MIND MELD MAKEUP: What Crowd Funding SF/F Novels Means for Authors and Publishers

Due to a snafu on my part, I missed a response for yesterday’s Mind Meld. Apologies to Bryan Thomas Schmidt for dropping the ball with his response. As a refresher, here is the question again:

Crowd funding sites such as Kickstarter and IndieGoGo are enabling authors and editors to reach out directly to fans and ask for help in producing novels and anthologies. However, with crowd sourcing being a fairly recent phenomena, the authors and editors who have put their works in front of the public are blazing a new trail for others to follow.

Q: What effect will crowd funding have on SF/F publishing in general and how will it affect the mid-list and self-published authors/editors?
Bryan Thomas Schmidt
Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novels The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Book Clubs Year’s Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, and The Returning, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and several short stories featured in anthologies and magazines. He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 for Flying Pen Press, headlined by Mike Resnick. As a freelance editor, he’s edited a novels and nonfiction. He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter under the hashtag #sffwrtcht. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF Publishing, Grasping For The Wind and SF Signal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.


For one, crowdfunding is going to open doors. As an editor, I’ve really proved the validity of my ideas with the interest my Kickstarters have drawn, and it has led to opportunities to edit for other publishers, including Baen Books. For another, it also draws writers, who see that when I invite them to a project it’s more than a lark, and more likely to provide a real opportunity.

For small presses, it provides an opportunity to compete in the same pool with larger publishers as far as talent pool and quality of product by providing funding to pay pros to edit, write, do cover art, etc. That is going to mean more writers getting paid to do what they love and more passion projects actually coming to fruition, which is good for everyone, as fans also will have more quality products to read and authors to discover therein.

By funding my anthologies through Kickstarter, I have provided opportunities for myself as an up and coming editor, small presses who have picked up the projects, and lesser known writers who get to be paid well and appear alongside legendary writers and those they admire, which encourages them and brings their work a larger audience and can lead to more open doors down the road.

I think as Crowdfunding grows, you’re going to see people use it like Rob Thomas just used it for his Veronica Mars movie: to prove to publishers a project has enough interest to justify their investment. Magazines may well be drawn there as well, following the example of Brian White, who founded and now has funded three issues and a second entire year of Fireside via Kickstarter.

As people discover the advantages and the fears and suspicions are assuaged, this will only grow and more talent will come along.

I think mid-list authors and editors have a great opportunity here, but one must be cautious because crowdfunding is hard work and the more people who discover it, the more crowded the landscape becomes. You have to be prepared for a time investment that will consume a lot of time while it’s running. You have to have a PR plan and budget properly for rewards, shipping and other costs.

Self-published authors may have a leg up on this since they already have to learn promotion to succeed. But again, having a viable audience and the kind of goodwill cred required is something both groups have to worry about. If people don’t know your work and what you will deliver, they may be hesitant to invest. Also, reaching 50% is vital, because stats show that 90% of projects reaching that goal go on to fund. And there will be slow periods where you think it’s never going to happen, so having lots of people to rally around you, encourage you, and spread the word is key.

I think authors who have had decent success with a series or novels and yet not enough to get an option renewed, have a good opportunity with crowdfunding to raise funding to finish or continue the series themselves. See Tobias Buckell, for example, and even Michael J. Sullivan more recently, who have done this. That’s where I see the real advantage for pro authors.

There’s been people pointing out that big publishers had no interest in Goodreads because they don’t value consumer opinion like their should as a viable source of market research. I think how Crowdfunding affects the industry will, in large part, depend on whether publishers as a group can learn to value this kind of information. If people continue backing, in essence prebuying, various types of projects, publishers who recognize the demand exists and start partnering with that kind of talent and putting forth those kinds of projects will likely see good returns. Those who ignore it may never gain any advantage or success with crowdfunding.