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Is Crowdfunding Publishing’s New Gatekeeper?

Is Crowdfunding Publishing’s New Gatekeeper?

Headshot of Samantha Warren

Just when we thought we had kicked the gatekeepers of the traditional publishing industry into touch, along comes another challenge: crowdfunding. American fantasy novelist Samantha Warren predicts that crowdfunders will become the new gatekeepers for indie authors who want to self-publish their books, putting the power in the hands of readers rather than executives. But is that good news or bad? Over to Samantha:

Ah, crowdfunding. Such an interesting topic, and a very heated one as of late. To sum it up, a YA author ran a Kickstarter and inadvertently kicked up a swarm of bees. I won’t get into details as Chuck Wendig did an excellent job of pinpointing the issues here and here. I’m not here to defend crowdfunding or whether authors have the right to use it. As Amanda Palmer said in The Art of Asking, “Those who ask without fear learn to say two things, with or without words, to those they are facing: I deserve to ask and you are welcome to say no.” I’m not here to discuss that. Instead, I’m here to make a prediction.

My Prediction for the Future of Publishing

Pubslush logo

Pubslush specialises in crowdfunding publishing projects

I predict that, in the future, crowdfunding will be the new gatekeeper.  What is my reasoning for this prediction? It’s simple, really. Crowdfunding bypasses everything: the traditional publishers, agents, even the authors in a way. The people who make the decision on the crowdfunding level are the readers (also known as supporters).

No one else makes that decision.

The authors can set up the campaign and prepare for it as best they can, but in the end, the supporters decide whether a project will fail or flourish. You can be the most famous person out there, but if your project doesn’t speak to people, it will not pass muster, it will not garner the support it needs, and it will not succeed.

Crowdfunding is the ultimate test for whether a project is worth the time it will take to produce and the people vote with more than just words and clicks. They vote with their money. They spend their hard-earned dollars to decide which projects deserve to come to life, which ones they want to read. If they don’t like a project, they don’t back it. They refuse to spend their money, much like they won’t preorder a book they have no interest in reading. If the project looks interesting, they’ll support it and expect the author to come through on the promise of completing the book on time. If the author has a proven track record of completing projects that readers love, they’re more likely to have a successful campaign.

Effective crowdfunding is not about relying on the kindness of strangers, it’s about relying on the kindness of your crowd.

Counting on the Crowd

Collection of covers of Samantha Warren's books

Samantha Warren’s back catalogue of self-published books, prior to her crowdfunding campaign

That is the theory I’m counting on for my Pubslush campaign for The Steam Wars, a new steampunk series I have in the works. I chose to use crowdfunding on this particular project for a reason. In this day and age, we’re seeing people turn away from big business to support the individual.

Especially in the music and movie industries, indies are becoming a force to be reckoned with, winning awards and earning money that used to be reserved for the more popular artists. I’ve had readers ask to purchase books directly from me because they’d rather support me than companies like Amazon or Barnes & Noble. Crowdfunding is a way for them to preorder and show their interest. If there is enough interest, the project will go forward. If there isn’t, I’ll focus on something else. And that’s the ultimate test, isn’t it?

This trend is going to continue and grow as the publishing industry evolves over the next few years. Readers will choose to fund the authors directly, and crowdfunding is going to rise as rapidly for us as it did for the music and movie industries. You’ll soon see the big names not only going the route of author-publishing, but using crowdfunding to determine their next project.

OVER TO YOU

  • Would you consider crowdfunding your next book?
  • If you’ve tried crowdfunding, was it a good or bad experience – and why?
  • Would depending on crowdfunding change what or how you write?
  • Join the conversation via the comment box!

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Samantha Warren

Samantha Warren is a speculative fiction author who spends her days immersed in dragons, spaceships, and vampires. She milks cows for fun, collects zombie gnomes, and dreams about the day she’ll meet Boba Fett. Her love is easily purchased with socks and her goal in life is to eat a Beef Wellington cooked by Gordon Ramsay. Find out more about Samantha at her author website, www.samantha-warren.com.

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This Post Has 10 Comments
  1. There is another variable at play with crowdfunding: platform. You still need to have a platform to promote your crowd funding opportunity.

    I don’t think many crowd funding projects will be fully funded without the originator being able to rally a sufficient number of his or her fans.

    I suspect that “no platform” = “no funding”

  2. I wouldn’t use crowdfunding.

    There isn’t anything wrong with it, but I wouldn’t say that crowdfunding is a gatekeeper because having someone else pay for one’s editing and cover art isn’t a prerequisite for self-publishing. It’s just an option.

    Still, if one wants to give it a try I say go for it.

  3. I am currently trialling crowd funding, and preliminary results indicate that you will only succeed if you are an established name OR if it is a non-fiction work that is answering a specific need.

    Which rather indicates that established publishing companies are still required to make a writer well known, after which the author doesn’t need them.

    There is a huge demand for publishing at the moment, which is driving the self publishing movement. 50,000 books a year, I hear, of which barely 1000 sell in triple figures. Tragic. Mainly because it is impossible for the good authors amongst the deluge of new books to get their book noticed.

    We need more sites reviewing indie publications. I am an author, publisher and reviewer of indie stories, and I can tell you that an awful lot of new authors need a serious amount of help, but there are some wonderful jewels amongst them who deserve a far wider audience that they are not getting.

  4. 1. Yes. If I decide to go the self-publishing route, and I think I could get enough of an audience to successfully crowd-fund a book, I would be happy to go that route. It would be a good way to raise money to hire a professional editor and pick up a few other pieces that would make the book higher quality, as well as a way to “pre-sale” the book and have a starting number of potential readers.

    2. I haven’t tried crowd-funding as of yet. I’m still exploring my options at this point and may still try to trade publish.

    3. I don’t think it would change how I write, but I might only choose certain projects to try crowd-funding, based on the response I expect to see.

    Thanks for sharing. 🙂

  5. Crowdfunding is not a gatekeeper–you can always publish yourself. Crowdfunding is not meritocratic either–those with large followings will do better, unknowns will not, and that has nothing do to with the value of the work. Crowdfunding does not mean a project is worth publishing nor not worth publishing (statistically, publishers would still have a better track record). Crowdfunding is a great promotional tool. It is a way for generating funds. Like anything, it can reach saturation and can become less effective over time. It is “cool” now, but is it just a fad?

    As far as turning away from big business to fund individuals, do you have any data? Amazon, Apple, and Google have more customers than ever. Most authors here publish through Amazon. The problem is that the large aggregators do not support individual artists and have an economic system that is simply only viable for the large player. So, I think artists moving to direct sales is the only real way to capitalize on their work–margins are too thin otherwise, and individuals will have to place value on their work and charge accordingly. However, you need to train a whole lot of consumers not to simply go to Amazon when they want a book. And that can work only by developing an audience which crowdfunding can become a tool to do that.

    To answer the questions:

    Yes, I will use crowd funding, but not for my next book.
    Not yet; see above.
    No. Design by committee is the best way to make something everyone likes, but no one wants.

  6. Oh, and to answer your questions:
    – yes, I most definitely would
    – yes, I have. I was involved in a crowdfunding campaign to raise the money to give a funeral to one of the UK’s leading slam poets who died in poverty at the end of last year. Britain’s poetry community came out en masse to support, and Amanda Palmer even tweeted the campaign. I also promoted a kickstarter campaign on the Guardian Books Blog for the incredibly talented children’s writer and illustrator Sarah Fennel Hughes, which got funded. The resulting book is one of the best things I’ve read in a long while – crowdfunding is especially valuable for that kind of very high production value multimedia book – in this case large numbers of high quality colour prints based on original artwork were needed.
    – yes, absolutely it would. It would give me the freedom not to care about pleasing anyone but my readers.

  7. Lovely to read this as Amanda Palmer’s number one fan!

    I think it’s also worth mentioning that the crowdfunded publisher Unbound had a book on last year’s Booker Prize shortlist, so crowdfunding as a way of bringing something truly exceptional to readers who will genuinely appreciate it has forced itself to the centre of the cultural conversation

  8. Oh – such an interesting post, Samantha. My instinct tell me to avoid crowdfunding, but that may be down to a generational thing. I can certainly see your point about the crowd being the gatekeeper, but am not so sure this is the kind of gatekeeper I would want.

    My feelings are tied up with your third question: Would depending on crowdfunding change what or how you write? And I think the answer has to be, Yes, it certainly would. I can see a situation where authors would alter their ideas to chase what is popular – not that this doesn’t happen now, of course. But personally I like to trust my own vision and write the book I want to and then let the market decide.

    Great post which is going to generate a little heat, I suspect.

    1. Thanks for the insight, David. In some ways, crowdfunding will absolutely change what I write. But once you reach a certain point with your audience, you end up writing to what they want anyway, for the most part. They’re your crowd and your crew. You want to please them. At least, I do. I love my readers and I write for them. 🙂 But I’ll never be writing something I don’t want to write. I have a billion ideas floating around my head and sometimes I have trouble determining which to write next. Crowdfunding serves both purposes: helping me decide which project to pursue and at the same time making sure my readers get something they really want. In a way, crowdfunding is like pre-reviews. Reviews tell you whether a series is worth continuing. Crowdfunding tells you whether it’s worth starting.

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