Thursday, 18 July 2013

CROWD-FUNDING: A LITERARY PROJECT

Crowd-funding is becoming more and more popular among people working in the arts—writers, musicians, artists, film-makers—as a way of raising money for projects. Rather than going to official funding bodies for money, artists worldwide are appealing directly to audiences and readers through crowd-funding sites such as Kickstarter, Pozible, Indiegogo, Zoshpit, and more.

In its essence, crowd-funding is not a new concept, especially in literature: the subscription model of past centuries, where investors clubbed together to publish books, is basically similar. You could say in fact that it is thanks to crowdfunding that Shakespeare's plays occupy their central place in our culture for the First Folio was 'crowd-funded' by his friends and associates, not long after his death, because they did not want to see his plays(which till then had been circulating only in pirate editions)to die with him...

Modern crowd-funding has been greatly facilitated by the fact of the internet, of course, which makes it very easy for a wide circle of people to contribute to projects they believe in. Basically how it works is lots of small investors(or several bigger ones) contribute to your nominated project by pledging x amount of money, for which they get y amount of 'perks' which depending on value range anywhere from a simple 'thank you' to copies of the work, merchandise, all kinds of things. Many thousands of people have raised money towards their projects that way. Not only does it raise money, though: it also guarantees you sales, readership, audience, and is a great promotion and publicity tool.

I'm in the middle of a crowd-funding campaign right now, for a project dear to my heart and those of two artist friends, David Allan and Fiona McDonald. Together, we've embarked on an exciting adventure—the creation of our own small picture-book publishing house, Christmas Press(motto: 'picture books to cherish every day'), with the launch title being Two Trickster Tales from Russia. The book comprises two traditional Russian folk-tales (Masha and the Bear; and The Rooster with the Golden Crest) retold by me, illustrated by David in beautiful classic Russian-influenced style, and elegantly designed by Fiona. Two Trickster Tales from Russia is the project for which we're seeking crowd-funding towards printing costs, through the Indiegogo site: http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/first-christmas-press-picture-book
Christmas Press initially began because we were frustrated by the fact that one of the stories from the book, Masha and the Bear, which David and I had presented as a picture-book project to several mainstream (and independent) publishers had been very much praised but regretfully declined as not being commercial enough to fit publishing lists focussed on bigger print runs and school sales. But we were sure that such a classic-feel book would indeed have a market, especially a gift market—people buying it for children and grandchildren, and nostalgic readers as well—and as short run printing is very reasonably priced these days in Australia, we decided to take a gamble and go ahead and publish it ourselves, with another related traditional Russian story added. (Both the texts, by the way, have appeared individually in children's magazines, so I knew they had success with readers themselves.)

But another reason for initiating Christmas Press was more general.  In our opinion there is a niche that isn't being filled at the moment by any Australian publisher: retellings of traditional stories from all over the world, beautifully and classically illustrated, for the whole family to share. Instead of bemoaning that fact, why not be proactive and see if we could fill that niche ourselves?

Crowd-funding our launch title seemed a natural extension of our own small-scale, grassroots approach—going straight to the readers. We researched the process extensively before launching into it, because not every crowd-funding site is the same. Early on, we dismissed the idea of Kickstarter, the most famous of the sites, because you need a US bank account for that; and then it was a question of deciding between two different types of crowd-funding model, the 'fixed' or 'all or nothing' model, which sites such as Pozible and Zoshpit(for musos) work on, where you must reach your nominated funding target to be paid anything at all (people who contribute to such projects get their money refunded if the target isn't met and the project doesn't get up); and 'flexible' funding, which Indiegogo functions on(though it also has a 'fixed funding' option if you want.)

Flexible funding means you get to keep the money raised, even if you don't reach your target, with a small commission taken out by Indiegogo of course—the commission is slightly higher if you don't reach your target than if you do. We chose the Indiegogo flexible funding model because a/we had committed to our project going ahead, regardless, had already started work on it and negotiated with the printer and b/we felt that having contributors from the start who would not have to wear the disappointment of the project not going ahead, was a much better look for a brand new small publisher! What we felt was that even if we didn't reach our target, the funds raised would help very much to defray the costs; the goodwill and excitement generated too was very valuable indeed.

Once we'd decided on the site, we signed up--it's free to do so—and started planning our campaign pitch. This consists of a written pitch introducing your project and what exactly you're seeking support for (in our case, printing and associated costs), as well as images and a pitch video. You don't have to have pitch video, but all the evidence is that campaigns work better where there is one. Some people have very elaborate clips, but we chose to do it simply and cheaply: using images from the book, a simple video-clip creating program (Windows Movie-Maker), a little bit of text introducing us and the book, and some music(originally written by my son for one of my own book trailers). The images speak for themselves!

Then came the devising of the list of the 'perks' to offer contributors, which is directly related to the amount they fund you for. For instance, with ours, a $25 contribution gives you a $25 perk of a signed copy of the book, posted anywhere in Australia(basically a pre-order for the book), whilst a $50 perk consists of a signed copy of the book plus a signed limited-edition print of one of the illustrations; and so it goes on, through different perks, right to a $1,000 biggie with all kinds of things offered—books, prints, merchandise, and a beautiful matrioshka 'nesting' doll, hand-painted by David, featuring characters from the stories.

With a picture-book, of course, the possibilities for perks are endless; not so easy with a novel! Then we had to decide on the length of our campaign—these can run from 30-60 days but Indiegogo recommends 45 days as being the optimum length. We took their advice. We made sure all our social media sites were up and running: there's a Christmas Press Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/ChristmasPress  ,ably run by Christmas Press editor and publicist, Beatriz Alvarez (who also doubles as Fiona's daughter!), a Christmas Press Twitter account, https://twitter.com/ChristmasPress and of course a website:  http://christmaspresspicturebooks.com/

We also had to decide on such 'housekeeping' details as how contributors might pay, such as credit card and/or Paypal, and enter all that information, for the benefit of Indiegogo (it is they act as the broker, collecting funds, and they who will deposit the funds into your nominated bank account, minus commission, at the end of the campaign.)

And then we took a deep breath, hit the Submit button, and the campaign went live!
A third of the time into our campaign, and we've raised nearly a third of our target amount and are delighted by the generous support of our contributors, many of whom are also writers, illustrators and other people in the book industry : it is simply wonderful to experience such warm collegiality. The adventure continues!

© Sophie Masson

The internationally-published, award-winning author of more than 50 books for children, young adults and adults, Sophie Masson is a versatile writer who loves writing in different genres and loves experimenting with new media. Her latest novel is Scarlet in the Snow (Random House Australia 2013) and forthcoming in August is her Romance Diaries: Stella (ABC Books), published under the pen-name of Jenna Austen. Last year Sophie began releasing collections of her short pieces as e-books through her own micro-publisher, Sixteen Press, but her new print enterprise of Christmas Press, in partnership with artists David Allan and Fiona McDonald, is really exciting her at the moment.  Readers can have a look at the crowd-funding campaign, and contribute if they wish, at http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/first-christmas-press-picture-book



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