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Crowdfunding: the next generation

As writers increasingly seek out alternative fundraising options for their works, many are turning to crowdsourcing models. Crowdfunding may not be a new phenomenon, but it’s one that is continually evolving and shapeshifting to help fund creative projects and to support ongoing creative work.

Unbound, the award-winning crowdfunding publisher, founded by three writers Dan Kieran, Justin Pollard & John Mitchinson, allows authors and readers to define publishing for themselves. When offered the opportunity to help fund a book, readers become more than consumers – they become a part of a book’s journey, from the author’s original idea to the beautiful finished artefact.

Unbound’s model is very straightforward: the author pitches an idea and if enough readers support it, the book goes ahead.

Under the traditional model an author is lucky to earn 10% of the cover price, whereas Unbound split net profits 50/50 with the author. So far, their community of 97,762 people from 158 countries have pledged £2.91m to fund 170 books.

Tabatha Stirling, an Unbound author who is currently crowdfunding for her novel, Blood on the Banana Leaf said,

“With a longlisted Man Booker Prize author and The Good Immigrant surging into the bestseller charts, Unbound’s star continues to rise and I am delighted to be part of their trailblazing ascension.”

But it’s not just writers, many literary magazines, too, have turned to crowdfunding. Last month, it was independent publishing company, Dodo Ink’s 1-year Kickstarter anniversary. In 2015, they raised over 100% of their £8000 goal to fund their first three novels. Founded by author Sam Mills, digital publishing and marketing specialist Alex Spears, and reviewer Thom Cuell, Dodo Ink publishes original fiction, with a focus on risk-taking, imaginative novels.

McSweeney’s, the San Francisco-based independent publisher, almost doubled their $150,000 Kickstarter target to keep putting out projects that take risks and celebrate great writing and make contemporary literature a little more vibrant. 3,419 backers pledged $257,080 to help bring this project to life.

Evolving models

Patreon, a San Francisco-based service, allows creators to accept patronage to provide ongoing financial support for their work. Unlike Kickstarter or Indiegogo, Patreon enables creators to receive support on a regular basis. It has come at a time when it is increasingly difficult to monetize content.

Founded in 2013 by musician Jack Conte and developer Sam Yam, creators of music, writing, podcasts, videos & films, comics and many more, can continue doing what they love while building a community of patrons that support their work.

Fans pledge a small amount per month or per thing released, which means the creator gets paid every month, or every time they release something new (whether it’s on SoundCloud, YouTube, personal website etc.).

The platform gives you everything needed to grow your business from reward distribution and patron manager to pledge analysis tools. Patreon also advice on best practice – they highly recommend making a short video to explain the Patreon page and why readers should support the creative work. Creators with videos make 70% more than creators without them.

This month, Patreon announced they had partnered with Podomatic to make it easy for podcasters to monetise their podcasting business and build a stronger connection with their most devoted fans.

Through Patreon, fans have given over $50 million to creators – 4,825 of which are writers.

Success stories

For some creators, Patreon has enabled them to focus solely on their creative work. Despite publishing six fantasy novels and receiving three Hugo Award nominations, author N.K. Jemisin still needed to work full time as a counseling psychologist to make ends meet. In May 2016, she turned to Patreon. Her campaign, with incentives including cat pics, access to new digital content and Q&A videos, was so successful that she was able to resign from her position within a couple of days. As of July 1st, she was able to start full time writer life. Today, she currently has 1,001 Patrons and $5,291 per month exceeding her $3000 per month goal.

And it is not just individual writers that are turning to Patreon. Writing organisations, too are able to raise funds and support for their ongoing work via the platform. The National Young Writers’ Festival is the largest gathering of young, experimental writers in Australia. For nineteen years, it’s been the launch pad for careers, collaborations and friendships. For many writers, it is the first chance to have their voice heard on a public stage. NYFW is fuelled by voluntary hours and currently receives funding from The Australia Council, Arts NSW and The Copyright Agency. They hope their Patreon patrons will help them to build a better and more sustainable Festival into the future. Currently, on their page they have 34 Patrons pledging $210 per month. Incentives include website acknowledgements, front row beanbags, and a photocopy of your face on the Festival Superstars wall at next year’s event.

The difference with Patreon, it seems, is it can be difficult to build an audience from scratch. To maintain a prolonged, successful campaign, you need to already have an audience.

As many creators and supporters gravitate towards these platforms, it seems mentalities are shifting. The book is not just the end goal. Many supporters are now opting to be a part of a great idea and to provide ongoing support to the creative process itself.


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