Is crowdfunding just ebegging?

Surprise – I’ve found something new not to like! One of the ideas which seems to be taking greater hold among some authors at the moment is ‘Crowdfunding’

If you are not aware of this concept it’s like this: there are websites where you set up a page asking the public for money in order to achieve a certain goal. This could be to publish your next book, for example, or a print version of your e-book, or an audio version.

It’s an idea which already has a strong hold amongst musicians – an indie band, for example, with a small but devoted following might attempt to fund the release of their next album through donation in this way.
US_Dollar_banknotesTypically there’s a sliding scale of perks which come to you if you give a certain amount of money, for authors this might be a signed copy of their book, the more money you pony up, the more generous the perks you receive. Though obviously they never come anywhere close to the cash value of the donation as that would defeat the object of gain for the author.

So what’s the problem with this? you might ask. There is no pressure being put on people to donate, those that do so do it willingly, presumably because they like the author’s previous work or just want to help out an emerging artist.

I can see all that – but somehow it still leaves a bad taste in my mouth. However much you dress it up with websites and perks, isn’t it just a new form of begging? eBegging or, if you donate via mobile, iBegging. Ah go on, you’ll all be saying it tomorrow.

It didn’t concern me when it was musicians doing it – not my area. And one could argue it still shouldn’t concern me now it’s self-published authors. I had a small press publisher for Song of the Sea God and have one for the Pick Up Artist, due out in February, so I don’t have to pick up the tab for the publishing, editing, book cover and so on, the publisher handles that then gets paid when the book sells. It’s easy for me to take a stern view of crowdfunding, one might say, when I don’t have to do it.

But does anyone really have to do it?

The people who are asking members of the public to foot the bill for their new masterpiece could do what I did – tout it round endless publishers and agents, building up a big pile of rejection letters until eventually they find a buyer, or don’t find one, in which case they put their manuscript in the bottom drawer and start writing again. Alternatively they could foot the bill themselves and self-publish, safe in the knowledge their book is strong enough to make the outlay back and then some.

But some authors, it seems, want the money up front. They want an advance and they want it from the reader. The idea of an advance has disappeared from all but the top end of traditional publishing, small presses don’t give advances – they take a gamble on you by funding your book and either make money on you, or lose it, but they don’t hand you a wad of cash in advance.

Crowdfunding, like pretty much everything else, has its good and bad elements. But, at the more cheeky end of the spectrum, I have witnessed people who clearly have no real track record as authors expecting to see thousands of free dollars flooding into their accounts, and grumbling if it doesn‘t come in fast enough.

facebookI’ve even seen people who, though they identify themselves as writers, don’t even want the money to fund a book. In one such case the people involved wanted it to move house and take care of their living expenses. They would get round to writing a book when all that was sorted out, they said.

I have friends from all over the world of Facebook, readers and writers from across the globe. Funnily enough the people holding out the electronic begging bowl are all from rich, first world countries.

I suppose, at the heart of my distaste for crowdfunding, is the notion that you can get a ‘free ride’ as a writer – that you don’t have to put in any old-fashioned hard work while making very little reward as you develop your craft. That you don’t need to fund yourself with a day job, or go through the tough cycle of being rejected and improving. It will all just be handed to you on a plate.

What do you think about crowd funding for authors? Tell me in the comments below.

ImageIf you get a moment to take a look at the (ahem) award-winning Song of the Sea God.

You can look inside to read the first few pages free and download a free Kindle sample for UK readers here. And for readers in the USA here.

38 thoughts on “Is crowdfunding just ebegging?

  1. I often wonder about crowdfunding, too, Chris. The cost of a professional novel editor is an uncomfortably large chunk of my yearly income, and something I’ve only managed to spring for on one occasion (my first book, Remedy). Still, I don’t think I’d crowdfund unless I had a big, marketable story idea with a solid plan for my fundraising. It wouldn’t make sense to me otherwise.

    Because yes, there’s lots of bad crowdfunding, and lots of shameless “I just want some free money” crowdfunding. If an actual, productive writer is using crowdfunding, then I only really mind when it’s constant, direct requests for donations. I’ve unfollowed people because they’re asking for handouts in every tweet and blog post, setting monetary goals for every short story or tweaked website layout. That definitely comes off as obnoxious and entitled to me.

    But if a writer only asks for a leg up occasionally, on a big creative venture, then I think it’s a reasonable way to make a project happen. Especially if they offer more interesting perks than just a copy of the book! Receiving some original artwork or being allowed to name a character can make the whole thing feel like a fun charity bazaar, rather than an uncomfortable panhandling session.

  2. I know what you mean, Chris. I does sound wrong, much as the countless tweets that almost demand that you buy their books!
    I think it all smacks of desperation, and I’m too long in the tooth for all that. On the verge of giving everything (apart from writing) up, as that’s the only thing I am really enjoying these days!

  3. I don’t know much about it, but I guess if there’s a legitimate project which really needs backing then why not. Although, personally it doesn’t sit completely right with me, I would have to exhaust every possible avenue before taking this option. Being only at the start of my writing career, it seems to me that money can’t buy ‘hard graft’ which is all about the amount of time you’re willing to put in, this to me is the real financial input.

  4. Hi Chris I wonder if it’s a case of which crowdfunding you use. I wouldn’t do this independently but a group like Unbound might work. I don’t believe the author sees sight of the money until after the book has been published when the profits are split 50/50. All the pledges go to Unbound as the publisher and only when the book is 100% funded do they begin the editorial and publishing process.

    The book can be partially written when you submit to Unbound but obv needs to be finished while funding takes place. A synopsis and short section is posted on their website so that you can decide whether you wish to pledge or not.The major obstacle for me is the constant pressure to publicise one’s work in order to get the pledges, especially when you are an unknown writer like me. As I have only just begun my second novel and I don’t feel confident enough with my first to submit it, I am not using Umbound, but I may do so in the future.

    • On the face of it that certainly seems like a good deal for the publisher – no risk for them and half the profits. I don’t know enough about that set up to comment further. We live in interesting times as far as books and publishing go don’t we?

  5. Chris, I’ve never thought about it for publishing. I wouldn’t really see why it’s necessary for getting a book out. As you say, if you’re prepared to put in the hours and care, then I cannot see why large amounts of money would be needed to produce a book. If you self publish, as I have done for three of mine, then proofreading is an expense, but even so, not a huge one. However, I have contributed to crowdfunded projects for young artists making films or putting on expensive productions. Sometimes, there is no other way they can pay for the equipment and technical support they need. Mostly, this project crowdfunding is done through organisations who refund the money if the project doesn’t come to fruition, so I feel much more comfortable about that.

  6. Chris, crowd funding is, as you put it e-begging. Simple and as undignified as that. I have some work with a publishing outfit that I think is going to pull a crowd funding stunt, and if they do, I’m withdrawing my work.

    • Thanks Rebecca – I know the people who do it are just writers trying to do their best same as the rest of us but it’s not something I would consider myself. I think I would need to take a step back and look at what I was producing and why.

  7. I think you may have slightly the wrong idea here, Chris, sorry and I’m going to put another viewpoint. Crowd funding is an optional way for people who haven’t had your luck in picking up a publisher (but may have tried) nor the funds to put out a book. It is NOT begging, but another way for writers to get published. Nobody thinks twice now about paying a publisher (such as Silverwood or Troubador) for editorial/publishing services. A few years ago, this was derided as ‘vanity publishing’ and those who used that route were snobbily rounded on. I know several writers who ”pay” for publication now.. and are accepted and doing well.I could name names (Alison Morton comes to mind). Crowdfunding is another way of doing this. If you don’t want to fund them, nobody makes you. Walk on by. But don’t dismiss their route to publication. IN the end, it is their readership who will decide whether their books are valid. AND remember this – many Victorian writers would not have seen the light of day without subscriptions..Dickens for one!!

    • I respect everyone’s view of course Carol – but I really don’t see a strong need for this for books – surely people can fund their own self-publishing, then get the money back when the book sells? that’s what most people do after all.

      • With due respect Chris…and forgive my interrupting…but…( well, there had to be a but eh? )…that only works if one has sufficient funds to self-publish in the first place!… For some crowdfunding is the only way they can get published as circumstance has stripped them of their ability to do so without such help.
        I think it would be quite sad to be deprived the words of others due to their lack of finances and others lack of empathy…

  8. Hi Chris…

    On my part I am proud to have witnessed the successful crowd funding event my husband organised and managed for the mental health charity Rethink, whereby, thanks to the hard work and generosity of many, thousands of pounds were raised which went on to help so many people.

    This manifested itself by 40 indie bands donating a track, each track then going on to compile a CD, ‘Ralph’s Life’, which was then promoted via social media and through personal performances by some of the bands on the CD, at designated gigs…all proceeds going to the charity as mentioned.

    Without the ‘crowdfunding’ approach this could not have happened, so it goes without saying that I stand most stoically in favour of this medium of assistance as I feel it provides aid for all those who are not as fluently blessed with opportunity or circumstance as some are, to get their work out there and enjoyed by others.

    And as for it being considered as ‘begging’ well, I think that’s as ridiculous a notion as it would be to consider promoting ones work via Twitter and the like as prostituting ones art for monetary gain….

  9. I love this: “I suppose, at the heart of my distaste for crowdfunding, is the notion that you can get a ‘free ride’ as a writer – that you don’t have to put in any old-fashioned hard work while making very little reward as you develop your craft.” This seems to be more and more the case. Everyone wants to write a book, and publish it quickly, and quite a few seem to think that they don’t need to bother to learn the craft and learn the pacing and learn, dear god, basic grammar and punctuation rules. Writing is hard work, and it’s a skill, and it’s obstinate and labor-intensive, and just because you have a story doesn’t mean the world is necessarily ready to embrace that story. Maybe I’m old-school but I believe that if you want something badly enough, you’ll make it happen. Don’t have money to self-publish? Freelance for your local newspaper until you have the extra money, or pick up a shift at the corner mini-mart, etc. No one owes you the funds to publish a novel. It’s a luxury, and like all luxuries, you must appreciate it and savor it and be willing to do what needs to be done to make it happen.
    That said, I do support crowdfunding in many areas and yes, even sometimes in the writing realm. I just think that too many people are taking too many shortcuts and publishing books before they’ve really taken the time to learn the fundamentals of writing.
    Well! I’ve written a chapter here, lol. I’ll shut up now. Thanks so much for sparking my brain awake for a bit.

    • Thanks Cinthia – people are divided on this one and I understand that. But I agree with you that for most people there must be a better way of getting published than just asking the public for money. There seems to be a sense of entitlement developing among some people, but I don’t think anyone is entitled to get published – it’s something writers work hard for and should be earned! That’s my view anyway 🙂

  10. ‘Crowdfunding’ is just a new name for something long established – subscription funding. Many ‘respectable’ classical composers such as Handel and Purcell used exactly this method: they touted the project they wanted to write and got interested patrons to pledge a bit of money up front. When they had enough pledges, they published, knowing it would sell. That’s the other aspect of crowdfunding – it not only funds your work it tests the market – if nobody will pledge, you have a pretty strong message than what you’re proposing won’t appeal to anyone.
    Also, public subscription was very common in Victorian Britain as a way of getting parks, churches, libraries and other ‘for the general good’ projects built. Far from being an ‘easy money’ option, the successful crowdfunders put a lot of work into planning, making projections and selling their work in order to convince people to part with their money. What better route to go down than to have a waiting, eager audience for your work, than to just publish and hope for the best? It also gives the pledgers a sense of ownership over the project, which in turn makes them more likely to be advocates for it, and actually pretty good salespeople on behalf of the person whose project they have helped fund.

    • Thanks Robin – I do feel there’s a difference between raising money for a public park and for a book which someone is going to sell for personal profit. However, as you suggest, there are loads of historical examples of patronage of the arts – including for authors. Shakespeare, for example, had patrons, including the Earl of Oxford. Is that the same as crowdfunding? Personally I’m not so sure – but if there’s a billionaire philanthropist out there who wants to pay me to give up work so I can write books more quickly then feel free to message me 😉

  11. No prize for working harder. If crowdfunding is easier on people its cool. I’d wish an easier life on anyone. That said if think you can get people to just give you money good luck to you. Successful begging is not as easy as one might think.

    • I know what you mean, it’s always better to work smart rather than work hard. Though I’m not sure there is a particularly easy route to making it as an author – unless you are very lucky or have wonderful connections there tends to be a fair amount of slog involved.

  12. Interesting post. I’m one of the crowd-funding crew. I don’t intent to reiterate all the things I’ve already said in my post ‘a simple contract’: ( but if you read this you’ll probably agree it’s a shitty way of getting published. It’s legalised begging as you pointed out and it’s endless hassle, but lets not imagine we’re in it for the money. Writing is something I do to make sense of the world.

    • Yes, I don’t think money is ever a big motivating factor for authors at my level – I certainly don’t get rich and neither does my publisher. I’m sure the same is true for many authors who go the self-publishing route. Good luck with your work!

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