Crowdfunding – Begging or Investing?

After a few jobs as this and that, I finally found my niche as a technical writer of user manuals in the new field of computer software. It was a wild and wooly time and the stories I could tell… Not too long after starting this career, I was found to have a knack for copywriting as well as user manuals, so I found myself dividing my time between working with engineers and working with marketing. I also helped out designing materials for trade shows and working the shows themselves. So I was not only writing to serve the purpose of informing the customers about how to use what they had purchased, but also writing to invite them to invest in what we had to offer – to become a customer.

And this experience has shaped how I see crowdfunding for creative projects.

I moderate #LitChat on Writing Wednesdays on Twitter, and recently we talked about funding the writing life.

Most writers work full-time jobs. They have to because most of us have mortgages, kids, and an unfortunate desire to eat regular meals and having a job makes all of these easier. Some of us have retired (or been retired) and though our pensions aren’t lavish, they allow us the freedom to write without a lot of worry. Some of us (as I used to do) write nonfiction (articles, papers, marketing materials) as a regular job and fight against writing fatigue at the end of the day to get in a few hundred words on our fiction.

And some of us turn to crowdfunding.

A couple of the writers on the chat today surprised me by equating crowdfunding with begging and one stunned me by calling it degrading.

Begging, I tweeted, is saying please give me money. Crowdfunding is saying I have a great idea. Join in if you think it’s great, too.

There’s no begging going on in projects presented on sites like Kickstarter or Indiegogo, or the site I heard of just today, Pubslush. I’ve helped fund several creative projects on Kickstarter and Indiegogo, including a graphic novel, a film, and a web series. The same writer who called crowdfunding degrading also said that if “funding” was needed, it was not a job. In a sense that’s true. But you’re not asking people to support a job – you already have a job, finding funding for your project and then producing it. What you’re looking for in crowdfunding is investors – people who view your pitch and decide whether or not they like the idea enough to put money into it. It’s give and take on both sides, while begging is a one-way transaction: you give, I take.

When you give money to someone who’s begging, you give it in the hope they will use it wisely – for food, for shelter (please note that there are sites, like GoFundMe, for funneling cash to people with a problem, but those are different from crowdfunding a project). When people invest in a crowdfunded project, whether it’s a graphic novel or installing solar powered lights in homes without electricity, or a museum, the investor knows what they will get in return for their money. It’s a contract, even if the contract isn’t written out on paper. And, like every investor ever in the history of time, you put in your money with the hope the project will be successful. That’s it. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose and your reasons for investing are your own.

With crowdfunding, the rewards are spelled out and generally not big – one of the products once it goes into production, your name in the credits, a tee-shirt. Of course, the bigger the investment, the bigger the reward, like being flown to Italy for the opening.

Two good things about crowdfunding: One is that you almost always get the reward you expect, whether the project does well over the long run or not, and you don’t have to be rich to invest. You find a project that interests you and you throw a little money at it, then you sit back and see how it does. And you do get regular updates on that.

Not begging. Definitely not begging. And nowhere near degrading.

Obviously, I’m very puzzled by the attitude that it might be. I don’t understand how anyone could possibly get that impression, unless they’ve never checked out a crowdfunding site. They’re not charities, although charities are not beggars, either. Every nonprofit I know goes to a lot of trouble to tell you how they use your donated monies.

Nope. I just don’t get it, and I think that writers with a great idea for a series or a graphic novel or screenplay or anything else creative who won’t consider crowdfunding are cheating themselves of an opportunity.

NOTE: I don’t like the term ‘begging,’ anyway. Individuals sometimes have problems they can’t solve by themselves and they ask for help from family, from their community, and it’s usually to help them get going again on their own. I’ve heard that some people can make a living from begging, but I’ve never met anyone who has.

Update: Crowdfunding is also a way to market your brand

Blurb or Babble?

Text Balloons

Image via IndieReader Publishing Service

Like most readers, I have a never-ending appetite but not a purse to match, so I must take care to spend my money wisely. Lately, I’ve become more aware of book blurbs. I subscribe to a couple of lists that tell me what e-book bargains are available and every day I get a new batch of recommendations. In grid form, they show the book cover and next to it, the blurb.

A blurb, the way I see it, is an open-ended summary of your story’s characters, conflicts, and goals delivered in a compelling, short form that will inform the potential reader and entice her to buy, or at least look at, your book. When seen in grid form, where comparing blurbs is easily done, lazy blurbs stand out.

Want one? All you have to do is follow this formula:

When Suddenly + Chosen One = Question

When Suddenly

The protagonist is living a happy-go-lucky life as a normal person when suddenly mysterious people start picking on him/her. Alternate: protagonist is a former military person with issues or a woman with an unhappy past.

Chosen One

The protagonist becomes aware that s/he is the person foretold by the prophecy and the salvation of the entire world rests on her/his shoulders. In fantasies, they usually awaken to powers hitherto unknown or in other types of books, they end up being the only one with the right skills to find the truth.

Question

This is the part that’s supposed to get the reader’s blood going and generally includes a list of the obstacles: On the run from the police/evil sorcerers/abusive ex-husband, can the protagonist find the killer/control the power/defeat the ex before the murderer strikes again/destroys the world/deals out more abuse? Not that a question can’t be useful, but if your protagonist is a cop trying to catch a killer, then it’s just silly to ask a question about whether or not he can do so – he wouldn’t be the protagonist if he couldn’t, right?

Bonus points if you use phrases like ‘race against time.’

So what makes a good book blurb?

As I expected when I began to research this topic, everybody’s got an idea and some even have it broken down into steps (there’s a list of the links I read at the bottom of this post). But here’s the gist I got:

  • Know what kind of blurbs appeal to you as a reader (augh, research? LOL)
  • Keep it short (maybe 4 paragraphs maximum)
  • Don’t give away the store (they’re supposed to buy the book to see what happens, remember?)
  • Remember that it’s about the story and characters, not the setting or the era (Ancient Rome was interesting, but if it’s a romance, I need to feel I’ll like the couple)
  • Set a mood (give me a taste your writing and how it evokes the atmosphere of the story)
  • Work as hard at polishing your blurb as you do your novel

Got your own list for what makes a good blurb? Tell me about it in the comments. In matters of writing advice, I’m like the Waco Kid in Blazing Saddles. When Sheriff Bart asked him if he needed any help, he replied, “Ohhhh – all I can get.”

Blurb Writing Blog List

  1. How to Write a Blurb by Marilynn Byerly
  2. Four Easy Steps to an Irresistible Book Blurb
  3. How to Write an Effective Blurb for a Self-Published Book by Sarah Juckes
  4. The Five Core Elements of a Book Blurb by Frances Reid Rowland (my fave of the blog posts)
  5. Blurbs That Bore, Blurbs That Blare by MichaelBrent Collins