Lately there has been a lot of buzz about Kickstarter. My understanding is that Kickstarter isn’t much different from a PayPal “tip jar” in that it’s a relatively quick and easy way for anyone who wants to, to put up a signpost on the Internet that says, “I am doing this thing, and I need your financial help to do this thing, please send me money!” For full-time freelance writers especially, this appears to be a perfect way to solicit support from the readers and the fans: if you read and like me, and you want me to keep doing what I am doing, please send me your dough. Reminds me 100% of my days in community radio, when we’d get on the air twice (or more) per year, and spend at least a week (or more) politely begging listeners for donations. Telethon, baby! Been there, done that.
Part of me thoroughly sympathizes with the predicament of the full-time freelancer, and for my full-time freelancing friends who are making hay with Kickstarter as a result, I say: more power to you.
But I won’t be using Kickstarter. Even if I had enough traffic on this site that I thought it would net me a significant amount of money.
Well, to be blunt about it, I work for a living. And before my freelance friends come to my virtual door and blow my virtual head off for saying it like that, let me explain. I have not just one, but two steady paychecks rolling into my bank account every month. The first from my day job with a sizeable healthcare company, the second from the United States Army Reserve. When I’m not selling fiction — happens a lot less these days, thank goodness — it’s not a disaster. The bills still get paid, there is still food in the fridge for my family, the lights stay on, and the house is kept warm. I decided two years ago, when I sold my first piece of professional fiction, what the criteria would be for me to go to full-time freelancing. And the bar is set so deliberately high, it’s probable I’ll retire from my work first — just like L.E. Modesitt, Jr.
Second, and more philosophically, I’m not comfortable asking people to pay me for anything which does not yet exist. Back when I was doing community radio, we were at least presenting listeners with a product in real-time. We didn’t ‘thon with the promise that we’d eventually get on the air and begin playing They Might Be Giants or Phish or Skinny Puppy or Kraftwerk. We were already on the air, anyone could listen to us day or night, and all we were asking for was a fresh infusion of cash to keep the power on and the transmitter warm.
Doing a ‘thon for a book project that’s still theoretical… I dunno, sounds too much like speculative investing. Even if you like the writer in question, there’s no guarantee (s)he will deliver. If you know anything about the history of publishing in the U.S. then you know authors are notoriously tardy when it comes to delivering product — John Varley being perhaps the best (worst?) example, when he turned in STEEL BEACH approximately 8 years late.
Now, I don’t know about you, but when I pay for fiction, I expect to be able to read it the moment my money crosses the desk — or the electronic interface, if we’re talking about the internet and e-books. I don’t “invest” in the possibility that someone might write a book, and that I might enjoy. I want the damn thing in my hands — or on my screen. Every now and again I will — out of pure kindness or charity — throw some bucks into a PayPal tip jar. But in those cases I do so with the understanding that I expect nothing in return, and there is no implicit obligation on the part of the receiver.
And obligation is the thing I’d feel worst about, if I was trying to get people to pay me for a book I’d not yet written. The moment the first nickels appear on the meter, I’d feel locked in. And while that’s fine for an actual publishing contract with a publisher, I feel the relationship with readers is altogether more personal. Last year I tried to start up a “free” novel on-line, and it rapidly ground to a halt because I was frustrated with the scope of the project, did not plan well, and was embarrassed when, after a few months went by, I had to abandon progress altogether and formulate a new plan. If I’d had readers forking out dinero for that book, I’d have felt utterly trapped into blundering ahead as best as I was able. And looking back on it now, the results would probably have been unsatisfactory for me, and for the readership as well.
That book will still be written. But I’ll write it when I’m ready again, and I won’t expect a penny from anyone until I have a finished product to present.
This is, of course, my personal decision. I am not trying to impose my opinion on the world, as if it were the only valid one out there. But I’ve been seeing this Kickstarter thing a lot, and a lot of people are making a big deal about it — and now I’ve got other people e-mailing me and asking me for money to fund their various writing projects. So what do I do?
I’m going to be the Grinch. If you are not prepared to sell me a finished book, please don’t e-mail me asking for money. I will happily buy a completed book. I will not fund a theoretical book. I am sorry if this hampers your efforts. It’s not personal. It’s a rule I am making for myself, and it affects everybody — even my friends and associates in the business. Please don’t come to me with your Kickstarter solicitations. If I get any Kickstarter solicitations, I will politely decline them. Not because I am a miser or because I am rude. But because I don’t feel comfortable being your investor. I will be your friend, I will cheer you on, and I may buy your finished product when all is said and done. But I think the onus is on you, the writer, to finish the product first. Before you get the money.