I stumbled upon an online story a couple of months ago through one of the digital fiction feeds I actually pay attention to. It was a really fun, neat little story, and I subscribed to the author’s feed because I wanted to read more of his work.
That first story was completely free online and on various readers (Kindle included). It was a story that used elements of the new digital world, but was essentially a straightforward print story online. Nothing incredibly innovative, just good writing. It was fairly popular, though, to date generating 72 comments (not bad for a non-commercial, non-controversial post).
I didn’t get any further posts from that feed for quite some time. The second story that came out was under a different model – the Kindle version was for sale, and once 100 Kindle copies had sold, he would release the free online version. It took only a few days for the free version to go up.
After that, he began a new endeavor: a not-yet-written novel (novella, really) based on the first short story. He launched a project at Kickstarter, using a pledge system. If you’re interested in the project, you pledge $3/11/19/29/39 based on different package levels for the book. A $3 pledge would earn you a PDF of the book, an $11 pledge the PDF and hard copy, etc. He set a goal of $3500 by November – if the goal were raised, he’d start and finish the project. If not, no worries, for any party – he wouldn’t do the project, and the backers would not have to part with any money.
It’s the first time I’ve really seen a fiction writer guarantee themselves the cost of their work is covered, and indeed offering a profit. It’s also the first time I’ve seen a project like this offer different levels of satisfaction depending on pledge level.
For one thing, it significantly increases the readers’ eventual level of emotional investment in the final story. You were in on it from the beginning! Your pledge helped bring it into existence in the first place. As an investor, you are far more likely to talk about it to your friends, to post about it on FaceBook (and thus do the lion’s share of the word of mouth marketing that is so very important in start-up ventures). In fact, the $39 pledge level was the most frequently chosen – it includes several copies of the book, so you can give some to your friends. Brilliant. The fact that so many people went for this option over the much easier $3 or $11 levels shows that people want to be intimately involved in things like this.
As an author, it gives you immediate feedback on your work, your relationship with your audience, your impact upon them. We spend so much time not knowing if anyone is interested in our work, if anything is really worth doing. This project shows the author, before he’s even started, that yes, this work is actually worthwhile.
It also skipps over the emotionally traumatizing agent/editor submission (and primarily, rejection) process. You go straight to your audience. Let’s face it, audiences are far more forgiving than agents and editors are (just look at Dan Brown’s novels and the success of G.I. Joe). Rather than filtering through a gatekeeper system (consisting of one, maybe two people who may or may not be in a good mood the day they read your work, or who may not share your tastes in genre, etc.), you go straight from author to reader. What could be better than that?
Furthermore, this takes the concept of self-publishing and adds some legitimacy to it. You didn’t write a book, get rejected from every agent and publisher in the world, and then decide to give them the middle finger and publish it anyway. You presented the concept to your readers, and they opened their wallets to support you. They gave money – that’s something that any agent or publishing company will pay attention to.
You’ll find that if you can get a legit publisher, almost any agent will take you on (with easy dollar signs in their eyes). I’d bet that if you show publishers your record of successful sales to readers, that would work just as well. After all, under this model, he’ll sell at least 1167 copies of his book, with no remainders (I assume a print-on-demand self-publishing model). When publishers put out a novel, they have no such 100% sales expectation.
Of course, there’s no reason he’d ever have to go to a publisher, unless he wants to, or unless his popularity grows to such a massive scale he actually needs the big boys to handle it. As an author, there’s nothing wrong with embracing this model as a long-term solution.
It’s definitely something I want to explore further, and maybe even try to implement myself. I’d like to see if other authors are trying this, and what level of success they are having. I’d like to see what other types of projects are working through this model, and what the reader reactions are. It’s a pretty wealthy area for paper topics and further discussion.
The only question is: will the final work be worth the pledge? I suppose we’ll find out.