It’s the unusual approach taken by Deanna Zandt, an American “media technologist and consultant to key progressive media organisations”. Last summer she issued a plea on her blog for donations to support her while she spent three months writing a book about social networking as a tool for social change and action, looking specifically at communities she says have too often been marginalised as social networks have developed: “women, people of color, queer folk, and more”.
Zandt has a publisher for this book, Berret Koehler, but they do not provide authors with advances to write their books. For some (unexplained, especially as the book is due to be published in June 2010) reason the book is “incredibly fast-tracked” and so she needed
“to stop working as a consultant for the next three months and do nothing but write the book. Thus, I need investors. I need you to help me raise $15,000 to cover my expenses, travel, and research. Please toss some money into a ‘Feed Deanna’ pot!”
Indeed. Feel free to send large cheques my way in order to fund any research I need to do. Given that I write about fantasy landscapes, I desire to travel to exotic locations to get a feel for other worlds. First up, the Bahamas.
More seriously, I think there’s a valid point with regards to marginalised communities in publishing – mass market publishing doesn’t exist to support niches, except when it suits a certain fashion or trend. But I’m probably very biased, being a writer.
What do readers think to supporting new authors in this way? You give them money to write about things you’re interested in. When you think about it, it isn’t too far removed from paying money for books written by your favourite author – because you’re funding them to keep on doing what you enjoy. These sorts of publishing models could help the small press authors thrive – because success in publishing, when it comes down to it, is deeply influenced by money.
I think the idea has merits, but as someone that isn’t that flush I wouldn’t simply donate my hard earned cash without the promise of something in return.
When I buy books I know that part of what I pay will go towards the costs the publisher incurs and that the author will eventually see some royalty from it.
As an acceptable solution from my point of view, I’d be happy to pay an advance on the cost of the book (if it interests me, obviously!), but I’d want my contribution taken off the cost when I do make the final purchase.
No, because taking things to extremes
“Hey Mark, I’ll pay you £5 to write a story about a unicorn called Princess, and a girl called Jenny. And she falls in love with Edward Cullen, except he’s a werewolf with pink fur, and he saves her from giant mutant wilder beast with his talking sword called Mr Ouch-Ouch. What? No? Hey I paypaled you £5… I own your arse!”
It’s taken me years to write stories only I will love (anyone else liking them is collateral damage). And if you did write the story above… everyone else would think you’ve lost it – “Don’t pay him £5 to write a story, he had a talking sword called Mr Ouch-Ouch for Heaven’s sake!”
Mark – I suppose that’s a version of buying something on interest-free credit. You’ve paid for the book, you just haven’t received it yet.
Adrian – deal! I don’t think it works quite like that though. More a case of ‘I’ve got a story about X,Y,Z – who wants to support me writing that story?’
Sounds like BS to me. I worked a full time job and gave up most of my free time to write at night for years before I even got representation, much less an advance. Somehow I doubt the world is so desperate for another book on social networking that she needed to quit her job and do nothing but write. That seems rather hubristic.
Peter: I must admit, there’s something more noble about having to graft and work at getting success – it makes it more worthwhile.
But then again, is it many shades removed from sticking a donate button on the side of a blog?
Yes. At least three shades.
I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with hard-working authors using fan donations as part of a business model. However, based on that article, I don’t think that’s the case here. Zandt seems to argue that hard work and sacrifice are somehow distasteful. I find that crass and a little insulting to all the folks out there working their asses off to make ends meet and still chase their dreams.
Admittedly she’s not portrayed all that well in the article; and it’s always difficult to tell intentions, once it’s been filtered through a journalist.
I speak as a grafter, too, and one who works far too many hours in the day; but I think she’s managed to raise a few points of interest with regards to artistic ethics and what’s acceptable to the public. That is a useful debate to have.
There’s a website for this called kickstarter. They have artists/writers/musicians set the funding amount they need for a particular project, then open it up to contributions. It’s an all-or-noting approach. If the project hits it’s goal, everyone’s credit card is charged at that time. If it doesn’t, nobody gets charged. It looks like this author got less than half of her funding. Does that mean she thinks she can write the book or not?
Check out the all-time-popular writing section, some of the projects there have come in higher than a typical first advance. Though most of these are self published, meaning the author has to print and ship the book (a whole lot of work/money).
So, wait. I pay you to write a book you want to write. Does that not make me your employer?
Okay, here is my 10 bucks. GO slave away.
On the more serious side, though, I’m still on the fence. As a writer I feel that this needs to work and give me money and all, because who doesn’t need money and promise to write all day.
However, the pressure to please all the people that donated once the book is out. Now this is what I call mission impossible, because everybody has a different taste etc etc. And I imagine that working with regular editors is pressure enough to reach deadlines and give your best, so hitting a deadline with 100 people waiting on you will be a real nuthouse reservation.
So of I give 100£ and the book is a success I would like to have 10% of your income from selling the book. You could sell the book as an stock … buy into the book…reap if the book becomes successful..or lose the 100£ But trying to influence the story with donation is nothing new –is it?..
@mark Maybe I’m taking my example to extremes (when do I ever do anything by halves!) but go look at GRRM fans and think how bad author entitlement could get if money was involved. “Hey, no watching football, I haven’t paid you to take a break!”
A better solution might be to create an Amazon wishlist or a paypal tip page so that fans are helping you but in a more indirect way.
@Mark – not so much interest free credit, but more like a reader advance rather than a publisher advance. But as others have said, it could get messy and expectations would be high from the reader.
D.J. Morel – thanks for that link. That’s phenomenally interesting. It might require a post of its own.
Harry/Adrian/Mark – yeah, there’s the risk, I guess. Some people feel they have ownership. But that’s no different to those who have bought into a series and feel they need the next book RIGHT NOW.
Headmaster – I think trying to ‘influence’ the story with your money is something different entirely, and not a situation I think any writer would want to be in. Donations themselves are probably not all that new; but it’s interesting to explore different ways of producing non-commercial art.