Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Is 'crowdfunding' really the way ahead for author advances?

Using the wisdom of the crowd to research a book is nothing new. Clay Shirky based a whole tome around the concept. But using the wealth of the crowd to fund your book? For no return? That's a new one.

It's the unusual approach taken by Deanna Zandt, an American "media technologist and consultant to key progressive media organisations". Last summer she issued a plea on her blog for donations to support her while she spent three months writing a book about social networking as a tool for social change and action, looking specifically at communities she says have too often been marginalised as social networks have developed: "women, people of color, queer folk, and more".

Zandt has a publisher for this book, Berret Koehler, but they do not provide authors with advances to write their books. For some (unexplained, especially as the book is due to be published in June 2010) reason the book is "incredibly fast-tracked" and so she needed
"to stop working as a consultant for the next three months and do nothing but write the book. Thus, I need investors. I need you to help me raise $15,000 to cover my expenses, travel, and research. Please toss some money into a 'Feed Deanna' pot!"

Surprisingly, perhaps, Zandt had reasonable success with her call out for "investors" (although there is no payoff for donors other than a copy of the book for those who donate more than $100. And a nice warm feeling inside, of course). She raised more than $6,500, somebody covered her rent, and a pizza company provided free snacks.

I'm not sure Zandt helps her case by writing in the "about me" section on her blog that "alas, I was not meant for the world of 'getting up' at the 'same time' every day". Zandt, that's how most writers get their work done early in their careers – by fitting it before or after or somehow around a day job.

Zandt, however, argues that "I disagree that sacrifice is the only way to produce good work, and I feel like this is a perverse theme in western culture that hurts artists and creative folk more than it helps them. Suffering does not, contrary to popular belief, produce sustainable, good creativity. Joy does."

Does she have a point? The debate kicked off again over the weekend on Twitter when the Ballardian's Simon Sellars raised Zandt's example with author (and Guardian reviewer) PD Smith and science fiction author and anime/manga blogger Tim Maughan. The response was sceptical, to say the least.
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