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Buying Time to Make Good Art
© Disney, DuckTales
Crowdfunding isn't a new idea, but we haven't spent much time discussing it here at Pub Crawl-- and I think it's becoming increasingly relevant to writers today who have more options than ever to publish their work.
Platforms like Kickstarter and Indiegogo have been around for more than seven years, and by far have become the best known way to finance projects and products by appealing directly to the consumers who want them. In comparison to the old standby of PayPal donations, and its many limitations and hassles, if enough people are interested in your Kickstarter project, you will raise enough money to hopefully deliver on your promises. But if you don't have enough support, your proposed project usually goes away quietly.
Many authors have successfully used Kickstarter to self-publish books, using the funding to hire editors, proofreaders and artists; distribute them in print and electronic forms, and even market them. Considering one of the largest hurdles for self-published writers is spending the money to make their books as polished and professional as traditionally published books (or perhaps even more so), this is a fascinating and exciting way to get work out to readers, as well as promote books before they're released.
Slightly newer to the scene is Patreon, which has quickly become "the world's largest crowdfunding site for artists and creators" since it was established in 2013. In a nutshell, Patreon allows people to provide ongoing support to an individual--not necessarily for a particular project--through a monthly commitment of as little as $1. As implied by its name, it's evoking the old patron model of enabling creative work, while offering supporters incentives like exclusive content, early access, and sometimes even a voice in what work gets produced.
(Another site that has recently appeared is called ko-fi, basically an online tip jar that lets fans buy you a cup of coffee with the click of a button, perhaps more as a sign of appreciation than a viable, continuous income stream.)
Essentially, what all these crowdfunding services offer is a way for fans to buy time for creators to make more of the thing they enjoy, and let them know their work is valued and in demand. As a writer with a job and a toddler, a sink full of dishes and piles of dirty laundry, I often must be picky about what projects I sign up for and prioritize the paying work -- contracted books and stories -- over the shiny ideas I want to play with, or the unpaid blogging I might want to do. So getting "paid" by patrons to write a fun short story that I may not be able to sell (or the novel I may not be able to sell, yikes) has a certain appeal. My friend N.K. Jemisin recently launched a Patreon that will allow her to quit her day job, the dream of many a writer, so far attracting more than $3800 in less than a week as of this writing.
The simple fact is most writers can probably produce more if they only had more time, and 40+ hours a week is a lot of time.
As more writers I know create Patreons with a wide range of success, I've been thinking more about this phenomenon. (Interestingly, as far as I can tell, not many YA writers have embraced Patreon, but it seems to be gaining popularity in the science fiction and fantasy community, of which I am also a part.) The truth is, I personally have a difficult time separating the idea of crowdfunding from charity, even though intellectually I know that people are buying something they want or rewarding you for something only you can provide. Part of me also imagines this as creating yet another array of deadlines and expectations and obligation to your supporters, who are basically making an investment in you and your work. You have more time, but on some level you're also more accountable, potentially to dozens if not hundreds of people. How much do you ultimately owe them for helping make it possible?
But I am also aware that one of my hangups is the fear that I won't get much support, or that I'll be "competing" with all the other Patreon creators out there for the same dollars. Who needs an additional metric for comparing their own success to that of others? And before you remind me that you shouldn't compare yourself to others, and that writing and publishing isn't really a competition, allow me to suggest that this isn't an entirely irrational consideration. I think a solid fan base is essential to a successful Kickstarter and Patreon, so your newer writers, less published writers, and debut writers probably won't benefit from them as much -- or at all.
What do you think about crowdfunding creative efforts — would you consider it for your own work? Have you supported any Kickstarter or Patreon campaigns? What would get you to donate your money to support a writer beyond buying their published work?