Monday, September 14, 2015

Crowdfunding campaigns for authors: is it OK?

You may or may not have heard about this recently. This brings up a very interesting question: is it OK for authors to seek money for daily needs?

Earlier this month Payne Hawthorne, a self-published author, opened up a GoFundMe crowdfunding campaign with the intent to raise $12,000. Getting this amount would enable her to become a full-time writer instead of having to hold down a job, which cut down on her writing time. The overall total comes down to a grand a month. She's stated that although she's been getting fairly positive reviews on her work, she isn't getting paid enough per book for her to move to full-time writing.

Needless to say, she's received some criticism over her actions. She's responded with what some of us would likely call "Badly Behaving Author" actions, but I'm not really going to go into that all that much. You can read more about this at Jenny Trout's website, where she covers Hawthorne's rant. Yes, it is BBA territory and she ticks a lot of the "do not do this" boxes.

What concerns me most is whether or not it's OK for authors to seek additional funding from the general populace in this manner. Seeking funding isn't anything new and you can see various websites asking for funding like popular webcomic sites such as Something Positive, although these sites rarely ask for a set amount of funding. Most of the time they do not mention any specific amount and instead mention how it will be used, like towards paying the server costs or similar needs for their series. Sometimes they'll say that they will use it to lessen or eliminate their job hours, but few make it sound like an absolute necessity.

Most of the time when this is done these websites will utilize direct Paypal donations or they'll use something like Patreon, a website that's specifically geared towards things of this nature. Few use websites like GoFundMe or Kickstarter since those are usually oriented towards very specific goals. GoFundMe is typically associated with people who are seriously down on their luck and need funding for things like funeral arrangements, rescue animal care, hospital bills, and the like while Kickstarter is aimed towards completing a very specific project. It can be frivolous, but you need to clearly state what it is that you are working on and is not intended for vague goals such as gaining enough to live off of while you write.

I think that part of the consternation surrounding Hawthorne began with the outlet she chose, GoFundMe. Jenny Trout brings up a very good point in her blog in that she points out that nowhere in the GoFundMe page does Hawthorn give off the impression that she's a starving artist or is in a particularly bad situation outside of what most authors have to go through. Her funding page generally gives off the impression that she's putting out a lot of effort but that she isn't gaining enough in book and audiobook sales to make it worthwhile. Trout also brings up another valid point: most self-published and indie writers do not make audiobooks because they rarely make enough money to make it worthwhile. Eliminating the audiobooks would probably save Hawthorne quite a bit of money and time, likely enough time to allow her extra hours of writing time a week.

Much of the reaction towards Hawthorne's campaign has been fairly negative, especially after she posted a fairly nasty rant on Facebook. Many authors have criticized her for opening a campaign on GoFundMe as they themselves wouldn't think to do that. Some felt like it came across like Hawthorne was critical of her readers for not paying enough for her books and others see it as a form of entitlement, especially when some of them have continued to write without seeking donations. Author Rhiannon Mills points out in her blog that she's had some particularly tough times in her life, yet never sought out donations in order to make ends meet.

My personal reaction is that this is a tacky thing to do and one that comes across like a shortcut to success. There are multiple authors that worked full-time jobs and continued to write. Rob Thurman is an excellent example of this since she continued to work a job even as her books hit bestseller lists and could be found on the shelves of any Barnes & Nobles. I'm also concerned that if successful, Hawthorne could be cutting herself off from a lot of inspiration. The famous author Ann Patchett held several jobs in her early years and she's openly credited these jobs as inspiring multiple scenes in her work. Many of the scenes likely wouldn't have been written. I'm certain that a lot of other authors can back this statement up as well.

In the end there's no set rule that says that Hawthorne can't ask for money, enough to where she can stay at home. Again, I think it's tacky, but there's nothing that says she can't. I just think that if she was going to do this, that it would've been better for her to do this through a different funding website and to have phrased her request a little more differently. That she shouldn't have posted her Facebook rant goes without saying.


Further reading: 

5 comments:

  1. The most important factor to running a successful crowdfunding campaign is to take the right amount of time and putting in enough effort to leverage. You're your own advocate when it comes to funding. Therefore, plan, connect with others, put action into it, and don’t be shy doing so.

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  3. My gut is with you on this, as a writer, I struggle with working a full time job and writing. However, I have seen a lot of authors start gofundme and kickstarter campaigns. Ususually it is "for editing, book cover design) and other writerly things, but it is becoming more and more popular. My husband proposed it to me about a year ago when the guy who wanted to make potato salad made bank. I mean, potato salad, seriously? I understand why authors would be lured in, because we all want to make a living doing what we love. It is the American dream, right? And as more and more readers expect entertainment for free, and more and more authors are publishing every day, it is pretty much impossible for the average author to make a living on their writing, let alone invest in editing, cover design, etc. That being said, I choose not to take that route. I simply understand the appeal.

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