Will Crowdfunding Books Replace Author Advances and Further Empower Readers?

A curious meme is spreading through the world of books: crowdfunding.

Indie authors are flocking to sites that allow them to create fundraising pages for their book projects. It’s a beautiful and simple idea: have your readers fund your next book directly in exchange for intimate access to the process as well as exclusive goodies available at various pledge levels.

Kickstarter is the most recognizable platform.

Kickstarter’s premise is “a new way to fund and follow creativity.” According to them, “Kickstarter is the world’s largest funding platform for creative projects. Every week, tens of thousands of amazing people pledge millions of dollars to projects from the worlds of music, film, art, technology, design, food, publishing and other creative fields.”

Supporting indie authors isn’t their only mission. But it is a prominent inclusion, and authors are taking advantage of it. Frank Chimero is one such author. His book project, The Shape of Design, attracted 2,109 backers and earned $112,159 USD, crushing his pledge goal of $27,000 USD. Wow!

Frank may be an outlier. So consider Robin Sloan, who’s Robin writes a book project compelled 570 backers to donate a total of $13,942 USD, dwarfing his original pledge goal of $3,500 USD. A solid success.

Kickstarter may be the big fish in the crowdfunding sea, but it’s not the only fish.

Enter Unbound.

Unbound is both crowdfunding platform and publisher. Wired Magazine heralds Unbound as “a sort of Kickstarter for books – specifically for established and emerging authors keen to experiment with a new publishing model.”

Unbound does have differences from Kickstarter beyond just its niche focus. ReadWriteWeb highlights the prominent ones, including a closed submission process, unpublicized crowdfunding goals for projects and profit sharing with authors if their books go to publication.

And then there’s PUBSLUSH, the latest crowdfunding fish to enter the waters.

PUBSLUSH’s chief distinction from its friends is its humanitarian commitment to global literacy. Their cause is thus: “for every book sold a book will be donated to a child in need.”

Beyond their heartwarming mission, PUBLISH is a legit operation as a full-service publisher powered by their own crowdfunding model. Authors, like Bethany Parks, are taking notice.

These crowdfunding platforms are red-hot. I doubt it’s a trend that will lose steam soon, if ever.

That makes me wonder: is this the future of funding books?

Yes, and no.

The current crowdfunding models are subtly different but share a common formula: (1) author has book concept -> (2) author pitches book concept -> (3) readers fund book concept (if they like it).

I love this model. It’s widely adoptable, scalable, social and fair. I hope it gains greater relevance in the future. I’m sure it will.

But this is just the beginning.

Consider this: what if you flipped the formula?

What if this formula went: (1) readers want book concept -> (2) readers commission book concept -> (3) author writes book (in exchange for the gross commission).

What if a platform existed that facilitated this new formula: where a reader could suggest a book concept for commission, other readers to jump on board and fund it too, specific authors could be suggested for the commission, and those authors could accept (or decline) those commissions.

I believe reader commissioned books are a next great leap forward in the new book economy. It seems right as a natural evolution of the crowdfunding models in place today. And it further empowers the rising influence of readers.

Maybe, with his model, and enough supporters, JK Rowling could be persuaded to write another Harry Potter book. One can dream.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jimkukral Jim Kukral

    It’s certainly a great option for authors to try it. Imagine it this way, you’re creating your own signing bonus that a publisher would pay you. Or imagine it this way, you’re really preselling copies of your book. Either way, it’s good!

    I did it at the end of 2011. I raised over $35k for a series of books on my own, sans Kickstarter or any of those places. You can see that campaign and how I did it at http://www.businessaroundalifestyle.com

    I also wrote a book about it called No Publisher Needed. http://www.nopublisherneeded.com

    Bottom line, go out and try it! You may be surprised on how well it works.

    • http://winningedits.com/ Matt Gartland

      I like your “signing bonus” analogy. In the current state, the economics are perhaps closer to that then full-out funding. But I sense that as the new book economy matures, crowdfunding will evolve toward the center of an author’s funding model.

      With virtually no downside, and massive upside potential, absolutely go out and try it!

      • http://www.facebook.com/jimkukral Jim Kukral

        The downside is a bit of hard work on your own, which is what stops most people. But I would argue to those people to think long term about their book plans. We’re at a critical time right now and the wrong decision could effect you for years and years.

        In my opinion, you’d be crazy to sign a contract with anyone nowadays as fast as the changes are happening.

        • http://winningedits.com/ Matt Gartland

          Folks that shy away from hard work rarely reap meaningful rewards. This isn’t about a “get success easy” scheme. It’s about owning your channel, working hard, and keeping a (much) higher percentage of the rewards. I’m glad we agree on that! :)

  • http://twitter.com/nickwarren Nick Warren

    Thanks for the interesting article Matt.

    It’s another disruption to a business model that still seems to be struggling with the disruptions of 15 years ago (web), 10 years ago (blogs) and 5 years ago (ebooks).

    Crowdsourcing will certainly work for some authors and some projects, but there’s a bigger disruption happening beneath I think. The idea of books as big monolithic projects is going to disappear for a lot of us. The economics of publishing used to mean that a book had to be a big expensive thing before it was worth turning on the presses – but that’s not nearly so true now.

    I wrote one book in 140 character chunks on Twitter, over 3 years… and my current project is an ongoing “story” where the protagonist is a blogger. In time they’ll be thrillers as ebooks, but they won’t need to be book sized… and they won’t require months of work (or funding) to get done.

    I think the idea of one book-length visit with your favourite character every year or two will seem old fashioned to a new generation of readers… who will follow their favourites characters lives like they follow their friends.

    Of course all projects are different ;-)

    • http://winningedits.com/ Matt Gartland

      Thanks Nick! And yes, all projects are different. But a lot of what you said speaks to the growing popularity of serialized content (fiction and non).

      For some fascinating insights on serialized storytelling, check out our interview with co-authors Sean Platt and David Wright of Yesterday’s Gone.

      http://winningedits.com/indie-publishing-with-sean-platt-and-david-wright/

      Best!
      Matt

  • http://twitter.com/SubjectPlusVerb non talbot wels

    Compelling stuff, Matt. Well done. I too really like the idea of crowdfunding, and what that means for both the consumer and creator.

    • http://winningedits.com/ Matt Gartland

      Well said. It’s not at all solely about the creator. It’s equally about the reader. Which is why I find the concept of inverse crowdfunding to be so compelling; it puts the reader in more of the power position.

      • Jane Meep

        See my note above about “The Death of Civilization.” And, Google “cultural bubble.”

  • http://go-to-hellman.blogspot.com/ Eric Hellman

    2 things to note.

    1. Unglue.it is now in preview. We aim to do a lot more than tinker with the mechanics of advances, we aim to displace the pay-per-copy model with a crowd-funded pay-off.

    2. Last time I talked to him, Robin Sloan was a He, not a She.

    • http://winningedits.com/ Matt Gartland

      Thanks Eric for catching my silly slip of pronoun. I knew Robin was a he, but apparently my fingers didn’t remember when compiling my research notes :)

      Cheers!
      Matt

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  • http://www.CrazyAboutChurch.com/ Charles Specht

    This is such a good article. And I like how you flipped the switch at the end, asking what would happen if backers created the need for a book. Interesting thought.

    • http://winningedits.com/ Matt Gartland

      Thanks Charles. Its a fascinating development certainly within the book industry and generally as an powerful economic behavior. Glad to see others think my “commissioned books” theory isn’t too crazy.

      • http://www.CrazyAboutChurch.com/ Charles Specht

        No problem, Matt. I stumbled upon Winning Edits a few days back and I added it to my bookmark. Great stuff.

        • http://winningedits.com/ Matt Gartland

          I’m thrilled you’re enjoying Winning Edits. Thanks for the kind words!

  • http://www.jonlim.ca/ Jon Lim

    Hey Matt,

    Just stumbling onto this post as I’m doing some research on my own ideas for revolutionizing the book industry, and your idea got me thinking: would authors really want to write the stories that other people have created, or would it just be a move from a purely economic point of view?

    I love a specific set of authors right now, and its growing as I continue to read and discover more, but something tells me that anything they write that doesn’t come from their own brains would not be as enjoyable as something funded by a lot of people.

    Just my two copper pieces.

    • http://winningedits.com/ Matt Gartland

      Hey Jon,

      Great questions. I agree that for some authors – in some circumstances – yes, they wouldn’t feel comfortable taking the crowdsourced directly from readers. Scenarios are many here, including those highly influenced by economic drivers (or the lack thereof).

      To me, the greatest opportunity – which is one of mutual joy and prosperity – is one where the reader base casts forth a general construct for a new book. It could as simple as “I love this character from X book/series. Does he/she have a backstory? I’d love to read that.” Then, the author could delve into the depths on that premise. The book would be born of the author’s brain; it’s the direction that’s influenced by there reader-base.

      I doubt that many readers would take the time to outline a full narrative. Even if they did, the author would retain full authority to evolve the concept.

      The true genius here is that a reverse crowdsourcing of books better forges the relationship between reader and author. The reader has a louder, more direct voice to the author. The author enjoys clearer signals from their readers as to what they’re liking and not liking. The only outcome I can see here are books that are built to make immediate impacts on the hearts and minds of many.

      Thanks for sharing your two copper pieces. Good luck with your research. I’m glad you stopped by Winning Edits!

      Best wishes,
      Matt

      • http://www.jonlim.ca/ Jon Lim

        Matt,

        In the example you’ve given, it makes a lot more sense compared to my “full narrative outline” that I was thinking of. I’m sure plenty of authors would love to flesh out the stories of many of their more interesting characters; receiving the validation from your readers (and their money) must be a huge boost in morale.

        Carry on!

        • http://winningedits.com/ Matt Gartland

          Thanks Jon! Same to you; go forth and do great things.

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  • Jane Meep

    What I just sent someone begging for cash for (yet another…) fantasy novel on Kickstarter. “So, you’re asking people to pay to be Beta readers? Shouldn’t you be paying them? Or, at least, buying them pizza, or doing a Beta read on their stuff? At least 500,000 people (real number — not an expression) are in exactly the same place you are, with the same goals, and with the same degree of expertise and professional publishing credits (or lack thereof). Isn’t assuming that the world owes you $15K just for writing a rough draft — one among thousands of rough drafts equal or superior in quality — narcissistic and exploitative?” As for readers commissioning books, I’d file that under “The Death of Civilization.” Readers read to get NEW ideas, not to have their lame old presumptions regurgitated back at them. Yes, money should flow toward the writer, but only when the writer has written a real book that’s survived a rigorous vetting process that includes the possibility of outright rejection. Money should flow away from readers only when they receive a professionally written, vetted and edited book in return.

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