PD Smith

Crowdfunding books

16 February 2010 | Writing & Poetry | 6 comments

An interesting discussion developed the other day on Twitter about the idea of "crowdfunding" books - asking people for donations to fund the author while writing a book. Simon Sellars (@ballardian) started the ball rolling, sending me a link to Deanna Zandt's blog in which she asks for donations.

I have to say I was initially sceptical, not to say cynical, about the whole idea. As Will Wiles (@WillWiles) said, it seemed a bit too much like "panhandling". Science fiction author Tim Maughan (@timmaughan) was similarly negative about the idea. 

But having thought about this and listened to Deanna's side of things I see that it certainly can work. Although, as she says, it clearly works best if you are talking to a community that is open to this approach. I'm not sure it would work for the kind of cultural history books I write, for example.

Tim Maly (@doingitwrong), co-founder of Capybara Games, pointed out the advantages of this way of funding books and other artistic projects. As he said, if it works for Robin Sloan (@robinsloan) at Kickstarter, why shouldn't it work for other authors?

Anyway, it's an interesting debate and Tim Maly has collated the various comments from people and written a fascinating blog on the issues it raises which is well worth reading.

Michelle Pauli (@michellepauli) at the Guardian has also written a rather more sceptical piece highlighting the ethical problems involved. For example, she points out that "as [Deanna Zandt] is writing about social networking it might be relevant to the reader to know if, for example, the MD of Facebook has contributed a large sum to the writing of her book".

One nagging fear I have about crowdfunding is that if it catches on then publishers may stop paying advances altogether. Authors are already having to make do with much lower advances. And today I see in The Bookseller that an agent has struck a deal where there is no advance and the profits are split between author and publisher.

Perhaps the new age of the eBook will change things, allowing authors to reach untapped audiences and making writing more rewarding. I hope so. If not then crowdfunding books may well be the only option for some authors.

6 comments so far:

  1. Crowdfunding: the new black? Or the scourge of the earth? You decide! | deanna zandt | 17 February 2010

    [...] Crowdfunding books, PD Smith at Kafka's mouse [...]

  2. Paul Halpern | 22 February 2010

    Personally, when I write a book I like to keep its topic and contents private, shared only with my editor, until I consider the work complete. With crowdfunding there would be a temptation for the people who fund a book to steer its subject matter. An alternative would be a group of authors and sponsors starting their own press, and then establishing a rigorous acquisition process. A good example of this is City Lights press that published Allen Ginsburg and others.

  3. Crowdfunding or What? | Tomorrow Museum | 24 February 2010

    [...] on Twitter, preserved here by Tim Maly. More from Maly, Michelle Pauli at The Guardian, PD Smith, and Paul Raven at Futurismic. Will Wiles expanded on some of his points in the debate, with a [...]

  4. Jonina Ervin | 30 April 2011

    For my forthcoming book "Driven By The movement: interviews with Black Power Activists of the 1960's and 1970's", I will have to use some form of crowdfunding even for self-publishing and print-on-demand. I will need over $1,000 for printing alone, as well as additional funds for travel and promotion. To me, it seems that authors are behind other creative producers, like filmmakers or painters, in understanding and accepting crowdfunding of books, literary journals, and other publications. We need to break out of our conservative anti-tech bias. Now, there is a particular new resource strictly for authors called StoryFunded.com which everyone should check out. It may work for you, and although I just found out about it, I am going to try it. email: [email protected] The new way may be the better way for our craft.

  5. PD Smith | 02 May 2011

    Thanks for that, Jonina - very interesting. Good luck with your book!

  6. James Haughton | 06 May 2011

    Could I direct you and your reader's attention to "Delta Green: Through a Glass Darkly" a Cthulhu mythos novel that is currently being crowdsourced:

    This is a spinoff from a Lovecraftian roleplaying game; the author has successfully published other fiction set in the same universe, and crowdsourced roleplaying products, but this is their first attempt at crowdsourcing a novel.

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