A few years back I happened upon the blog of a children’s writer living in the west of Ireland who had just got a €10,000 ($14,000-/£9,000-ish) bursary from our Arts Council to effectively stay at home and finish a novel she was writing. She had no contract, agent or anything other than a demonstrable talent for writing, but yet she had been deemed worthy of Arts Council funds. At the time I was working for Satan in a job that was depleting my will to live and so getting enough government money to chuck in the 9-5 and write for a year sounded too good to be true.
And for me, it was.
As soon as I downloaded the form and the information booklets, I realized that my art of choice – commercial fiction – was not favored by the powers that be. Still, I decided to go ahead and apply. Couldn’t hurt to try, right? The guidelines said bursaries could be used for general living expenses, i.e. pay bills so the writer is freed up to write instead of work, but yet the form demanded an itemized list of all expected costs, broken down and twelve months in advance, and, at the end of the year, receipts would have to be provided. A headache, but understandable – it was tax payer’s money, and would have to be accounted for. I soldiered on. But then I got to the small print about drawing down the money, and worked out that even if I got the full amount I was applying for (which was unlikely), it would mean payments of something like €300 once a month. I’d be better off quitting my job and going on unemployment benefit, which (at the time) would’ve worked out at around €800 per month and required considerably less paperwork. This was all for nothing anyway, because the only projects the council supported were those with a strong Irish streak. I was Irish, yes, and writing in Ireland, but my novel was set in the States. And it was commercial. I was doomed to fail.
But here’s what I could have done instead, and here’s what you can do now to fund your creative projects: Kickstarter.
What is Kickstarter?
Kickstarter is a funding platform for creative types, be they inventors, writers, film-makers, sculptors, musicians or something else. The idea is that you create a project, tell people how much money you need to do it, offer them a reward for contributing and then, if you reach your funding goal, you get the money. I had heard of it before but I assumed it was a place to go if you were a venture capitalist or otherwise rolling in cash, and looking for something to invest serious money in.
But it’s not like that at all, as I discovered this week when a link on Twitter sent me to a Kickstarter project.
Here’s what I didn’t realize about Kickstarter until now:
- Most Kickstarter projects have a minimum pledge of only $1
- It’s all or nothing, so if you pledge money to a project and it doesn’t reach its funding goal, you don’t pay anything
- There are rewards for pledging a minimum amount, e.g. $25 or more
- With many projects this reward is a finished product and so you are essentially pre-ordering the item being funded
- Many of the projects are novels, movies and theatre productions, i.e. created by people like us.
Before we go any further I should tell you that at present, to start a Kickstarter project you have to be (i) a US resident and (ii) have a social security number, although anyone can pledge money and be a backer. Sucks, I know. They’re working to open it up to more countries but for the majority of people reading this blog, everything I’m about to talk about is something to think about for the future, not do right now. Unless you can find a US resident to partner you in your project, of course.
Some Kickstarter Projects You Gotta Love
The best-looking “fund the writing of my novel” project I’ve come across on Kickstarter is Scott Morris and Gaines Green. His pitch is extremely professional, well thought-out and even has some Hollywood star power – Armie Hammer – the actor who played both Winklevoss twins in The Social Network – which alone would get my vote… But, ahem. Anyway… His funding goal is $12,000 but you can donate as little as $1. Rewards include a signed copy for pledges of $100 or more and your name in the acknowledgements for pledges of $5,000 or more, among others. You can check out his Kickstarter page here.
I’ve discovered that browsing Kickstarter projects and wanting to back them can quickly become Twitter-like addictive, but no wonder when there are just so many great projects on there. Here are three I’m seriously considering backing:
- Bound Custom Journals. The idea is you go to a website, select exactly what you need in a notebook and what order you want it in (choices include lined pages, graph pages, storyboards, To Do lists, maps, etc.) and then it gets delivered to you in a bound, hardcover journal. This isn’t the first of its kind but I think it has a little something the others don’t, and the simplicity of the idea is its biggest strength. And it’s perfect for writers. They’re looking for $10,000 to get their website and business off the ground, and you only have to pledge $40 to get a coupon for one of the first custom journals. The minimum pledge is $5.
- The Sticker That Will Save the World. Simple but potentially profound, I know this sticker would make this I-Always-Recycle-When-I-Remember-To girl pull up her environmental socks. This project has a funding goal of $350 and just $1 gets you a finished sticker.
- ISS Notify. (See video below). This is the project that brought me, via a Twitter link, to Kickstarter in the first place. This lamp will light up and pulse whenever the International Space Station passes overheard, and I HAVE to have one! Its inventor is looking for $10,000 to get the show on the road, and only $85 gets you one of the first finished lamps. The minimum pledge is $1. With a retweet from NASA’s official Twitter account, this one is (hopefully!) well on its way.
And here is a project that boy oh boy oh boy, did I wish I’d backed. It closed on May 3rd so now I just have to wait for the finished product to hit the market, and rest assured I’ve already signed up to their newsletter so I’ll know when it happens. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Coffee Joulies.
Quite possibly the best coffee-related idea ever (although they work for all hot beverages), I am so buying me some of these. They are actual magic (coffee) beans that thanks to some fancy thermodynamic fairies, first absorb heat from the liquid around them, cooling your coffee from Burnt Tongue to I Can Actually Drink This, and then slowly release it back in, keeping your coffee warmer for twice as long. Such an amazing idea that despite only asking for $9,500, the Coffee Joulies boys raised more than $350,000!
How Self-Publishers (and Other Writers) Could Use Kickstarter
As in the example of Scott Morris above, you could simply ask Kickstarter users for the money to pay the bills while you write your novel, and as a reward offer them something like a signed copy or their name in the book. But I really think it’s the pledge-as-a-product-pre-order model (like the Bound Custom Journals) where self-publishers can take best advantage.
You could, theoretically, use Kickstarter to get your readers to cover your upfront self-publishing costs. Let’s say that I’m self-publishing a sequel to a book that had a large readership/great sales. This time I’m only doing what I do now: POD paperback and e-book. Well, editing is going to cost a few hundred dollars, let say, and cover design another bit onto that. If I got 500 people to pledge $3 on Kickstarter, I’d have more than enough money to pay for it. In return, those 500 people would get a coupon for a free e-book download. Essentially, they’re paying me in advance for the e-book they’re going to buy anyway. If you were clever about this and had a project page that convinced people to pledge the money, Kickstarter could be a really effective way of raising the money needed to self-publish well.
Just yesterday I was kicking around ideas for a proper book trailer for my novel, with Gemma Burgess’ amazing trailer for The Dating Detox (above) as my example of perfection. I’m not 100% on board with doing it yet, and the main reason is that I’d probably have to spend around €500 ($714) to do it, and when your whole approach is No-t0-Low Risk that’s a lot of money on something that may or may not translate into sales. But what if I turned to Kickstarter? Backers could be rewarded with discount coupons, free e-books, pride of place in the acknowledgements or even special limited edition signed copies depending on how much they pledged.
I know for sure that it beats filling out grant applications…
What do you think of writers using Kickstarter? And aren’t the Coffee Joulies the best thing in the history of civilization like, ever?
UPDATE: FundIt.ie is a similar set-up available here in Ireland.