Why Asking Your Readers to Fund Your Creative Process is Wrong

If you've been on social media the last day or two and are part of the book community, you probably saw the kerfuffle about the crowd-funding campaign by author Stacey Jay. In her now-cancelled campaign, she asks her readers to help raise $10,000 to help her produce her next book. But here's the kicker: most of that money was not earmarked for editing, cover art or any of the other admittedly expensive things that must be done to a finished manuscript prior to publication. This money was for LIVING EXPENSES while she sits back and writes the book! It's not written yet.

Here are some of the arguments I've heard that are supportive of the idea:

1. It's like an advance, something traditional publishers used to do all of the time.

2. Artists need to eat like everyone else.

3. It's voluntary. Don't like it? Don't contribute.

4. It's a commission. There is risk involved. All Kickstarter members know this going in.

5. Lots of Kickstarters pay their staff.

To understand what the fuss is about, you need to first understand that this is part of a trend. Most people made uncomfortable about this aren't objecting based on just this Kickstarter. [Full disclosure, I have contributed to two Kickstarters: the Veronica Mars Kickstarter and the Reading Rainbow one]

When I object to this, I do so knowing this is a trend that if sanctioned as an "ok" thing to do will continue to proliferate. It will grow. And I do NOT want to see that happen.

Why am I so opposed? Do I hate books? Authors? The answer is obviously no, although I was accused of that. Here's why I intensely dislike this trend: it puts ALL of the risk on the end user. And in this particular case, the author is a YA author. Which means at least a portion of her potential audience is teens (or younger). While there are some protections in place to keep minors off of the site, I'm sure it isn't foolproof.  So you have a published author asking her teen readers to pay her to write her book. I can't believe so many people see no ethical issues with that!

Let me address the 5 PRO arguments above.
1. Comparing a direct gift of money, which is essentially what a Kickstarter is, with an advance that is about publication rights and involves contracts and lawyers, is dishonest. They are not at all the same thing. Yes, publishers "advance" money to authors based on projected book sales in advance of the book being written. BUT...you're asking a multi-million dollar company to front you the money. Not a teen. And you can bet failure to turn in a manuscript will result in some serious professional consequences beyond just a lost reputation.

2. Artists need to eat. That's why many of them have day jobs. The vast majority of art is sold after completion. Money exchanges hands AFTER the product is done. Very few commissions are prepaid.

3. It is voluntary, but it is also emotionally manipulative. Potentially: "We didn't make our goal. It's your fault there won't be another book." Again, consider the worst-case scenario of a TEEN as the end Kickstarter user, because you can bet they're there. 

4. I don't just dislike THIS Kickstarter. There was one for the Popular Romance Project awhile back that I disliked also. I don't mind Kickstarters for quirky, niche books that have no hope of traditional publication or that require expensive pre-production costs. I DO mind being asked to underwrite someone's creative "process." In other words, the actual, quantifiable financial burdens of getting a product to market versus just financially supporting someone who wants to create "art." Sure, other Kickstarter projects have asked their backers to do this. I oppose every last one of them. I don't think it's an ethical use of the platform even if it's within the "rules."

5. She's self-employed. Lots of Kickstarters pay their staff. Guess what? I'm self-employed, too. I'm not asking someone to pay my salary while I do my work. I ask them to pay me when I've completed it. Because this is an author who writes in a mainstream genre, an author who presumably has publishing contacts, I find it distasteful that she would ask her readers to fund her while writing her book. I would not have the same issues were this simply about the true, out-of-pocket costs involved in self publishing because those are true barriers. There's no dearth of YA books, so while lack of a day job may qualify as a hurdle, I personally don't find it a big enough one to go begging for money. Plenty of authors manage to write while supporting themselves.

All of the reward is on her side. She wins whether she completes the book or not. Either she completes the book and is $10,000 richer plus the additional sales of the book or she doesn't and she's just earned $10,000 for nothing. That risk is inherent in Kickstarter's premise, but I'm not convinced that there are enough protections in place to keep teens and other unwary customers from misunderstanding just what they're giving her money for.

(I've written this as if the campaign were continuing for stylistic sake. She has cancelled it).

What are your thoughts? Do you have an issue with asking readers to pay living expenses or do you think we're making a big deal out of nothing?

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