Thursday, October 2, 2014

Kickin it with Funding

Money is the root of all financial success
Kickstarter is a strange beast.  Crowdfunding at all is a bit odd, as it is a sort of cross between panhandling and a telethon fundraiser for the common man.  Now you too can do a PBS pledge drive!

Essentially crowdfunding sites such as Kickstarter help you fund your project by putting it out for people to read about then send you donations.  The donations are only accepted if you reach a goal, and theh Kickstarter (and the government) takes their cut.  Special incentives are offered at various levels of donations (like telethons often do), such as early release, mention in the product, and so on.

For a long time now I've toyed with doing a kickstarter project to fund my books, but I've not done it.  One aspect that held me back was a video. Many people insist you must have a video to have success, and others say its not critical.  I don't have the ability or desire to make a video, and from what I've seen, many successful book kickstarters never had one.  But most do.

The concept of doing a fundraiser to write a book is odd, it strikes me as being like Monty Python's skit on Thomas Hardy writing a novel:

Its oddly commercial in a way that didn't make any sense to me for ages.  If people are investing money in a project on Kickstarter, what on earth do they invest in for a book?  Where's the return?  The book is being written anyway, its not like a product that has to get money to make it on the market.  The book is written.

But I've since come to understand it better.  You don't invest in art, not the same way as a business.  You're a patron in the arts.  Hundreds of years ago, very wealthy merchants and princes would become patrons of the arts, picking someone to sponsor and provide for so they could engage in creating beauty and greatness.  These artists always thanked and did work for their sponsors, which would bring the patron esteem and status in the social world.

Men like Benvenuto Cellini and Michaelangelo had patrons that allowed them to produce art and survive when they would have starved in anonymity in the past.  And essentially, that's what Kickstarter does.  I allows people to be patrons of the arts, in a small way.  Instead of having a single very wealthy patron, you can have multitudes of modestly wealthy patrons who all donate to your work.

Its a concept I appreciate greatly, because it puts art on a footing where it was when some of the finest works of all history were produced, instead of being funded by taxes or at the total mercy of the market.  Which is a nice alternative and perhaps a glimpse at a possible different economy that the internet is creating.

For me, Kickstarter would be a way of funding certain aspects of writing such as paying editors, hiring a cover artist, and other expenses such as a minor amount of publicity.  I wouldn't need much, maybe $1500 (since about half goes bye-bye from taxes and Kickstarter's cut).  Anything more than that I could fold into more publicity or even an audiobook recording.

The other concern about a Kickstarter for me, aside from "what if it fails?" is the work involved.  Creating and monitoring it is one thing, but if it succeeds, there's all the responses to people, gifts set up and sent out, and effort in fulfilling all your promises.  So that's something to consider.

If only it was as easy as pushing a button
From what I've read, the Kickstarter can be more effective with a few simple concepts in mind, such as explaining not why you should be given money so much as why you'll succeed and be a valid target for donation.  In other words, don't focus on begging but on explaining why its a good investment.  And when you do a kickstarter matters as well.  

From what I've read, the bulk of donations come at the end of the run, and that means you should end it when people have money: around the beginning of the month. Others suggest the 15th is an ideal time to target, because a lot of people get paid every 2 weeks and by that time theoretically all the bills have been paid and people have some cash on hand.

Strangely enough what month you run a Kickstarter on seems to matter as well.  April and October, according to studies, seem to be the best months for funding.  Definitely late November and December are poor times, because people not only are spending their cash on Christmas presents then, but every jobu that finished a National Novel Writing Month book has thrown it out on the market and is looking for money then.

What day to start and end is a bit of a puzzler.  Some argue the middle of the week is best, since people are distracted on weekends.  Others suggest Sunday, because that's when people will be home after weekend fun and before work checking the internet.  Others suggest Friday, because on Ebay, that's typically the busiest day of bidding.

One thing that does stand out and is consistent is that the time of day matters.  As an Oregonian, for me most of America is much later in the day.  When its still morning for me, its sometimes afternoon for others.  I've noticed that there's a lag on my blogs, so that when I post its fairly early in the day, but for the bulk of my readers, its later, so they don't pick it up often until the following day.

Since your project begins and ends at exactly the same time of day, you want to pick a time that will not waste hours.  If you end at 4 in the morning for most of your potential patrons, that means hours when no one is actually going to be donating. You want to end when people are likely to be online, which often means work hours.

So there's a lot to think about, and this page at Stonemaier games has some great tips - if a lot of work - to maximize your chances of success.  We'll see what turns out.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

In The Beginning

Homer should not write books
One of the questions that pops up every so often among new writers is where to start.  Indeed, I suspect there are more books unwritten over this question than any other.  Essentially, writers are unsure where to begin telling their tale, and don't get started at all as a result.

The first story you write can be a bit of a challenge, because there are many skills which can only be learned through practice.  National Novel Writing Month is a useful tool for this, by encouraging writers to simply write and complete a work no matter how awful or amateur.  Through the process, you learn, and grow as a writer.

But how should that story begin?  Once upon a time?  He was a dark and stormy knight? Call me Ishmaelf?  Where in the story should it start?

Some books begin with a prologue, which is typically a teaser for the full book or a history, setting up the story.  The Fellowship of the Ring movie started with just such a device, telling the background of the One Ring as it came into Bilbo's possession.  This sort of prologue sets up your book and while some people dislike them (such as myself) they are an honorable and long-established device.

The problem is, once your prologue is over, where do you go from there?  A prologue is meant to be such a separate device that it doesn't really solve your starting problems at all.  You still have to begin the main story.

This just begs for a story
Many of the old epics and grand stories of the past begin in media res, or in the middle of the action.  Instead of starting with the proper beginning, they drop you right into the middle of events and then go back to show how you got there.  The advantage of this is that it immediately gets your reader something exciting and energetic to read, plus it creates some sense of mystery: how did we get here?

I did that with my first two books, and I personally prefer to start a book with a high energy scene, but it has drawbacks.  Giving away too much too soon can make it difficult to build suspense.  If the reader knows your hero will be fighting the Kzinti right away, you can't make the enemy a mystery that is eventually revealed.  Also, this method can turn away some readers who prefer a more thoughtful paced book to read.

Another way to start is to begin at the very beginning.  Your hero's birth, the start of a kingdom, the creation of the world, and so on can be used to start with.  This should be used sparingly because readers tend to flip past this kind of thing, and as Elmore Leonard put it: try to leave out the parts that readers skip.  You have to work very hard to make it interesting reading.

A useful tool is to decide what your book is really about to decide on the beginning.  I don't mean the basic plot, but the story, the reason you wrote the book.  For example, the Aubrey-Maturin sea novels, for all the exciting ship combat, spycraft, and history are ultimately about friendship between the two main characters.  So Master and Commander begins with the two friends meeting.

The Lord of the Rings has a plot of destroying the ring and defeating the great evil, but the story is about the meek and simple Hobbit being used to do greater things than the mighty heroes could attempt.  So it starts out by introducing Hobbits.

The Harry Potter books are about a prophecied hero defeating a great evil, but the real story is about a young boy who grows into a good man, so it starts with Harry Potter. Deciding what your story truly is can give you a good starting point, to establish in the minds of the readers what the book is meant to be.  It sets up the story so that through all the events, the story is there from the very beginning.

Another device you can use is what is done with James Bond.  The creators of James Bond films knew that these films were going to be a lot of talky spy stuff and wanted viewers to get a good feel for what this guy was like and was capable of right away.  

You should have pulled the trigger
So they put a little vignette at the beginning of each film, a short short story of James Bond doing his thing, sometimes related to the main story, but not always.  You can start your book the same way: here's our hero doing something really cool and heroic.  After that, you get to the setup and the slower part of the book that develops the character and story.

One device I don't recommend, but that can be used well if done carefully, is the narrator talking directly to the reader.  I'm gonna tell you a story of heroism and greatness, so sit right back and you'll hear a tale, a tale of a fateful trip that started from this tropic port aboard this tiny ship...

The problem with this kind of tale is that a lot of agents and editors don't like it.  They don't like it a lot.  I've read time and time again how they just junk stories that start out that way.  Why exactly isn't perfectly clear, but I presume that a lot of bad stories begin that way and its one of those red flags.  Certainly doing so seems to distance the reader from the book.  You lose some immersion by having the story told third hand, from a narrator, telling a story, about a book.  

But if it is done well it can give the feel of an old storyteller around a campfire, and can even be worked into the book, with the storyteller's tale being overtaken by events around him.  "and that's how we got to this lakeshore, chased by the hordes of hell...."

Ultimately, how you begin a book is determined by your story and what appeals most to you as a writer.  Your book will be best told by what you enjoy and most displays your joy and passion in the story.  If you are having fun and love what you're doing, chances are so will your readers.  If you are too fixated on devices, tools, techniques, and careful step-by-step progression, your book will probably read like a technical manual.  It is possible to hit all the right "by the book" rules of writing fiction and write something terrible.  Its also possible to get it all wrong but write something full of joy and wonder and end up with something terrific.

However you begin, do it where you like to write, and write with all your soul and passion.  Do it the best you can, and it will work out.