Hard earned dimes

Mulling around something I came across, but first wanted to mention a couple bits of news.

First off, Wily Writers has a new story up. This week’s offering is “Valentine,” an urban fantasy tale about a woman who is trying to steal a living supernatural heart to save her mentor’s life. She discovers it’s more difficult than she expected.

Secondly, Rose Lemberg has launched the debut issue of her literary speculative poetry magazine, Stone Telling. I encourage you to check it out.

The bit that I’ve been mulling around is a slightly different model of revenue generating than I’ve usually seen. I’ve pondered it myself, but didn’t think it would work so well for me. But I’ve now seen one author pull it off with one short story, so I figured I’d mention it.

Kickstarter has been used by different people to generate advance funds for a project. The idea is that you set a goal and a deadline. There are added benefits available for people who pitch in different levels of funds. I’m not sure what happens if the goal isn’t met in time.

Recently I came across an author who wanted $500 to write a 5,000-word short story which would be made available as a PDF through Creative Commons. That comes out to about 10 cents a word, which is a little bit above the minimum benchmark SFWA uses to determine “professional rates.” 5 cents per word is so engrained into SF writers’ heads that many people I know refer to as simply “pro rates.” But the fact is that it’s the bottom edge of professional rates. There are a couple magazines that pay 25-30 cents per word. Not many, but they exist.

I’ve seen some larger projects on there, like game books or funding to travel and write about it. I’ve never seen a short story as a project. But then, I don’t normally hang out on Kickstarter. It may be pretty common and this is the first to get my attention. I believe the tiers of contribution were $2 or $15. If you paid $2, he provided you with an MP3 of himself reading the story. If you paid $15 he would also send you a hand-made wood block printing that is tied to the story.

At first I wasn’t sure what I thought of it. I posted a link to my Facebook wall, and the two people who commented were leery of it. It struck them as a bit too much like begging. The solicitation of funding like this does seem to have a stigma associated with it. Not too long ago, Steven Brust wrote to Miss Manners on the etiquette of “donate” buttons on his Web site. Miss Manners’ opinion was that this was little more than begging and it was gauche. Other authors, included Neil Gaiman, disagreed with Miss Manners.

On a certain level, I don’t see how this approach differs too much from sending unsolicited manuscripts in hopes of getting paid compared to asking to get directly be readers/fans for a story you intend to write.

The thing that keeps me from taking this route is that, well, I don’t think I could really pull it off. The person who did this already has several novels in print. I have yet to make more than $20 off of a single story I’ve sold. (Though the flash piece that will appear next month probably earned me the highest per word.)
The thought of getting an arbitrary group of people to kick in $500 seems… unlikely.

The other route along these lines is the simple donate button. I do have a story available for free with an optional donate button. In the months since the story has been online, I have had no donations. Which is a bummer, but hardly surprising. People love the Internet for convenience and FREE. Not always legal, but often free. Or at least cheap. If I had a BAJILLION stories out there, or made it up to midlist author status, my odds of trawling in some scraps of change might be viable. But as it is…

Paradoxically, the most believable route to making a living that way seems to first gain some recognition through published novels before being able to shake my money maker on the Internet like that. I know some people, like Jonathan Coulton, struck it big on the Internet. But the secret to that is elusive. It’s like getting lottery tickets instead of a job. Yes, enough people do it to prove it’s possible. But I don’t want to pay my rent on the basis of lottery winnings.

2 thoughts on “Hard earned dimes

  1. mightytoad

    Interesting thoughts

    First, let me sympathize. I’ve never managed to get any money for any of my fiction writing so even $20 is one more step in the right direction than I’ve gotten.

    But that’s not really what I wanted to comment on.

    I think the problem with pre-funding is that people don’t want to give money unless you have a proven track record. And even though I think Kickstarter has some safeguards built in, the biggest obstacle is getting people to believe that you (not you per se, but the person receiving the money) will actually complete the project once it’s been funded. I think people are reluctant to give money without some guarantee of results.

    Having said that, one of the best things about the internet is that it gives random strangers a chance to connect. Years ago, I had a cafepress store up selling stuff with my photos on it and actually made some money (not enough to actually do anything with, but it bought me a beer or three) from people I had never heard of. So, in one respect, I think a given project’s success on something like Kickstarter has a lot to do with how well one can work the social networks and the twitters and whatnot. If you can make enough people aware of the project then some minute percentage of them becoming interested will achieve the funding.

    Anyway. Just my two cents.


  2. rose_lemberg

    Jeremy, thanks for the plug!

    As for putting up a paypal button for stories – it’s exactly as you say – I’ve only seen this work for published authors with an established following.

    Catherynne Valente’s “The Girl who Circumnavigated Fairyland” was originally crowdfunded and won awards and a publishing contract (with Tor, I think?) but one needs to keep in mind that a) Cat has a very large and dedicated following, b) Cat has this following because she has been writing novels, poems and short stories that got a lot of exposure over the years; c) in addition to b, Cat is also a very successful blogger who smartly writes on topics that matter deeply to her readership, and d) people trust Cat to produce reliably awesome writing. We went to Gunn’s workshop to improve our craft; Cat’s writing had long ago moved beyond simple craft (there are people who like or dislike her work, which is irrelevant). But a person who has Clarkesworld solicit a story from them and then sit down and write something brilliant is a person who is in a completely different place.

    I have seen Scalzi fundraise 1000$ in less than a day using the following method: He explained the cause, then he put up a flash piece he wrote for the occasion (which took him two hours tops, I suspect), and asked his readers to donate something if they liked the story. He had to take the paypal button down after less than a day.

    Unfortunately, we are not there.

    Brust can do whatever he wants – and I am sure Miss Manners would have something to say about the poker, too. (Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE Brust, and own all his books, most in hardcover).

    In short, I advocate clean living and perseverance :)

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