Creative Deception

A friend recommended Sidney Lumet’s book to me. I found in it this fascinating quote that chimes with me, and probably any writer who has completed a work. It is one more that sums up the journey, from one who’s been through it many times.

“Creative work is very hard, and some sort of self-deception is necessary simply in order to begin. To start, you have to believe that it’s going to turn out well. And so often it doesn’t. I’ve talked to novelists, conductors, painters about this. Unfailingly, they all admitted that self-deception was important to them. Perhaps a better word is ‘belief.’ But I tend to be a bit more cynical about it …
[...]
All good work is self-revelation. When you’ve deceived yourself, you wind up feeling very foolish indeed. You dove into the pool, but there was no water there. Perfect Buster Keaton.
Another great danger in self-deception is that it easily leads to pretension [...] the feeling that we own the work, that it exists only because of us, that we are the vessel through which some divine message is being passed is lunacy.”

Add comment March 22nd, 2014

Taking Stock

Just a note to keep you up to date on a few items, before I go quiet again for a while.

Crowdfunding:

The indiegogo campaign to fund the writing of the next novel in The Genaform Legacy series has, as expected, failed to reach its target. Thanks to those rare few who contributed. The majority of comments and contacts I received were from people offering to “help” make my campaign a success … for a fee. How nice. It leaves me with the sobering feeling that on the Internet – and perhaps the world as a whole – the number of people looking to make money off the back of other people’s efforts far outweighs the number of people willing to pay and contribute for those efforts. It is perhaps what got the world to where we are today and will set its course for the future also.

Retreat:

For my holiday I took a week in a writing retreat. It was a new experience for me. It was great to be in a community of like-minded (but very different) people. The atmosphere of a community where everyone is involved in a creative effort really makes it easier to focus on writing. I blasted through a few rough draft chapters of a new thriller. Alas, it has not been so easy to continue that once I returned because I had to focus on returning to real, paying work. But as it was part of a holiday I didn’t feel any pressure and it and reminds me that I’m doing this ’cause I ENJOY it. It’s great to feel a new story race away under your fingertips.

Screenwriting:

Yesterday I submitted my first screenplay to the BBC Writers’ Room. I’m not expecting success, but … see below.

Broken Evolution:

I’ve tried every option with this, one by one, now leading to the final nuclear option of giving my work away. I gave it away on iTunes because I couldn’t be bothered with the rigmarole of setting up a U.S. Tax ID. The unintended consequence of this is that Amazon lists the Kindle edition as free if it is available free on other eStores. This is not a bad thing for me right now, because by far the greatest number of downloads have happened under the KDP Select promotional giveaways. So having it perpetually free will achieve the primary goal of getting the story in the hands of the greatest number of readers possible. A few downloads a day is thousands of readers over years – thousands more that will have heard of me and potentially be spreading word. I remind myself I’m in this for the long game now.

There have been a couple of additional praising comments too that offset the bad vibes that got to me not so long ago. Some people just get it. They actually get the importance of the story, of what I was trying to achieve. That gives me hope.

A final revised edition with some minor corrections has been uploaded. I’ve done all I can with this now. Done it to death. It has had a hold over me and I have held on to it. And now … I’m letting it go. Free. It feels like capitulation, but on the other hand, there’s this resonating bit of wisdom from Scott Adams. When I read it, I recognized everything I have come to learn on this journey.

If you drill down on any success story, you always discover that luck was a huge part of it. You can’t control luck, but you can move from a game with bad odds to one with better odds. You can make it easier for luck to find you. The most useful thing you can do is stay in the game. If your current get-rich project fails, take what you learned and try something else. Keep repeating until something lucky happens. The universe has plenty of luck to go around; you just need to keep your hand raised until it’s your turn. It helps to see failure as a road and not a wall.

Softly, Softly, Catchee Monkey.

2 comments November 19th, 2013

Successful crowdfunding tips for authors

I mentioned earlier my interest in the trend of indie authors resorting to crowdfunding for their writing projects. In fact, I’m trying it myself and will report back with findings. There are some obvious attractions of crowdfunding for authors:

  • It’s an extra source of promotion about your work, which costs nothing to setup. (Some work is required, but relatively little compared with, say, writing a novel!)
  • It’s a way of verifying interest in a project before spending all the time completing it.
  • If funding is achieved, it’s better than a literary advance – the amount is guaranteed, and you can fund yourself through the initial writing process.
  • Funding rewards usually involve giving donors a copy of your book – so you will automatically have books in the hands of several readers the day it is published.

I call it front-loaded promotion.

Point 1 alone makes it a “no-brainer”, however the “if” in point 3 is a mighty big word. Approximately 60% of campaigns fail to meet their funding targets.

I’ve found some information on my way to launching my own campaign that might be useful to others going the same route. Here’s what I’ve discovered about how to maximize your chances of a successful campaign:

Which crowdfunding site to use

There are a few to choose from: kickstarter.com, indiegogo.com, rockethub.com, pozible.com, fundit.ie. Kickstarter is the one to choose. It’s the most popular, attracting most visitors, and has a better success rate for funding publishing projects than the next most popular (indiegogo). There are also more hashtags and retweeters available for kickstarter projects. However only US/UK residents can currently receive funds from Kickstarter. Since that excludes me, I went with the next most popular – indiegogo – which can make payments to anyone via a PayPal account.

Which project to launch

This is the question. You might have a clear idea what you want funded, but will funders find it appealing? Think of it as a product you are selling – the same rules apply. Authors are at a disadvantage here, especially ones without a track record. How will funders know what the book will be like? Do you know what is about yet – can you explain it to them simply? How do they even know you can write? Put up some samples, or links to previous work to build interest and confidence in your credentials to write. For graphic novels, illustrations are great way to instantly see what the story and style will be like.

If you have a number of possible projects in mind, pick the most suitable for crowdfunding. Not all publishing projects are easy to sell – first times books from unknown authors especially so. If you have other, similar books, or others in the series, consider pitching the next in the series.

Most of all, it has to be something people can relate to, and get enthused about. Try to engage people’s emotions. Fun is great way of attracting interest. Many of the successful publishing projects are quirky, humorous tales, or personal stories that special interest groups can immediately relate to.

In many ways, it is like pitching to an agent or publisher. You should apply the same level of thought and rigor. The big differences are pitching in multimedia and you can offer bribes (er, I mean “rewards”) for acceptance*. More on these later.

(* Although I have heard of some agents receiving sweets in the mail with manuscript submissions)

How much funding to ask for

You set a funding target. You have a choice on some crowdfunding sites of whether to accept any money that is contributed, or to only receive funding if the target is reached. The contribution amount can be determined by the donor, but to attract contributions you set up “rewards” or “perks” that you deliver to the donor. If being able to deliver the rewards at the agreed time is dependent on hitting the funding target, you should consider the latter option.

Most of the writing projects are in $1000 – $10000 target range. Of course, the lower you look for, the more likely you are to successfully hit the funding target, but don’t pick a target so low it adversely affects your own ability to deliver on the rewards. Most publishing projects aim for the middle of that range (which is still fairly attractive in comparison with the industry norm royalty advances.)

Best rewards to offer

So you’ve got a project that interests funders – now to really hook them. Rewards should also engage funders emotionally. We’re more likely to open our wallets for something that will make us feel positive, i.e special. Sure, you can offer an ebook or a printed copy of the final book as a “reward”, but it’s not really, is it? Anyone can buy a book once it’s published. That doesn’t make an advance-funder feel special. A reward implies something that the funder receives especially for jumping on-board early and backing the project. Look around at most publishing projects and you’ll see that signed copies and mentions in the credits are the lower-end rewards most funders expect to see, but that’s only the start.

The higher the reward, the more special (approaching unique) it needs to be. Such rewards might cost you more in terms of time and/or money to deliver. Offer something unique to your proposition – something only your project can. Something that will make a funder think “ooh, I have to have that.” I my case – a book about genetics – I came across DNA art and figured I could print that as part of the jacket cover as a reward. Rewards unique to your project can become a selling hook – something intriguing to fit in a tweet or a press release headline. You’ll need to get creative as the stakes rise. Get your thinking cap on!

My final point on rewards is that scarcity also creates interest. Funders are more likely to buy rewards that not everyone can have. Consider limiting the amount of even one or two of the lower level rewards – these are more likely sell out first and so create a scarcity buzz.

How to present the project

This is the important bit: what the potential funder sees on the campaign page. You only get one chance to make a first impression. Take the time to get it right before launch.

1. The Proposition
Quite simply, tell the funder:

  • Who you are
  • What you will be doing
  • Why you are doing it
  • What you need to do it
  • What they will get out of it
  • When they will get it

2. Media
A lot of words explaining the campaign proposition are probably not going to entice most viewers. Images and Videos are the best way to attract that first attention, even though you do need to cover all the details in a text description too. Writers especially need to ensure they include a good textual pitch also, to prove they are good writers!

Video is the best visual hook. Whether to do a campaign video or just images is up to you. Campaigns with video usually attract more attention. It is also a good way to present yourself and let the funders get to know you, what you’re like, whether you seem trustworthy, passionate, etc. Remember that most communication is visual, not verbal. If you’re not comfortable with video of yourself or think you’re not suitable to sell your own projects then don’t sabotage your own pitch! Get a friend to do a funny pitch, or just build a montage of images, do a voiceover, sketch some cartoons, whatever you think is best – just keep it entertaining.

3. Be open about the risks
Tell the viewer what will happen is the funding isn’t met. Tell them what the risks and challenges are in delivering the rewards even if funding is met. Be open and honest about this. Remember, you are asking a stranger for money up-front, with only a promise to deliver on it. They need to know what the chances are you won’t deliver. Be honest in how you present the project and the risks and they are more likely to trust you and contribute money.

4. A team of one
Having a team on-board the project is an advantage because funders will see less risk if there’s many people behind the delivery. Put a small bio and picture of each team member on the campaign page so people can relate to the team members.
Standalone Indie authors are definitely at a disadvantage here. In most cases, only the one author can deliver on the promised book, so the perceived risks of the project not being delivered are higher. It’s hard to avoid that fact, unless you can include an illustrator or the book can be co-authored.

Getting the word out

So once you have your campaign page all ready and are about to hit the launch button – don’t. If you have experience of self-publishing a book you will know that nothing will happen. You need to work pro-actively to sell your crowdfunded project as if (and harder) than you would promote to sell your book. It’s beyond the scope of this post to cover it, but engage the usual channels – tell friends and family, use social media, bloggers, etc. If you have a list of readers for your previous work, you are at an advantage over first-time writers. Many fan readers will pay up-front to get a sequel ASAP.

Finally, remember that you have a limited time from campaign launch to meet the funding target, so make sure all your marketing ducks are in a row, ready to go, before you hit that launch button.

Here are some more links with tips to help you out:

Dollar for dollar raised, Kickstarter dominates Indiegogo SIX times over.
How to Use Kickstarter to fund your publishing project.
Hacking Kickstarter: How to Raise $100,000 in 10 Days

In spite of all this, don’t expect success. Ironically, even the Indie Publishing Guide couldn’t fund itself on Kickstarter.

My new motto is plan for the best, prepare for the worst: that way, whatever the outcome, you’ll never be disappointed.

Good Luck!

(Oh, and please drop a few coppers into my crowdfunding page – go on, you know you want to prove me wrong!)

Add comment September 18th, 2013

Trending in publishing.

I’ve been out of touch with the publishing grapevine up until recently, but some interesting items have just crossed my radar.

Firstly, it seems the innovation that was to destroy the dead trees publishing business – the ebook – well … isn’t. As novelty fades and reality invades, ebook sales seem to be reaching a plateau, at about 20-25% of the book market. What’s even more interesting is that the reason for that share seems to be a certain genre of book. I don’t remember any of the futurists predicting the ebook would be the high-tech alternative to the magazine slipped in front of the naughty book cover!

Also, I’m seeing more and more ereader apps and services appearing around the world (I even interviewed for one). The latest take on this phenomenon is Oyster books which is adopting the Netflix model – all you can read for a monthly subscription fee. Time will tell how it goes, but only the very avid reader (or short subscriber!) could reap financial benefit from that model.

The last item is the most interesting to me because I have, independently, been thinking about utilizing the latest trend in indie publishing – crowdfunding. How to go about it, and how well it works for most, are topics for another blog post. Suffice it to say for now that the really interesting thing is when you see stories like this one, where an author overshot his project target by a mere half million dollars. It actually sounds like a very innovative project, which is one of the valid reasons for the campaign’s success – but $580,000? It just reminds me of the bubble in indie ebook publishing that started with the successes of early adopters in kindle self-publishing. I wonder, will we see the kickstarted equivalent of JA Konrath soon publishing an ebook telling us how we can all make a fortune publishing the crowdfunded way? It’s inevitable. Heck, it might even be me writing that ebook! Survivor bias striking again. I’d better get in fast before that new avenue gets over-saturated too!

Add comment September 11th, 2013

Broken Evolution II

KBO: not KO.

Having taken time to contemplate, I’ve decided to push ahead with things. I’ve just re-published Broken Evolution through all channels, and a couple of new ones (Apple iBook and Google books). I needed to re-publish anyway because my paperback publisher wasn’t really cutting the mustard anymore. The only reason I went with that option first time around is to get the listing in the distributors (Ingram, etc.) Experience has proven that it’s not really worth that, especially as the publisher wants a recurring fee to keep the distributor listing active.

CreateSpace titles can be ordered in most bookstores from customer demand now anyway. With all the distribution options available in CreateSpace now, no up-front fees, and cheaper paperback sales price with higher margin for the Author, I don’t know how small vanity presses will survive. You can’t fight city hall … or Amazon. So knowing I was going to re-publish through CreateSpace, I took the opportunity to make some small tweaks to the text and publish as a second edition (get me – my book is in reprint!) The kindle edition has been revised too. Amazon have been adding features there too – MatchBook means you can now offer the kindle edition of Broken Evolution free if you’ve already bought the paperback – which sounds like a fair and sensible thing to offer any of my readers.

I also took the opportunity this time to publish on the iBook store. I held off until now. Apple, as always, have to go completely their own way, and producing an iBook is another learning curve and set of tools to download and install. They also insist an author outside the US have an ITIN before charging for a book, which means sending your passport (not a copy!) to Uncle Sam. Maybe later! But, it’s done, and should be available free for a time, once (and if) it gets through Apple’s legendarily glacial review process.

Finally, what’s driving this new impetus in publishing is my decision to look at continuing The Genaform Legacy. It was always my intention to make this tale a series of books, and … well … not to put too fine a point on it, I’m going to die someday, and they aren’t going to write themselves before then, are they? So Broken Evolution II: title TBD.

I’m also going to try something a little different with the book this time around. More on that shortly. Watch this space.

Add comment September 9th, 2013

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