Writers and illustrators have always had to go hat in hand (if we could afford a hat) to major publishers to ask if they would bring out our stuff. This system didn’t work too badly when there were many major book publishers — but today there are five, and they’re all so corporate that trying to approach them can be like talking to the TV. You are not going to get a response.
But there are new, emerging ways for creative work to find an audience. One of the biggest barriers, of course, is money; and one of the most powerful and fascinating new developments is Kickstarter.
This, as you no doubt know, is a Net-based crowd-funding mechanism, on which people have raised money to launch books, music CDs, films, games, consumer products, and more. Kickstarter.com says it is now “the world’s largest funding mechanism for creative projects.”
Think about that: It's not Sony, not Scholastic, not Universal Studios. Kickstarter. This is a changing world.
So yesterday my sister Sarah-Lee and I launched a Kickstarter campaign. She’s an illustrator, I’m a writer; we’ve both been full-time self-employed professionals for over 30 years, so of course we are broke. But we have this wonderful book, for which there is a real and underserved market.
Our book is Treasure Town; it’s a fine story with great illustrations and real learning value, and it's an early chapter book for grades 1-3. One step beyond beginning readers, early chapter books are a big deal to kids — they're the first “real” books (because they are chapter books) that emerging readers can read themselves. Even so, there are not that many really fresh, original titles on this particular shelf.
Ours is about three kids in a Florida beach town who are obsessed with finding the legendary buried treasure of Jean Lafitte, the 19th century King of the Pirates in the Gulf of Mexico. Lafitte is believed to have bragged that he buried enough treasure around the Gulf coast to build a solid-gold bridge across the Mississippi River. No one has ever found it. Our three characters try.
We think we've got a terrific book, with great illustrations and a rewarding story; and since I’ve started a tiny indie imprint, Long Stride Books, to bring out my last two YA novels, we decided to bring out Treasure Town ourselves. The one hitch: money. We've never really had any, and we’re both immersed in putting boys through college, so now we have less. So for the past eight months or so, we worked to put together the best Kickstarter we possibly could.
Yesterday we launched it. I was terrified. What if nobody responded? What if I bring out the best work I can do and nobody cares? Well ... actually, I’m pretty used to that. But this is new — this is asking people to support your work in a new way. Anyone and everyone can become your backer. Or ... no one can.
We set a modest goal, $5,000. We have 30 days, until June 15. In the first 24 hours we raised $1,000. You can go to our Kickstarter page, if you’d like — here it is — and see where we’re at now. (And, of course, you can choose a reward and make a pledge!)
This is a huge adventure. This is a new world, in which almost anyone can claim a working role in the creative economy. The “Veronica Mars” movie got funded on Kickstarter, for $2 million. And here we are, a brother and sister in Vermont with a valuable book, hoping and trying to raise our few thousand. We’ve sent out hundreds of emails, and a couple hundred postcards.
And now we see what happens.