Kickstart This: Asking for Money

kickstarter-logo-light

There’s been a lot of discussion over the last week around authors using Kickstarter and other crowd-funding platforms to fund specific projects. I have thoughts. But first, a few links:

Then there’s this post from Jenny Trout: Don’t Do This…Ever?: (an advice column for writers): “Crowd Funding” edition

Okay, normally I agree with a lot of what Jenny Trout says. Not this time, though. And you know why? Because whenever I buy anything, anything at all, part of the cost of getting that thing into my hands goes to buy groceries for someone–multiple someones. It’s not itemized, but it’s part of the cost of the item. And Trout’s ketchup factory analogy is terrible. The hypothetical factory owner? They’re not working with the goal of maybe getting paid someday in the future and, I bet, when they were siting their new ketchup factory they went and looked for places that would give them things like tax breaks and other incentives (like building infrastructure to the site) so they could spend as little of their own capital as possible. Or if it’s a brand new ketchup venture, there are always angel investors to help with money. Or venture capital–of course, going to investors that aren’t the government means you need to eventually show a return on that investment; if you can get the government to subsidize you, it’s a free ride: ask the cities that paid for new stadiums how that worked out for them.

Capital. It can be hard to raise if you don’t have the resources to begin with–and money’s not the only resource here. Time, energy, connections are all resources needed, not only in creative work, but in life in general. Some people have more resources in one area than another, so need to ask for help. There’s no shame in asking for help.

Kickstarter–and other crowd-funding platforms–are a way for people to raise capital for specific projects, but it requires them to spend energy and use their connections. They can be a way to fund niche projects that wouldn’t necessarily be commercially viable. There is a risk involved in both running and supporting such projects–but Kickstarter makes that fairly clear.

I’ve supported a lot of Kickstarters for books that did not exist when the campaign began: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13–in some of these cases, the texts (or images) existed, but they were not yet a tangible object. Heck, I’ve even funded a couple of ongoing publishing enterprises, specifically Uncanny and the Clarkesworld Chinese science fiction translation project.

And you know what? I’m pretty sure that for a lot of these projects I’ve backed some of that money went to pay for something for the person putting together the project. Or if it didn’t pay for something for them, it paid for someone else to provide them with goods and services–and the money they received then went to other goods and services. And I am 100% okay with that.

I mean seriously: this is how our economy works. In the Kickstarter that sparked this whole conversation, the author gave a list of things she was going to use the money for–and that’s where I think she made a mistake: she was too honest.  She mentioned living expenses, specifically groceries and a mortgage–which then prompted a lot of people to essentially tell her to go get a “real” job (way to devalue her work). Personally, I was doing some head-tilting at the backer rewards and I think the timing could have been a lot better–but me looking askance at the campaign doesn’t invalidate her right to have it.

I do understand that a lot of people in romance and YA don’t want this sort of campaign to become the norm in their reading communities–I don’t think there’s a risk of this becoming the dominant funding model, I really don’t. Even in SFF, while crowd-funding is relatively common, it’s not the norm for even a significant minority of books published.

But these aren’t reasons to declare that it’s unacceptable for authors to use these platforms to try to raise money for specific projects.  I think that if the author had said, “It will take $10,000 for this book to become a reality and that includes professional editing and a gorgeous cover and backers will also get an exclusive short story set in this world” no one would have blinked.  Claim that she’s just begging for money instead of getting a real job or that readers shouldn’t have to assume a financial risk or that she’s taking advantage of children because she’s a YA author, what this comes down to is this: you didn’t like her tone. She asked for too much. She didn’t ask in exactly the right way.

So: is a one-off crowd-funding campaign a good way to build a sustainable business? Probably not. It is a good way to get a specific project off the ground, though, especially if you think that project has enough people interested in it to fund, as this author apparently did.

Tobias Buckell has a really, really great post about the first Kickstarter campaign he ran that I really recommend everyone reading.

And now, I want to talk a little bit about success when it comes to books. Does the book make money? If yes, it’s a success. If no, it’s not a success and you probably won’t get another contract from that publisher (unless you’re self-publishing). That’s it. Does that kind of sort of really suck? Yeah, it does–there are lots of wonderful books that don’t make money, lots of great series that get cancelled part way through, books that no publisher will buy because they don’t think it’s commercially viable. And there’s a lot of books that are badly written or troubling or whatever that sell by the truckload. Readers are hard to predict.

Ultimately, it’s the readers that make a book successful: they buy it or get it from their library and if they love it (or hate it!), they might tell their friends about it–and those friends may then also pick up a copy or investigate the author’s backlist. Every copy sold puts money to buy groceries in someone’s pocket–probably not the author’s until they earn out their advance–but each copy gets them closer to earning out. That’s what I mean by readers making books successful or not–there is no implication that a reader must help an author or publisher promote a book, the mere act of purchasing the book (or asking the library to purchase a book) is, in my mind, sufficient.

(Note: I am not using the name of the author whose Kickstarter prompted this discussion; there’s bad stuff going on and while I do want to discuss the larger issues here, I don’t want to send more shit her way.)

2014 in Review

Swirls

I wasn’t sure I was going to write a year in review post, but then I was asked to participate in the final SF Signal Mind Meld of the year, so I thought it would be interesting to look back at the year, both from a genre-blogger perspective as well as a more personal perspective.  The turning of the year is a good time for introspective navel-gazing.

On the genre-blogging front, I spent a lot of time being annoyed this year. These are the posts that got the most eyeballs this year:

I am going to take this opportunity to mention that I’m eligible in the Best Fan Writer Hugo category. I’m proud of my work and think it’s worth considering.

I also went to a lot of conventions this year: Boskone, Balticon, Readercon, Capclave, and World Fantasy. I had a lot of fun, got to be on programming at Readercon and Capclave, and got to meet so many awesome people. I never thought I would love conventions as much as I do.

I got an airplane for the first time in a decade and it wasn’t awful.

We also bought our first house and that was the best thing about the year. I never thought I’d be able to buy a house so I really can’t describe how wonderful it is. The closets are completely disorganized, the flowerbeds are a horror show, but I have a bird feeder and wow, I love my bird feeder.

Bird breakfast is served!

I made a lot of visual art this year, too. I spent a lot of time experimenting with different media and making messes.  Messes are good. I feel like I am–slowly–figuring out what works for me and what doesn’t. It’s hard to put into words–and that’s actually the point. It feeds a different part of my brain and heart.

Multi-Colored

2014 was, in a lot of ways for a lot of people, a really hard and exhausting year. But there were a lot of good things in it, too–and a big part of the good for me was the people who take the time to read what I have to say here and who chat with me on Twitter and other places.

Human connection is so important and I’m so grateful to have it, online and off.

I’m hoping 2015 will be full of more connection, more art, more words, more love.

Nice Doesn’t Pay the Bills

Yesterday afternoon, I saw a post at Writer Beware about one of my favorite websites, The Toast. The post was about a section of their contract in which they asserted rights to contributors’ copyrights.

I trust the people at Writer Beware, so when they say something is an unacceptable rights grab, I believe them.  I’m not the only person who did.

A few hours later, the issue was resolved–everyone’s happy, right?  Well, I’m not.

I’m unhappy that Nick Pavich, publisher of The Toast, was dismissive when these concerns were raised last night and then proceeded to be grossly sexist.  He did apologize. To me, it felt less than sincere.

pavich

Dream journal? Kittens?  Really?

This is the moment when I point out that Nick Pavich is an attorney. Presumably, he knows his way around a contract or would know someone who would and would be willing to give him a friends-and-family rate on the billing in order to, I don’t know, write a contract that wasn’t capitalizing on people’s lack of knowledge about publishing (especially since the artists’ contract wasn’t so awful)? I don’t give a flying fuck if sites like xoJane and Gawker use similar contracts with their freelancers; The Toast’s public position has been that they are, in some ineffable way, different–nay, better–than those sites.

Jacqui Shine says it much better than I could:

Or, more succinctly: exposure kills.

The Toast–and its parent company, Manderley LLC–are in this to make money.  That is something they’ve been open about since day one–the fact that a community has sprung up in their comments is wholly incidental to their stated purpose.  They run advertising and sponsored posts–what this means is that the audience is the product. They aren’t running the site and acquiring content out of the goodness of their hearts or because they want to be nice. They have found an audience that isn’t being served and they’re using that to create revenue.

And speaking of the advertising–it’s terrifically intrusive.  Five ads above the fold, four of which are animated in some way and one of which, if hovered over for too long, opens a content-obscuring box and starts talking to me about the deals at my local Chevrolet dealer.

I am, of course, not saying that they shouldn’t have advertising or that they shouldn’t make money. But my local newspaper manages to have ads that are less obnoxious than this. And my local newspaper is in this to make as much money for their corporate overlords as possible.

Also: I do generally love The Toast. I link to them quite frequently and I remember when they were just a wee little site that could. I’m happy they’re successful. They’ve been on my list of places to pitch (if I ever get around to firming up some of my ideas). I also believe that Mallory Ortberg and Nicole Cliffe are doing the best they can. They seem to be genuinely nice human beings.

But that’s the thing–it actually doesn’t matter if they’re nice. Nice doesn’t pay the bills. It doesn’t matter how nice they are if their contracts are (were) written like that. Nice is not an excuse or a reason.  It is completely orthogonal to the issue at hand. (Also: so is being new to publishing writers and paying them–again: Pavich is an attorney. He has the resources to set up an LLC and handle the business end of things, he has the resources to create a standard contract that doesn’t suck.)

Again: The Toast is a for-profit business. If you’re writing for them, you are providing them a service for which you should be compensated. Part of that is a fair contract. Many of the people writing for The Toast are not professional writers and they don’t know what a fair contract should look like–this is why sites like Writer Beware exist (the comment at The Toast calling Victoria Strauss’s post “a poisonous little blog post” made me see red; this comment may be directed at Scalzi’s blog, but it seems likelier to me that it’s directed at Writer Beware as this is what got this party started).

I am pretty sure that The Toast is doing fairly well financially–after all, they were profitable a mere 9 months after they came into existence (you can actually see their traffic analysis here; their monthly unique visitors have essentially trebled since that article was published in April).  And it’s not like they’re paying their contributors a whole heck of a lot, either.

And yet: there are clearly members of the commentariat who see this nominal payment as a lagniappe for the exposure. Who feel that even though the contract was flawed, that The Toast would never be so crass as to actually enforce those terms because they hadn’t in the past and because Pavich can pull a handful of examples out of his hat where he didn’t enforce them.  Writers shouldn’t have to rely on a business’s goodwill and niceness to be treated fairly.

The Toast is a financial asset. And do you know what happens to financial assets sometimes? They get sold. And when they get sold, all bets are off. Just ask the writers who had contracts with Night Shade Books. Or Dorchester.

Changes: Pretty Terrible

You may have noticed an address change: Pretty Terrible.

Increasingly, the Radish Reviews domain name hadn’t been working for me–lots of reasons, but mainly because I didn’t feel comfortable using the site for content that wasn’t at least kinda sorta related to genre books and issues. Like most people, I have a lot more going on in my life: I watch a fair bit of television and I have an ongoing fascination with various activities involving wool, spinning wheels, and knitting needles. Not to mention my attempts at visual art (anyone who follows me on Twitter or Instagram is likely well aware of the visual art thing #sorrynotsorry).

Why “Pretty Terrible”? I’d been trying to think of a new domain for quite some time and last week I drew this:

Pretty Terrible ATC

pretty terrible inspiration

I wasn’t very happy with it–there’s an imprecise blobbiness to the line work I dislike and the combination of watercolors I decided to use to fill in the background really didn’t work, either. I wrote on the back of it, “pretty terrible”. And said to myself, “Hey, wait a minute.” So I went off to see if the domain was available and lo, it was. And now it’s mine.

I will say that I’m incredibly happy with how the painting I made for the header image turned out.  It came together fairly randomly and built on some of what I’ve been doodling over the last couple of weeks. I generally work on artist trading cards (ATCs), which are pretty small. I usually start with ink and then fill in with paint or, more recently, marker.  This painting is a bit larger at 4″ x 6″ but still not tremendously large. I started with watercolor for the background, then drew the thingamabob with ink and then colored it in with watercolor pencils. The problem with having so many art supplies around is that I tend to want to use them all. Which is not always a great idea.

I am particularly obsessed with bright colors. Although my scanner seems to make them even brighter than they actually are–and as I don’t know diddly about color correction, that’s going to be interesting until I figure it out.

Pretty Terrible

Pretty Terrible

greencircles persevere

This is where I want to say something philosophical, but I don’t have anything. I just wanted a change and an opportunity to widen my scope and here we are.

On Anger and Community

Just a handful of links today because I feel like I have things I want to say about them. They are both quite long but very much worth reading in their entirety.

I’ve been thinking about what these articles are saying a lot. A lot a lot. A lot.

And then I read my friend Melissa’s post about Jian Ghomeshi which describes a whisper network (among many other things). And I thought about my own post about whisper networks.

Yesterday I tweeted about whisper networks and how they serve a necessary purpose but they are, by their nature, fundamentally flawed. One of their flaws is that they help keep abuse confined to the shadows and the corners. They can, in some ways, serve to further isolate people already vulnerable to abuse.  I don’t know how to fix this. I don’t know if it can be fixed.

I would like to see community action come from these networks–a chorus of voices is stronger and louder than just a single voice. But even that comes with risks.

I have spent a lot of time the last two years angry.

I’m tired of being angry. If I keep on being angry, I’ll be no use to anyone–not myself, not my family, not my community.

This isn’t any sort of high-minded pledge that I’ll never be angry again. That would be foolish. But it is, perhaps, a reminder to myself to remember that anger is a tool. It’s a tool best wielded carefully and with precision.

banner-always angry