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

[Do you have an idea for a future Mind Meld? Let us know!]
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.

We asked our panelists this question:

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?

Here’s what they said:

Allen Stroud
Allen Stroud is a University Lecturer from Bucks New University in High Wycombe. He runs the successful, Film and TV Production degree and also teaches Creative Writing, specialising in Writing Fantasy, a module he has taught for nine years. He has a Masters Degree in Science Fiction and Fantasy world-building and also writes music, composing work that has featured in award winning short films.

So you want to write a book? Or, you’ve already written a book and you want to publish it?

For some time now, the e-book publication method has been a source of hope to prospective authors attempting to gain recognition for their writing. The proliferation of e-book readers and the ease of constructing a professional looking copy has brought a new form of democratization to the differing processes of publication.

However, this process doesn’t bring a writer a guaranteed audience. Success amidst the e-book revolution is hard. With so many titles to choose from, readers seldom unite behind individual texts. Yet, we do see occasional stratospheric achievements. Although often these are as much to do with capturing the mood of the times as the quality of the writing.

Writing Science Fiction or Fantasy helps a bit. Genre readers have more identifiable interests in what they like from a book, so potentially, carving out an audience for your own work is a clearer objective in that you can write a book that appeals to this market.

Crowd funding remains a mysterious new asset to the would-be writer. Advertising your new book and encouraging people to pledge so they might obtain a copy when you write it is in the first place a slightly baffling concept. What upfront costs does a writer have? Not many if they concentrate on the e-book format. The writing of the book requires time, not necessarily raw materials.

So where should crowd funding be used by a writer?

The role of crowd funding can be in generating an audience for your work. It can be in focusing your efforts, because when you know people have pledged money to your creativity it makes you want to reward them with a work that justifies their faith.

The role of crowd source funding in providing initial capital for a project is a wholly different world to applying for a business loan or academic grant. However, there are definite parallels in the process too. There is a fundamental need in any process when courting potential investors, to convince those investors you are worth investing in. However, the reasons for that investment, across different platforms and by different individuals can be incredibly diverse.

Since Kickstarter’s launch in the UK in 2012, we have seen some incredible successes and failures of proposed projects. They aren’t alone in the crowd funding arena though. There is an interesting blog post listed here that talks about how the organisation managed in this first month, very well going by the numbers. There are a number of other crowd source funding websites. Some examples are, IndiegogoWefund and Crowdfunder, but Kickstarter is the most popular. Right now, crowd funding remains the Wild West, the frontier if you will. Watching from afar, I admired the bravery of the creative people putting themselves on the line. Running my own for Elite: Lave Revolution, I realised I would never have an experience like it every again in my life, those thirty days flashed and crawled by. Running a crowd funding project is an experience in elation and humility. Every pledge is an exciting and incredibly humbling moment. You think constantly about how much faith people are putting in you.

For me, launching a project that complimented a popular computer game franchise and successful Kickstarter like Elite Dangerous gave me an advantage. I knew there was an audience for my work. I don’t think I could have achieved the same success with a different book set in a world of my own devising.

In addition to this, I was very meticulous in the construction of my rewards. Pledgers want the project to succeed and want to read the book. So why not give them extras? Another secret chapter, an alternate perspective, a mission dossier, etc… All of these assets serve to enhance the project and reward them with privileged information. 

What does this mean for the traditional publishing method or for self published authors? It depends really on how either approaches the concept. There is no reason why a publisher shouldn’t support a crowd funded project. The capital raised and proven audience demonstrates a market and helps them. Similarly, a self published writer can fund a new novel, buying the time to write it, or purchasing the rights to work with an existing franchise. This brings their work to a much larger audience. 

What happens after the funding period? Well, now I have to sit down and fulfil what I promised I’d do! That said, you can still donate and offer some of the rewards available in the Kickstarter. I have a page up on my website for this using Paypal and I’ve seen other authors do the same.

So if you are a writer and want to give this a go, I recommend it. But, plan very carefully first and be prepared for surprises on the ride!

Alex Shvartsman
Alex Shvartsman is a writer and game designer from Brooklyn, NY best-known for his humorous short stories. His fiction appeared in IGMS, Nature, Daily SF, Galaxy’s Edge and a variety of other magazines and anthologies. He edits the Unidentified Funny Objects annual anthology series, which is currently on Kickstarter. His fiction is linked at

I believe crowd funding isn’t a fad or a bubble — it’s a very powerful new way for the creative types to reach out directly to their fan base, and it is here to stay.

However, now that Kickstarter and other crowd funding sites have been around long enough for the new car smell to wear off, a certain level of fatigue is beginning to set in. Everyone has a game, a book, an album, or a cause they are promoting for themselves or for a friend (I’m super-guilty of this myself). Crowd funding is in the transition period — for most netizens it is no longer a shiny, hip thing to do, but is just another way to order an interesting product or service while simultaneously feeling good about getting in on the ground floor of something cool.

There is still plenty of room for crowd funding to grow — the recent success of the Veronica Mars movie is a herald of the future where enormous studio-level projects are launched through the will of a willing fan base. But this also means that, as crowd funding becomes more and more of a mainstream tool in the arsenal of successful authors and anthologists, it will also become exponentially harder for the little guy to succeed. An author who fails to make much of an impact with a novel he or she self-published on the Kindle will be unlikely to perform any better in the crowd funding arena. It will still be possible for a newcomer to succeed, but they will need to offer a truly unique project or cause that many people could feel passionate about supporting.

Crowd funding will, however, remain a great boon to writers who have already mastered the art of managing a solid online presence, and/or have an established fan base from their traditionally published material; a meritocracy that will richly reward people who worked hard to build large online megaphones.

Emma Larkins
Emma Larkins recently used Kickstarter to crowdfund her first science fiction novel, Mechalarum. She’s fascinated by the huge waves crowd funding is making in a variety of industries, and recently ran a “Launch Your Book Through Kickstarter” panel in to New York City. She also works for a startup called Knodes, where part of her job involves getting to know the crowd funding space intimately. For more info, check out her website and follow her on Twitter.

Well, I may never have gotten around to publishing if it wasn’t for my Kickstarter project, so there will be at least one more entry in the fictional universe because of crowdfunding!

But seriously though, crowdfunding is in the process of turning the publishing industry on its head. No matter where you fall on the writing or publishing spectrum, it’s important to be ready for big changes.

Effects on Publishing in General

More quality books on the market. Self-publishing is making more books than ever available to the general public, and in the process sparking plenty of debate about whether or not this is a good thing. I haven’t spent enough time reviewing books to make a sweeping generalization about the effects of self-publishing on the readability of modern literature, but it stands to reason that the removal of a huge barrier to entry necessarily means some bad comes in with the good.

The introduction of crowdfunding is again upending the landscape, this time creating a natural vetting process; a success on a site like Kickstarter shows that an author is likely to have something other than the ability to type tens of thousands of words going for her. It’s never easy to judge how enjoyable a book by a first-time author will be, and crowdfunding provides a great tool to help good reads rise to the top.

More quality readers. Another benefit of crowdfunding projects is that they have the ability to pull people into the genre who otherwise might have spent their time – and money – elsewhere. Every person who successfully Kickstarts a book potentially brings more genre-lovers into the folds – or, at least, activates fans who might otherwise have let their love of fantasy and science fiction languish. There’s an excitement about the whole process that gets people more engaged in reading than the comparatively tame act of picking up a title in a bookstore, or pressing a few buttons on a mobile device.

Effects on Self-Published/Mid-List Authors

Motivation to work with professionals. Modern crowdfunding (as separate from the incarnation that helped bring the Statue of Liberty to New York) has only been around for a few short years. In that time, however, the fledgling industry has rapidly become competitive. It’s not enough anymore to put up a project with a wish and a dream to your name; potential backers want to know they’re going to get something worth throwing their money, participation, and time behind. You’ve got to step up your game to have a chance at success. I’d strongly recommend that anyone interested in self-publishing bring artistic, editorial, and other professionals onto the project, because it’s virtually impossible to be an expert in all of those things simultaneously; but if you’re running a crowdfunding project, it’s pretty much a necessity.

Better marketing. Self-published authors are on their own as far as marketing is concerned, and mid-list authors don’t fare much better. Without a big budget and lots of manpower to throw around, you need to get smart about spreading the word. A huge part of getting people interested in your project is honing the way that you “tell the story of your story.” Can you describe your book in a short sentence? A paragraph? A 2-minute video? An image? Each one of these methods of presentation has a purpose, and each one should ideally go through several iterations before you settle on the final message. Crowdfunding is a terrific way to validate your storytelling abilities, as you can get real-time feedback and analyze the numbers to assess the effectiveness of changes to your pitch.

It can take some effort to adjust to this new shift in writing and publishing mindset, but the benefits are definitely worth it.

Michael J. Sullivan
Michael J. Sullivan is the author of two fantasy series from Orbit books: The Riyria Revelations (released in Nov 2011) and The Riyria Chronicles (coming Aug 2013). His Kickstarter-funded Hollow World will be available in ebook, print, and audio versions in January 2014. His debut novel, Theft of Swords is currently a finalist for an Audie Award for best Fantasy Audio Book.

I just completed my first crowd funding project for Hollow World, a new novel releasing in January 2014. I found it to be an extremely eye-opening experience. I wouldn’t suggest it for a debut work, but I think anyone who has at least one book released should seriously consider doing it. For the self-published author, who is used to working on a shoestring budget, Kickstarter provides the means for a more professional product, which helps counteract the impression that all self-published books are poorly edited. But I think it’s the mid-list traditional author that has the most to gain. I know quite a few who have “shelved” books because they were either not optioned or the amount offered was just too low. For them, they see no other alternative because they have been ingrained with the mantra that “money flows to the author” and are used to getting advances. For them, the idea of going into debt to put out a book is too foreign a notion, but as others do so successfully, they’ll start exploring that as a viable route. My Kickstarter raised almost $31,000 which provided for all the production costs…and a $28,000 advance. Crowd funding has the potential to take yet another role out of the hands of the publisher. Self-publishing started the trend by moving the role of “gatekeeper” to the reader, now Kickstarter has the potential to move the role of “financial backer” as well. Now more than ever, it’s being proved that the only two essential people in publishing are the reader and the writer, and I see this as very empowering for both. It helps readers determine what is produced and provides writers a higher profit per sale. Sounds like a win-win to me.

Tobias Buckell
Born in the Caribbean, Tobias S. Buckell is a New York Times Bestselling author. His novels and over 50 short stories have been translated into 17 languages and he has been nominated for the Hugo, Nebula, Prometheus and John W. Campbell Award for Best New Science Fiction Author. He currently lives in Ohio.

I hate to stand up on a box and proclaim change is at hand and do the Doom of Publishing type routine. In fact, when I successfully crowdfunded two books the last couple years there was a spate of excitement and people asking me to speak up and officially proclaim publishing was dead and then crickets when I explained that well, I felt it depended on who was doing it, the size of their audience and the project in general. In fact, I was disinvited from one speaking gig when it was found out that I had a book coming out from a mainstream publisher despite crowdfunding one myself.

That being said, as a mid-lister I find crowdfunding terrifically exciting. Mid-listers in particular have built up an existing audience. It’s not as large as a bestseller’s audience, but it’s there. And because direct sales allows you to change the gear ratio of profits, a dedicated audience of 200 to 1,000 fans is capable of creating a well funded project.

What this does is give mid-list authors more avenues. This isn’t an either/or debate, but a realization that we now have more tools. That’s always a good thing. Making more off crowdfunding? Add it to the mix. Or use it as leverage to get more from you publisher (where you find new readers by being on the shelves). Lots of attention from a crowdfunded project could provide you with opportunities to sell the book elsewhere.

The cool thing about crowdfunding is you control the rights, so you can put the book on sale for continuing money. It solves one of the midlist dilemmas: if you sign a contract you get an advance, which can help many of us set aside the time to write a book. Now, most mid-list advances aren’t big enough to live on, often, but it does let drop some freelance work or other projects to focus more on the novel. When people tell us to just self-publish a work, that helpful up-front money disappears. Crowdfunding lets one both get an up front chunk of change, and then a steady trickle of royalties. A best of both worlds situation.

I see crowdfunding as extremely complementary to writers who have been building up audiences and relationships online.

What does it take to have a successful one? I often describe it as needing two of three legs. First one: proof that you can deliver the project. Those of us who have written multiple novels and have readership demonstrate that, which calms worried people about being stiffed. Second leg: you have to have an initial pool of excited potential backers (why this is should be obvious, yes?) and the third leg is that you have to have a cool project. My gut feeling is that two of those three gives you a chance, three of three is perfect. I’m seeing people with no track record (proof of delivery) get upset that their Kickstarters didn’t fund. Well, maybe your idea wasn’t as cool as you though, and since you didn’t have a pool of existing followers or proof of delivery, coolness of project is all you’re standing on. That’s a wobbly leg.

But mid-listers, because they have a readership pool, and proof that they’re delivering by nature of being mid-listers with some books under their belt, supply two legs of the successful crowdfunded project. They’re tailor-made for it.

So whether finishing a book series that got canceled, or starting a new one up for fans who want to read more by you, or just seeking to diversify your writing portfolio and income streams, crowd-funding is a very interesting tool that gives authors more chances, more income streams, and makes the world more interesting.

Will it continue growing and doing well?

I have no clue. Seems to be doing okay so far though, and I’m a happy backer of several projects over the last 3 years. New channels and ways of doing things do arise, and this looks to be one of them.

Lou Anders
Lou Anders is the Hugo Award winning editorial director of the SF&F imprint Pyr books, a Chesley Award winning Art Director, and the editor of nine anthologies. He has also been nominated for six additional Hugo Awards, four additional Chesley Awards, as well as the PKD, Locus, Shirley Jackson, and three World Fantasy Awards. Visit him on line at, on Facebook, and on Twitter @Lou Anders.

Kickstarter fascinates me. I’ve already backed 20 projects, though the bulk of them are pen and paper RPG manuals, with a few PC videogame RPGs, and some graphic novels. I’ve backed only three novel projects, and two of them are by Bradley Beaulieu! I think part of this may be that as an editor at a publishing imprint, I know how much work goes into producing a book and I’m more skeptical of the output of self-published novels than I am of the games I’m backing where the projects tend to originate from established companies not individuals. In fact, the first Kickstarter project I backed was a novel and is now a good ten months overdue its estimated delivery date. Grrr.

That being said, overall I’m very positive on Kickstarter and its impact on books/authors and very interested to see where it goes. I’m watching the aforementioned Bradley Beaulieu and also Michael J. Sullivan closely, and encouraged by their success. I think that by harnessing the power of the micro-niche audience, Kickstarter makes it possible for authors to continue series when their publishers aren’t able to do so (as Tim/T.A. Pratt has done), as well as allow authors who are achieving commercial success with their more conventional novels to explore less-obviously-marketable projects, as Sullivan is doing with Hollow World. It’s also a great marketing tool, in that authors can benefit from the buzz that Kickstarter itself generates.

The important factor is of course going to be in follow-through (see aforementioned comment about late project. Grrr.). Authors who prove that they can produce not just professionally-written work, but professionally packaged work, are going to quickly outdistance those who don’t produce at all, or who discover firsthand and the hard way how important all those other jobs inside a publishing company are. But I’m only just now coming up on the stage right now where the many various Kickstarters that I have backed are beginning to deliver – with a wealth of projects coming due between May and July – so perhaps you should ask me again in the fall if I’m still as bullish as I am now.

Vera Nazarian
Vera Nazarian is a two-time Nebula Award® Finalist and a member of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. She immigrated to the USA as a refugee from the former USSR by way of Lebanon, Greece, and Italy, as a kid, sold her first story at 17, and has been published in numerous anthologies and magazines, honorably mentioned in Year’s Best volumes, and translated into eight languages. Vera made her novelist debut with the critically acclaimed Dreams of the Compass Rose, followed by Lords of Rainbow. Her novella The Clock King and the Queen of the Hourglass made the 2005 Locus Recommended Reading List. Her debut collection Salt of the Air contains the 2007 Nebula Award-nominated “The Story of Love.” Recent work includes the 2008 Nebula Finalist novella The Duke in His Castle, science fiction collection After the Sundial (2010), The Perpetual Calendar of Inspiration (2010), and three Jane Austen parodies, Mansfield Park and Mummies (2009), Northanger Abbey and Angels and Dragons (2010), and Pride and Platypus: Mr. Darcy’s Dreadful Secret (2012), all part of her Supernatural Jane Austen Series. After many years in Los Angeles, Vera now lives in a small town in Vermont. She uses her Armenian sense of humor and her Russian sense of suffering to bake conflicted pirozhki and make art. In addition to being a writer, philosopher, and award-winning artist, she is also the publisher of Norilana Books.

Welcome to the Publishing Singularity. Many of us may have gently missed the signs all around us over the last five years, but the fact remains—we are already living in a new world of publishing. To quote the late King of Pop, “This is it.”

As the production and global distribution technologies have finally caught up with the real-world practicalities of individual artist book production, all the “rules,” standards, and caveats of the past few decades have melted like the Wicked Witch of the West under a cold splash of present reality. And most important of all, the stigmas associated with self-publishing have dissolved in the same bullshit bucket.

I am not going to get into the pros and cons, “indie” vs. “trad,” or how everyone and their grandma and Charles Dickens and J. K. Rowling had at one point, and are now, self-publishing books like happy pancakes (good and abysmally bad, granted, but it’s been the way of the world for ages, in the music industry and every artistic endeavor, in which unbridled creativity was up to self-starters, and the happy result was 10% brilliant future classics and 90% proverbial crap). What I am going to talk about is the publishing toolbox.

The toolbox of the modern writer is a happy and well-diversified hybrid, regardless of literary genre. Open that toolbox, and you’ll see Big Five trade publishing contracts vetted by your personal IP attorney, an agent or two (domestic and international) who works for you a la carte, to handle only one project at a time, and under well-delineated terms favorable to you, the author. Dig around, and you will see POD self-publishing and all ebook rights retained by you, and a healthy self-reissued OOP backlist. And right there, in a solid prominent place, you will see crowdfunding.

I think SF/fantasy and comics and gaming really lends itself to crowdfunding because of the power of pre-existing fandoms, but really, romance, thrillers, mystery and other genre writers can do just as well. The process itself is genre-blind.

Crowdfunding, whether through Kickstarter, or Indiegogo, or directly with a simple “donate” button at your personal website, is not a mere tool but a power tool that allows us, authors and editors, to procure funds up-front for a project, independent of any single institutional third party (publisher). Instead, the “third party” becomes the whole world, broken up into small manageable chunks, and made up of ordinary people—you and me—the direct consumers, who chip in with as little as a single dollar or a few cents, or as big as thousands of dollars. In most cases, they are getting your finished book product as a pre-order, plus other special rewards for their contribution.

But isn’t it the same thing as glorified panhandling, some people ask in hushed voices, gushing with embarrassed disdain. Well, no, not if you take the healthy attitude of Amanda Palmer who puts forth her argument most eloquently in this short video presentation on “The Art of Asking.” In a nutshell, when you need something, you simply need to cultivate the inner freedom mindset to reach out to the world and ask.

As many of you know, last October, I’ve run a successful Kickstarter of my own, to raise funds for a publishing project—my first major new fantasy novel in a decade, Cobweb Bride, a sophisticated and intricate epic fantasy retelling of the Persephone and Hades in the Underworld myth, the first book of a trilogy (Cobweb Bride, book one, Cobweb Empire, book two, Cobweb Forest, book three). The basic premise—what if death stops, and human nature and politics take over; what if you killed someone and then fell in love with them—is on the scale of G.R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones, an epic mix of political, psychological, romantic, and dark fantasy intrigue and alternate Renaissance history. It’s almost unclassifiable, and a hard sell for commercial publishers. But it’s my unique angle on a brilliant idea in which I believe with all my heart.

I started writing Cobweb Bride before the economy meltdown. But real life intervened in the harshest way possible, including cancer and death in the family, foreclosure, my own major surgery last summer, and a plethora of other unspeakable ills. And now, in an effort to re-start my career and my life, I’ve decided to plunge forward with this project so close to my heart. In order to release it properly, with the full production values of my high-quality small press Norilana Books, which I could not at present afford on my own, I reached out to the world via Kickstarter.

The Cobweb Bride Kickstarter had a funding goal of $5,000, ran for a month and raised $5,372, with 138 backers. I offered various reward levels including website acknowledgements, ebook editions of the forthcoming Cobweb Bride, and all my other backlist titles, in hardcover and paperback, plus various other swag that you can see pictured on the Kickstarter page.

There is no denying that the fundraising process itself was painful and arduous. After all, power tools are dangerous, so handle with care. But, boy do they perform! The act of asking people for money was an unrelenting roller coaster of what at times felt like uncomfortable nagging and intrusion, primarily via Facebook (where I have a huge presence and following) and Twitter (which I underuse), not to mention Google+, LinkedIn, MySpace, Goodreads, and SFF Net. (And people think self-promotion is bad! This is much worse! Seriously, if you don’t have the inner strength or “hubris” to promote your work, then you likely should not bother with crowdfunding, because you will have to put yourself out there, non-stop.) Half the pledges came in early in the first two days, and then things slowed down for most of the month, and picked up at the end when I redoubled my efforts at asking, pleading, begging, and being damn eloquent.

In the end, my big takeaway lesson was, next time, do not let up even for a day, have a smaller initial funding goal, and instead offer more stretch goals, and offer smaller and less tangible rewards that require less postal shipping. That way, you have a better chance of reaching your original finding goal, since Kickstarter is an all-or-nothing funding engine.

The good news is, Cobweb Bride, book one, is completed, and on schedule for official release on July 15, 2013 from my own small press Norilana Books, under the Leda imprint. The book is now in the ARC post-production phase, with physical trade paperback ARCs printed and shipped, and e-ARCs emailed out, to the major trades such as Publishers Weekly, Booklist, Library Journal, Kirkus, and Locus, and offered to a universe of reviewers and bloggers through NetGalley. Meanwhile, I am busy working on book two and three of the trilogy, Cobweb Empire and Cobweb Forest, both of which will be completed by the end of this year, and released in time for the December Holidays.

This is an amazing, liberating place to be, both as a creative artist and business entrepreneur. Because here I am, truly unconstrained by any publisher schedule or funding limitations, and able to offer my books in quick succession, directly to my fans. My readers have waited long enough, and I am not going to torture them with needless years between each release, all because of someone else’s publishing schedule.

And it’s all because of the crowd, the audience, you. You have given me the control over my act of creation and as a result you gained better control of your own reading material. It’s a win-win for everyone.

Readers have been eagerly waiting for Cobweb Bride for half a decade, and crowdfunding has made it possible. Will I do it again for another project? Sure! I’m a Jill-of-All-Trades, I’ve been through hell and back, and I always use all the nice power tools in my toolbox.

Judith Tarr
Judith Tarr has a rather aristocratic publishing pedigree (she’s allowed all the way into the drawing room), including a World Fantasy Award nomination for Lord of the Two Lands. She is on the Board of Directors of Book View Café, which has published and continues to publish her backlist titles and a growing quantity of frontlist. Her second Kickstarter project, Forgotten Suns, funded successfully in early April. She will most probably do a third—but not this week.

Crowdfunding has been a thing for several years—and more so since Publisherdammerung in 2008, the fall of Borders, and the rise of ebooks and the corresponding fall of the mass-market paperback. Basically, if you’re not a bestseller, and/or if you can’t submit yourself to a workload that would kill an ordinary mortal, the fate of the midlist writer is approximately as pleasant as that of the sweatshop worker in Asia. The sweatshop worker may even make more per hour. And even if you are a bestseller, your income is eroding and your advances are falling. Scott Turow’s recent rant about “The Death of the Author” is a cry out of the depths of that world.

Ebooks and their distribution networks have given authors a degree of power that they haven’t had in generations. It’s made self-publishing downright respectable in drawing rooms where, just a handful of years ago, the grubby “indies” would be told to go around to the servants’ entrance. Now they may still be looked at askance, but they’re allowed past the door, provided they make enough money. It helps if they have a pedigree—a backlist from major or traditional publishers.

Unfortunately for authors who are not either independently wealthy or blessed with partners, families, or patrons who will support them while they write and self-publish their work, Yog’s Law no longer universally applies. Money no longer flows reliably to the author. Self-publishing can be done cooperatively— Book View Café (soon to be Book View Café Publishing Cooperative, Inc.) is an outstanding example of how that can work. But that still doesn’t pay the bills.

Enter crowdfunding. When I first noticed it, it consisted mainly of authors or artists posting on their own blogs or on group sites with Donate buttons. It seemed to be fairly low-key and low-dollar. Put a dollar or a fiver in, get a poem or a story.

Then last year it hit the big time, with Kickstarter and Indiegogo and Peerbackers leading the way. Suddenly it seemed everybody was doing it, including successful upper-midlist names with active print careers. Those that I was aware of mainly seemed to be doing shorter works or auxiliary material, or hopping on board to write novels in gaming franchises.

I got talked into doing a campaign myself, as an experiment, to publish a novel that had gone the rounds in New York and been bounced repeatedly despite editorial enthusiasm because Marketing never knew what to do with it. I knew it might not get anywhere. Over half of all projects at that time did not make funding—and with Kickstarter, it’s all or nothing. You make goal or you make nothing.

It was scary. But writers are gamblers at heart. Submitting a book—you gamble that someone will buy it. Someone buys it—you and they gamble that it will sell.

My project made goal, and went a decent bit over, even with the 10% cut Kickstarter and their payment mechanism end up taking. Fair enough to my mind—my agent would have taken 15% if the book had sold conventionally, and I would not have been able to take it afterward and put it up on the various sites and make up to 95% of selling price per book (that’s Book View Café—most bring in 70% or less). I’d be lucky to get 10%, and more like 5% or lower, and I might have to sell my soul for life plus 70 years to get it.

So for me, essentially, I got a $6000+ advance for a book, which was about what it might be expected to get from New York by that point. I was responsible to 256 people, up close and personal, for making sure that book got out there, and I heard from quite a few of them about it, too. It’s still out there.

This year I did it again. Another one my agent couldn’t sell. He didn’t even try. Space opera by an older female with a rep in fantasy? Dead. Dead dead.

It seems 300 people disagreed. To the tune of $8500 and change. Which is a very good advance these days. Again I’m directly responsible to those 300
(SPAAARRRTTTAAAAAAAA!). I’ve got a deadline, a publishing plan, a publishing team, and a set of distribution outlets once The 300 have had their first look. My job, as it’s always been, is to get that book written and get it out to the people who want to read it.

To use a severely overused word, this is a game-changer. For writers with established midlist careers and a dedicated fan following, it is possible to bypass the agents and publishers altogether and go direct to the readers. The readers judge, up front and in person, whether they want to throw their money in the pot—and if so, how much.

What’s more, it supports itself. People back each other’s projects and point each other’s backers toward others that might appeal to them. It’s a community effort.

It’s a lot of work. It’s stressful. But so is any form of publishing, and it always has been.

What it does that has not been possible in all the time I’ve been in this business is let a small group of readers and fans support writers whose work they want to read. It’s a godsend for writers whose publishers have let them go for lack of sales; who have written series that were cut before completion; who have written projects that don’t fit the larger schematics—too odd or niche or cross-genre— but that do indeed have an audience waiting for just that kind of thing. Like space opera by a Female Fantasy Writer who isn’t a twentysomething.

Nor does it exclude “hybrid” writers with still-extant traditional careers or exceptionally high ebook sales. For them, too, crowdfunding can be a way to get out projects that don’t fit the usual specs, but which will appeal to enough backers to be feasible.

Last year I worried that everybody would jump on the bandwagon, backers would run out of cash, and the whole thing would collapse under its own weight. This year? It’s not a wagon, it’s a train to the stars.

Will it eventually run out of fuel and burn into a sun? Probably. Or it might settle to a nice solid pace, steady as she goes, and become as much of an institution as the midlist publishing industry that it’s begun to replace.

I can see the business splitting into one or two major publishers with a strict bestseller mentality (q.v. the music industry), masses of smaller presses and indies of all sizes and all levels of funding and reach, and a backbone of crowdfunders, both giving and receiving. Whatever happens, I don’t think we’ve seen all that possible, or that crowdfunding has even begun to max out the number of readers and fans who are willing to come on board.

And if the major crowdfunding machines go the way of Amazon—devouring everything they can get their teeth on and then clamping down—I can see all the little agile mammals taking their groups of fans (cross-pollinating like mad, because in genre, that’s what we’ve always done) and scattering, and carrying right on while the dinosaurs battle it out over their heads.

Tim Pratt
Tim Pratt has won a Hugo Award for his fiction, and has been a finalist for World Fantasy, Sturgeon, Stoker, Mythopoeic, and Nebula Awards. His latest story collection is Antiquities and Tangibles and Other Stories, and his newest novel is Liar’s Blade. He’s published half a dozen books thanks to crowdfunding. Pratt lives in Berkeley CA with his wife writer Heather Shaw, and their son. For more, visit

Crowdfunding has already proven a successful tool for authors to continue publishing series books after parting ways with the original publisher — I’ve done that, and Tobias Buckell, and Bradley Beaulieu, among others. It’s a good way to keep a series with a devoted but relatively small fan base alive when, for creative or economic reasons, a larger publisher is no longer interested in publishing the books.

Of course, such writers could always simply self publish the next volume in a given series, and hope for the best. The advantage of Kickstarter and similar crowdfunding methods over pure self publishing is that you can gauge reader interest before you invest the time and money to put out the book — you can make sure there’s an audience. (Plus, you get paid up front, which is nice.)

I’ve found that for other niche projects (like short story collections, which are seldom huge sellers), crowdfunding is also a viable approach. I could probably have sold my third collection to a small press, as I did with the first two, but I suspected (rightly so) that I could make more money and have more control if I crowdfunded the book and published it myself. Crowfunding can be a great approach for projects like that.

I am not convinced that crowdfunding is a good way to *start* a writing career. I benefit from my existing readers, who were mostly cultivated via my traditional publications — I simply don’t have the same reach that, say, Random House does in terms of promotion and distribution. And you can’t crowdfund if you don’t have a crowd.

It’s worth noting that I have a fair bit of experience with layout, design, digital conversion, the business of publishing, etc. — and in the many areas where I lack expertise, I have a solid network of people I can hire to help me. Someone who isn’t interested in all the non-writing-stuff that crowdfunding/self publishing requires might find the whole process a lot less appealing. I certainly wouldn’t want to do all my books via crowdfunding, because what I enjoy most is writing — but I like the other stuff well enough to do a crowdfunded project once a year or so. It lets me continue playing in fictional worlds I love, and the readers seem to like it too.

Crowdfunding is not the salvation of publishing, and it’s not right for ever author or project, but it’s a useful approach in some situations, and can give life to books that might otherwise never be written.

About JP Frantz (2322 Articles)
Has nothing interesting to say so in the interest of time, will get on with not saying it.

3 Comments on MIND MELD: What Crowd Funding SF/F Novels Means for Authors and Publishers

  1. Judith said:

    >>I can see the business splitting into one or two major publishers with a strict bestseller mentality (q.v. the music industry), masses of smaller presses and indies of all sizes and all levels of funding and reach, and a backbone of crowdfunders, both giving and receiving.<<

    That sounds like an awfully messy publishing ecosystem. Getting people to find your work is going to be harder than ever, should that come to pass.

    • We’re already a good part of the way there. Unless the majors find a way to resurrect the midlist, and themselves move away from the monopoly they’re relentlessly moving toward, that part of the market will just get narrower and narrower. And then there’s Amazon…

  2. This was an interesting topic, JP. I enjoyed hearing different authors’ perspectives on this change in the industry.

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