11 January 2014

Days of Future Publishing

This month's theme at Beyond the Veil is (insert trumpet fanfare): What's next in publishing?

Wait.  You're asking me?  Oy vey, have you got the wrong vampire--mean, writer!

I am the last person to pay attention to what's trending on editors' desk. It's not just a matter of writing too slowly. The publishing landscape is changing so quickly, chasing today's anything is a certain guarantee of obsolescence.

But there does seem to be one trend likely to continue through 2014, one with the potential to change the very nature of modern publishing: crowdfunding.  More and more creators of every stripe--as well as publishers, community organizations and other enterprises--are funding their projects by appealing directly to the public.  It's a lot like Pledge Week on public television, only instead of funding programs pre-selected by someone else, you target the projects you wish to support--or create your own. 

Nerds like me have been worshipping at the altar of Kickstarter ever since the successful funding of Veronica Mars. (Which will be released this spring--Squee!)

But that's just the head of the proverbial pin upon which angels dance. According to Kickstarter, in 2013, three million people pledged $480 million to fund 19,911 projects ranging from skateboard parks to Happy Canes (I don't make this stuff up, folks) to a human-powered helicopter. Meanwhile, the Kickstarter-funded indie movie Blue Ruin won at Cannes.

And Kickstarter is only one crowdfunding platform.  There are dozens, and more set up shop every day.

Given the explosive growth in crowdfunded publishing, I thought BtV readers might be interested in what a successful Kickstarter campaign looks like from the inside.

Regular readers may remember my December 10 and December 14 blogs about the Kickstarter-funded anthology Athena's Daughters, which includes my short story, "The Gap in the Fence".  The Kickstarter succeeded beyond our wildest expectations, collecting over five times the amount needed to fund the anthology. To make that achievement even more remarkable, of the original cast, only BtV's old friend Gail Z. Martin qualifies as a bestseller, though there are several award-winners. 

How did we do it?  The short answer: a lot of hard work on the part of everyone involved. 

The first thing we had going for us was a killer concept: a book about strong women by women, illustrated by women, edited by a woman and introduced by Colonel Pamela Melroy (USAF, Ret.), the second woman to command a Space Shuttle. There hadn't been anything to compare since Marion Zimmer Bradley's old Sword and Sorceress anthologies.

The second was the well-thought out Kickstarter plan developed by our publisher, Silence in the Library Publishing.  From the start, we had clearly defined goals--including goals for funding above and beyond the  original request--and a lot of great incentives for backers.  By the time the Kickstarter ended, backers at the $5 mark were in line for over a dozen ebooks in addition to the electronic version of Athena's Daughters, a CD download and two audiobooks.  Backers at higher levels will receive even more.

Even so, it was a good thing there were so many of us involved.  Generating the necessary buzz meant each of us pushing out multiple mentions every day on Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, blogs and newsletters.  Then there was the GoodReads page, which demanded its own blogs and responses to all the folks who submitted comments and questions.

It was a tremendous time sink, even when we powered past our original goals and began funding secondary projects, such as Apollo's Daughters--stories about strong women written by some of the biggest names in the Star Wars franchise, among others. 

The guys, bless 'em, gave it their best, but frankly they couldn't compete with the tagging and hashtagging prowess of the women.  Tagging is critical for promotional social media purposes, because it's the only way to beat the algorithms used by the big sites to elevate the visibility of monetized posts (i.e., paid advertising).  On the flip side, it was SitL publisher and editor Bryan Young who snagged us mentions in i09 and other big-name blogs.

From a marketing standpoint, the interesting thing was most of our contributors didn't access the Kickstarter from these articles and posts.  They sailed in from the Kickstarter homepage, attracted by our position as one of the most popular projects and by the concept.  Again and again, comments on the project celebrated the fact Athena's Daughters was by women and about women, in contrast some recent big name anthologies edited and populated almost entirely by men.

We had a few trolls, too, but we ignored them. It proved to be a great strategy. They generated more talk and more contributions.  It must have driven our detractors crazy to realize they not only helped fund an all-woman anthology--in ebook, trade paper and hardcover versions--but a second woman-centric anthology and the basic costs of a sequel, which unlike the invitation-only original will reserve some slots for open submission.

Another interesting aspect was the sensation of running a marathon. The numbers became mileposts, and on the last night of the Kickstarter, all of us began obsessively refreshing the page. We got so hyper, friends and family members started throwing money at it to calm us down.  And when it was all over, we found ourselves elated and exhausted.

And winners all--writers and readers alike.  I can't wait to read the anthology, now with seven extra stories and extra illustrations, thanks to the additional funding.  Athena's Daughters is scheduled for publication by August.  It seems a long way off.

But then, so did January 8 when the Kickstarter opened December 10.  :-)

Jean Marie Ward

(For those of you who'd like a taste of what's to come, I've posted a short excerpt of "The Gap in the Fence" here.)

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