Though it’s been eight months since I actually launched the crowdfunding for my book (and then wrote about how it was going), it seems to have kicked up a new firestorm of discussion over the past weekend. Much of it began on Twitter; then a few people wrote up blog posts covering it. I only discovered the discussion after it was well underway (evidently I’m difficult to track down online, and not much of a conversationalist anyways, heh), so the last few days have been spent correcting factual errors and offering catch-up insight as to why I believe so deeply in this model. I’m hoping now to sum up a few of the arguments I’ve made elsewhere, but moreso I’d like to pull back and look at some big picture issues.
For background, here are the series of posts that sum up the first discussions on Twitter, and subsequent responses:
There seem to be two sets of argument made against crowdfunding in much of the discussion I’ve seen: one, it reveals the funding seeker as a shameless self-promoter and snake-oil salesperson; two, it destroys the ethos of publishing either by allowing publishers to never have to produce advances again, or by allowing just any ol’ work to be produced without blood/sweat/tears.
As it turns out, my chutzpah in asking my colleagues and friends to help support me while writing my book this summer was a pretty good thing: to date, I’ve raised about $6500 through small and large donors, and even gotten $100/month in pizza from the fabulous Two Boots Pizza here in NYC. This led to Publisher’s Weekly doing an article about the crowdfunding part of the project today (thanks, Wendy Werris!), and has inspired me to jot down a few thoughts about how it’s been fundraising for my own book.
This was my first time doing any kind of fundraising on this scale, for one of my own projects. I’d done some arts development work back when I worked for Bowery Poetry/Bowery Arts & Science, and I’d helped out with some grant work at AlterNet.org when they were between development directors. In 2004, I worked myself into a hole of red ink, campaigning with the ABBA (Anybody But Bush Again) platform, and when I wanted to go to Ohio to do Election Protection, I was so broke I couldn’t, as my pop says, pay attention. I sent an email out to all my friends, asking them to pledge money to my trip, as if it were a walk-a-thon. That was my first experience friend-raising: I raised enough money to make to Ohio and back; even more amazingly, two friends jumped in, inspired by the email, and came with me.
Fundraising is such a weird thing. On the one hand, we all understand the implications of living on the market merry-go-’round. We’re set up in a culture that values projects by how much money they need or how much they’ll make. Part of the reason, after talking it through with Johanna at B-K, that I ended up agreeing with their take on no-advances is that it’s a bit like betting on a horse from their POV. Not to say that there aren’t books that don’t need large advances: there most certainly are. But when it comes to really how the market works, the larger advance, the more onus there is on the author to do something spectacular. And I mean that in the “spectacle” sense, not necessarily just the “good” sense.
Regardless, rent needs to get paid (thanks, Hightower & Phillip), and both Izzy Louise and I have to eat. Basic principles that required me to put a price tag on something that I feel passionate about. Weeeeeird and uncomfortable. On top my own expenses, I also want to be in a position to pay people who are pouring themselves into the project with me (hello, Christine! Hi-five!). I had originally intended only to approach foundations and large funders, looking for small grants along the way. But a couple of talks with Steve Katz and Don Hazen changed my mind.
As Steve put it — and I can’t remember if these were his exact words, but this was the idea — it’d be pretty interesting to put my money where my mouth was. I’m specifically writing about the power of social media to shift perceptions and cultural values, and I’m constantly discussing new models for media and journalism with my peers. Could I leverage my social capital for this kind of good will? Also, how many people would I piss off in the process? Steve convinced me that the pros would outweigh the cons, and so far, I believe this to be true.
A note about the people that I did piss off: There may be more of you than I know about, more than just the two people (both musicians) that wrote a reply to my fundraising email. The main complaint was that asking for money up front would hurt the artistic integrity of the final product, and that sacrificing for the sake of purity of form/product is perhaps the most important part of the creative process. I see where this point-of-view comes from, and in some cases, I’d imagine it to be true. (I.e., I don’t know that I’d crowdfund an advance for my first graphic novel or poetry book, or at least not on the scale that I’m crowdfunding now.)
However, 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 joy come from money? No. But knowing that there is space to create and momentary relief from the hustle of capitalism can help create the conditions for joy.
It’s a common theme in progressive activism, too– the more you martyr yourself, the tinier your NYC hovel is, the more roommates you have to complain about, the more badges of honor you get. Is it any wonder that so many young people ditch movement work for something more sustainable to their lives? I know people who brag about the fact that they haven’t had a vacation in six years. They are brilliant people, and that mode of living simply cannot endure. They will burn out, and while I’ve come close, I am choosing not to be a bitter burnout before I’m 40.
Anyhoo. So, there’s some more of the background story about how this all came to be. Now, a few lessons that I’ve learned that I wanted to share with others who are thinking about doing something similar:
This fundraising project has been absolutely, overwhelmingly emotional, in a way that I didn’t expect. The people that have come out of the woodwork to support this effort have given me a lot of courage to plow on with the project, and have given me a tremendous amount of concrete evidence supporting in the ol’ “do what you love and the money will follow” saying.
Comments, advice, theories, dissections welcome.
As you may have heard, I’ve signed a contract with Berrett-Koehler to write a book about social media this summer. But! I need a tremendous amount of support — monetary, moral and otherwise — to get it done in the super-fast timeframe that I’m working within. Can you help? Here’s the email that I sent out to all my friends and colleagues. Please use the ChipIn to the right, or click here to make a donation.
Update, 7/13/09: Two things. There’s a post on my progress and thoughts here, and also, to reflect the offline donations I’m getting, I’m now gradually lowering the goal of the ChipIn.
Friends, colleagues, clients! Lend me your ears…
I’m writing you with some exciting news that makes me very happy. I just signed a contract from Berrett-Koehler publishers to write a book I’ve been imagining for a long time. But it’s going to take some very hard work on my part, and I hope you can help me succeed.
The book I’m writing is on the topic that has been all the rage in the media — social networking and all that implies with Twitter, Facebook, and much more. Here’s the purpose of the book: how do we ensure that these tools are in being used most effectively by those who have too often been on the sidelines of technology advances– women, people of color, queer folk, and more?
This is a fabulous opportunity for many social change advocates to jump into the new tech conversations and help shape the future, and I want to make sure that happens. Specific topics I want to cover about women’s experiences online include privacy and security, as well as shifting cultural values through organizing and action. I’m also going to be highlighting the voices of experts working in with social media in communities of color and more– voices you don’t hear when tech is being talked about.
Here’s my challenge and why I need your help: Berrett-Koehler is an incredible publisher — supportive, collaborative, and incredibly innovative– and I’m thrilled to be working with them. But they don’t pay advances. So, to do this book (and it is incredibly fast-tracked), I need 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!
I’m off to a good start: the Hightower Lowdown (Jim Hightower’s monthly newsletter), where I’ve worked for 4 years, is covering my rent through the summer. And Don Hazen, editor of AlterNet.org (where I also have worked) and Doug Kreeger (AlterNet’s board chair) will put the first $2,000 in if people will match it. All donations of $250 and over can be made through the Independent Media Institute, so they’ll be tax-deductible.
So, here I am, hat in hand for a good cause. I’ll make you proud. You can donate via PayPal at http://www.deannazandt.com/chipin or send a check to me (address below).
I know it is a tough time to be asking for money with many people out of work and struggling. I hope you’ll forgive my chutzpah. Yet I want this all to happen so badly I can taste it; it’s more than anything I’ve wanted in a very long time. It’s a dream come true in many ways, and I hope even if you can’t give at this time, you’ll join me in celebrating the moment.
P.S. — For anyone who donates $100 or more, I will give you a copy of the book with an inscription of my heartfelt thanks. One more time, that donation link is:
P.P.S. — Thanks in advance for anything and everything that you can do to support this wildly excited, somewhat humbled first-time author. Here’s more info about the book: http://www.deannazandt.com/bookannounce , and I’ll be blogging as much of the book’s content as possible at http://www.deannazandt.com/ throughout the summer.
For donations over $250, checks can be made payable to:
Independent Media Institute
77 Federal St
San Francisco, CA 94107
Memo: Deanna Zandt Project