep for a Highlands romance) is one I hadn’t thought of.

      2. Make sure your rewards don’t eat up the funds you’re asking for.

        Underline this and circle it in red. Remember that Kickstarter and the IRS will claim some amount of what you get. Remember to factor in costs. Remember that these costs need to SCALE. E.g., Steve Jackson Games Kickstartered their classic OGRE wargame — and my gods did it overfund! (Comma deliberately left out for effect.) All the stretch goals are making the game that much cooler, but they’ve also slowed down production of it.

        In less “sweet stars and little fishies!” territory, remember that if you’re going to mail stuff to your supporters, you have to factor in postage, postage overseas, and the sheer effort of lugging all that stuff to the post office!

        If you think you can get a free copy of your product, double-check that assumption — you might wind up having to pay for your own copies, and a higher price than you expected. You don’t want to wind up in the hole after you reward your supporters!

        …basically, underline, circle, and highlight that one.

  15. “It’s a wonder anyone survives in traditional publishing any more.”

    Yo comprendo.

    But what really gets to me is how businesses with such shoddy business practices are able to remain in business AT ALL.

    I mean seriously. In any other industry, if a business routinely did not pay its bills to its suppliers, violated its contract terms, and used shoddy accounting, here’s what would happen. The suppliers would stop selling to that business. The business would get sued. Repeatedly – class action and otherwise. Customers would find out and many would decide to shop elsewhere. The business would get blacklisted in the better business bureau. The business would likely be investigated by the Federal Trade Commission. If publicly traded, it might event be investigated by the Securities and Exchange Commission. And or by the way, it might get investigated by the IRS, too. To say nothing about possible criminal prosecution as well.

    And yet, in publishing… WTF???

    I mean, I get it. Publishing has operated as a cartel for years, and had a lock on distribution, and blah blah blah. But that does not make them immune to little things like, oh I don’t know, the LAW.

    Call me hopelessly naive or optimistic, but I really think if the suppliers (writers) had collectively manned up and fought back against these sorts of things, instead of bending over and just taking it… Grrr….

    Someone’s going to say that writers can’t have a union, so that’s impossible. Well you know what? You DON’T HAVE TO HAVE A UNION to act in concert.

    Shoot at the very least, if every writer (or even just a whole lot of writers) just flat broke the NDAs they sign (and why in the hell would an NDA be in a publishing contract unless it’s a ghostwriting deal? That makes no sense. And I assure you I’ll not sign one of those. I’ve signed enough with the Navy – for a good damn reason, too: that whole National Security thing. Someone will have to work really hard to convince me there’s a good reason for an NDA when it comes to publishing contracts. But I can’t imagine what that good reason would be.), and then started pointing fingers, naming names, and showing the math in public, repeatedly, and LOUDLY, and then followed it up with presentations of all the evidence of wrong doing to those agencies listed above, methinks changes might start happening real quick. (Yeah I realize that would be burning bridges, but do you REALLY want to maintain a bridge with a crook?) And what are they going to do, sue EVERYONE for violating the NDA?


    Ok, incoherent rant over. I need to get back to work now.

    Great post as always, Kris. Thanks!


  16. This post is required reading for everyone who wants to produce their own work on their own terms, and it probably needs to be re-read several times a year just to reinforce the advice. It’s amazing how often I forget it, mostly because my brain sinks too deeply into whatever I’m working on and I forget the big picture.

    Several years ago, I got to interview director Robert Rodriguez at his home outside Austin. He and I are roughly the same age and have the same taste in storytelling, so it was a fun conversation. He told me an interesting story that I’ve told to my oldest son (age 13, who recently won an award for a short horror film he made), and that I tell young/aspiring writers I meet. When Rodriguez was young, he had a jones for photography, so one of his first jobs was working at a camera store/film lab. As part of his job selling cameras, he had to learn how to work all the models in stock. In essence, he self-taught himself photography.

    His boss took a look at some of the shots he took and thought they were impressive. He also told him that learning the technical side of photography was the real key to becoming a photographer or filmmaker. He said if you can master all the technical aspects of the craft, the artistic stuff will be that much easier to produce on your own, “and that will make you unstoppable.” And Rodriguez thought, “ooooo, UNSTOPPABLE. I like that!”

    Fast forward to his film career and you see how it turned out. And that has nothing to do with whether you like his films or not. Kris, all of the things you write about here, the business, crowdsourcing, and better ways to self-pub dial right into what that photo shop owner told Rodriguez. Master the technical, non-artisitic side of your art, and you’ll have no one left to tell you “no.”

    The problem is, you’ll also be fresh out of excuses.

    In other words, to prolong the film subtext a little more, quote Mamet by way of Connery: “Now…do you want to do that? Are you ready to do that? I’m offering you a deal. Do you want this deal?”

    Thanks again, Kris.

    Mike Z.

  17. I’ve run five (successful) Kickstarter campaigns this year and wow, yes, I am ready to take a break. Serious hard work. But worth it. Because of Kickstarter, not only have I fed myself and my family, but I’ve become an employer: I’ve paid illustrators for covers, graphic designers for book layout and voice actors for audiobook production.

    My going joke is “now that’s stimulating the economy.” Because, you know, who expects -artists- to be capable of that. They’re supposed to be poor. 😉

  18. Thank you very much for this blog. The return of experience about crowdsourcing is very much appreciated, especially your honesty about the stress related to this type of project and the fact that you have a much better chance with a fanbase.

    I had been entertaining the dream of crowdsourcing the translation in english of my fantasy trilogy, but it was a vague dream, something out of reach (I think I can afford to do it without crowdsourcing, at least for the first volume). You’ve made me realize I don’t have the fanbase to do it.

    Without a fanbase, I think a project must have a public interest to work.

    Without a fanbase, it’s more like a personal project (fancy ? maybe, future will tell).

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