December 2012 blog post, How I Used Kickstarter, which is a detailed description of the author’s successful Kickstarter experience and his practical recommendations about using this crowdfunding tool. (http://www.tobiasbuckell.com/2012/12/17/how-i-used-kickstarter-to-reboot-a-book-series-and-my-career-andmaybe-my-life/)
Which is not to say that Kickstarter is the only way to fund or structure a crowdfunded project. Far from it! I’m learning that there are various ways to combine social media with earning income that do not involve blaring “Buy my book! Buy my book!” at innocent bystanders every twenty minutes, which is the sort of prevalent behavior that gives writers and social media a dreary reputation.
For example, struggling sf/f midlister Catherynne M. Valente realized a few years ago that her bills were piling up faster than her advance checks were coming in. So she used her blog to launch the Omikuji Project in 2008 “to connect with my readership and find a way to bridge the widening and worrying financial gap between novels.” (Omikuji are fortunes written on small strips of paper in temples in Japan, where Valente lived for a couple of years.) At the start of every month, subscribers received a new, original, unpublished short story by Valente—a story which remained exclusive to this project—as well as a personal letter and “a small piece of visual art to accompany it, and any other thing I can duplicate sufficiently.” (I believe that some months Valente, who is also a much-published poet, included an original poem with the story.)
The subscription fee was very affordable ($5-$10), with a choice of delivery methods. For the cheapest rate, you received the story by email as an attached PDF file. For the higher rate, the story was printed on high-quality paper, autographed, sealed with a red wax seal, and mailed to you.
Valente also created a community blog for Omikuji subscribers where they could interact with the author and each other, discussing the stories that only they got to read. (Anyone could read the blog, which is still online, but only Omikuji Project members could post.) In 2010, Valente released This Is My Letter To The World: The Omikuji Project, Cycle One, a collected volume of the first two years of the project; the Introduction was written by Members of the Omikuji Project Community.
The author recently announced that she will release a second volume collected from the Omikuji Project.
She has also decided to close down the project in April of this year, due to the growing demands of her workload. As Valente notes in her farewell announcement, “Five years is an AMAZING run for a crowdfunded art project.”
Nor was this the author’s only success with employing social media and crowdfunding in her work. In another fundraising effort to keep the wolf from the door, she also started writing a new, uncontracted YA novel which she posted online at a rate of one chapter per week, on a website created for the book, The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland In A Ship of Her Own Making,(http://www.catherynnemvalente.com/fairyland/).
She asked readers to put money in the website’s tip jar (i.e. send a voluntary payment to the author via the PayPal link) if they liked the chapter they read. The website also included community-building activities, such as a contest for the most creative items contributed by readers to the site’s virtual museum, which was based on the world of the book.
The website is now dormant and some of the finished novel was removed after Valente subsequently sold the book to a MacMillan YA imprint. The hardcover was released in May 2011 and made the New York Times bestseller list. When announcing this news on her blog, the author wrote: “I am just so grateful. To all my citizens of Fairyland who had faith in me and this book.”
Obviously, a number of factors contributed to the success of these two creative crowdfunding ventures, including Valente’s rising profile in the traditional publishing world, where she was releasing novels and short stories throughout the same period, as well as winning awards and getting nominations.
There are key features of these projects that are worth noting, though. First, this author already had an established online presence and blog community when she began each of these projects. Also, Valente created and nurtured communities built specifically around each crowdfunding project. In these communities, she developed activities that fostered reader engagement, such as contributing creative objects to the virtual Fairyland museum. She was also offering something original, something of value in exchange for subscription fees or voluntary donations. In the case of the Omikuji Project, Valente was also offering something personal— the individually signed and sealed mailings of stories which remained unavailable to the public for a couple of years.