Essay–Content Hostages

In case you hadn’t noticed, there’s a new trend going on in the independent publishing community–the Kickstarter, Indie-Go-Go, GoFundMe phenomenon. If you’ve been living under a rock for the past couple of years, let me explain how this is SUPPOSED to work.

A writer, like myself, wants to put out their book. They don’t have the cash to pay for an artist, layout, and etc, so they ask the community to fork out some cash to make all that happen. It’s like a pre-order with a set boundary for the work to be published. If the goal isn’t reached, then the project dies. The author(s) might try again and succeed, or perhaps their project simply dies.

If the writer in question believes in their story, then they will find a way to make it happen. But here’s the thing–the story is written.

That particular scenario is a good one. It’s the old patronage model, if you will, to bring art into the world so the artist is guaranteed not to go into debt. It can take a lot of cash to make a quality book happen. I know this all too well from personal experience.

As I said, that’s the way it used to work. Now, however, certain creators are, to a certain extent, holding their content hostage. In other words, “pay me and I’ll create this content, else it will go unwritten/unrecorded/unproduced.” In many cases, these projects are trying to recapture the glory of a previously popular series. There are examples out there if you go look for them.

A few podcasters whom I respect are working on this model to try and get their next few books out. The idea is that they only want to work on properties that will be profitable. Pure and simple.

This, I understand. I understand the need to work on something that brings in bucks. If you’re a pro-writer and creating content is your only income, then you have to choose which properties you want to work on, because any deviation from what makes money means you don’t eat.

But, there is a huge caveat to this. If the author hasn’t even begun to create the content, there’s no guarantee it will happen. If you haven’t written word one of the upcoming story, novel, etc, then how can I, as a consumer, be assured it WILL happen? Years ago, a certain person took their toys and went home because they were angry not enough people showed up to purchase their work when it was published. That sent a shock through the podcasting community and to this day, I think it has greatly hurt the credibility of the podcaster in question.

With no deadline, no samples, no nothing, consumers are being asked to pony up on faith. When I see kickstarters of this ilk, I have to wonder if we aren’t being asked to put up our hard earned cash to subsidize someone’s attempt to cash-in.

In case you hadn’t noticed, this idea doesn’t sit well with me. I’m not here to judge those who are doing it. I’m simply bringing up a fact–there are no guarantees. There’s no way to get your money back if said creator just decides to take their money and go home. Paying per episode is equally insane if the episodes for the arc haven’t yet been written nor released. It’s something I don’t feel comfortable with.

When I put up the pre-orders for Fiends and Garaaga’s Children: Ancients, the stories were done. They had been podcasted. They had been put out as ebooks. In other words, I’d written the content and NOW was trying to get paid for it.

Scott Sigler has said time and time again that podcast fiction is a market test. It’s not the final product. The final product has good artwork. The final product has been professionally vetted and edited. I try and do all these things now before I release anything. Why? I’ve learned over several attempts that doing a half-assed job only hurts my credibility as an author and publisher.

Shadowpublications.com is going to publish a number of books this year. Yes, they will be paperbacks and etc of previously published works. They will also be new works that have never been published in ebook or podcast form. They will be out there. And I’m taking the financial risk that it’s a worthwhile endeavor for both myself and my company. But the bottom line? I’m never going to to ask you to subsidize unfinished works. Others will, but I won’t.

Purchase the books if you want to support me. Donate if you want to support me. Write reviews. Spread the word. But I’m going to write what I want to write. And there’s plenty of stories I want to tell. Not for money. Not for fame. I’m writing them because they are stories I want to tell. And the moment I start writing just for money, it’s time for you to find someone else to support.

FOOTNOTE:

I was not accusing anyone of trying to dupe their supporters. There has been much hate for this post and my opinion, but I was not trying to depth-charge anyone’s attempt to get a book off the ground. See this for more info.

Posted in Essays
26 comments on “Essay–Content Hostages
  1. scott pond says:

    It’s a great post man. I equate those folks as those who want to short-cut the path to success. Bottom line is that to build an audience, it takes time and most of all it take a consistent (quality and periodicity) of content, but free and for sale. Content is king, content is what keeps you fresh in people’s minds. Free content (blog posts, vids, audio, etc.) is what keeps them coming back, building more and more folks who are interested in what you have to say. On average, only 1 in 100 fans will actually buy something from you as a creator… but to have those find you you have to be giving. It’s the rare thing for an author to land the deal that bypasses this… and will get even rarer. Those that try the shortcut method don’t actually get any more real fans… and tend to ostracize those that are. This whole thing is tied into properly branding and marketing… which takes time and there is no damn magic pill. In fact, I tend to get turned off by those who push this hostage approach… there is ALWAYS another author out there who will fill the need without trying to do this to me.

  2. Aleleeinn says:

    Personally I enjoy your works. I have supported previous efforts and plan to support future one. I agree with you business model and understand exactly what I am doing. I see you model as a fair trade. A throwback to the patron system with a modern twist.
    I agree that when I support one of your projects, I know exactly what I will be getting. Keep up the good work.
    Thanks for writing books that I enjoy and keeping your honesty up front.
    Aleleeinn

  3. Heyes says:

    This is exactly EXACTLY how I feel about patreon. When I listen to a podcast, and I like it, I go out of my way to make sure I can afford to send the author some cash when they are selling ebooks or treebooks. I try my best to hype them on social media. I even post reviews. I’m not rich, and I’m no patron – not in the classical sense.

    • Paul Cooley says:

      I like the idea of Patreon. At least with Patreon the creator ONLY gets paid if the work is actually created and published and etc. It’s also an easy to handle “subscription” type services. I’m mulling whether or not I want to do it, but I’m working so hard on longer works, something like Patreon won’t really work for me. And I sure as hell don’t want folks paying for first drafts.

      Being a patron doesn’t mean you have to be rich. It means you care enough about the art being created to fund the people creating it. I’d say you fit that definition, my friend.

      • Heyes says:

        Well thanks for that. I have been burned for way too much money on kickstarter on non-writing projects, just straight up lost money. At this point, I’m only buying stuff that I either know is a good choice for me because I’ve already listened, watched, or read it – or because I have 75% sureity that it will be worth it.

        For me it’s like TV. Sure, I pay for cable, and I watch some shows. I also have netflix, and I watch plenty of shows and movies using those services. But I won’t buy a specific DVD/Blue Ray unless I reallyreallyreally need to be able to watch that show (or listen to that music) when I need it.

        I treat indie fiction in a similar way. First I give it a listen. what I like I post about, share, and thumb. what I really like I might buy an ebook for. What I love I will kickstarter for, or DEMAND a treebook version. I buy maybe two to three treebooks a year. That’s it. That’s what I can afford. ebooks are a pain to read, so I mostly buy them as a means of supporting artists that have written a specific book or set of stories that I like, or because I have become a fan over time.

        Lots of people, podcasts, etc, out there that I love, but some need more … patronage… than others.

        There’s also the matter of the relationship. I have to admit that the authors/podcasts that give me the kind of time of day that I want from them tend to get more attention from me in return. Is taht fair? Maybe, maybe not. But there are certainly some authors/podcasts that I don’t support financially because of the kind of interactions I’ve had with them.

        Sorry, bit of a ramble there.

    • Patron is different than these other things Paul is talking about. The way I intend to use it, you get the story in a sort of blog format for free. You like it, kick me a buck and you get the PDF for your patronage. You REALLY like it? Kick me a few more and you get more stuff. Regardless, the story is done and you get a finished product (though not necessarily a perfect one).

      • Heyes says:

        hmm…. watching the video again, I get a very different idea of how it works than what you describe, and I still don’t like it. I’ve seen several funding services like this that all leave me feeling like I don’t get to control the ‘when’ of the payments. When I want to buy something, I’ll buy it. When I want a subscription to something, I’ll buy that subscription. For pro magazines you buy the subscription up front because you trust the content will be up to snuff. For me, this just doesn’t fit how my cashflow works.

        • Paul Cooley says:

          Again, it’s definitely not for everyone. And I think you do have a point about paying for something when you’re not sure of the quality. The way John Mierau and Scott Roche are using Patreon is, I think, the way to do it. But, it may not be for everyone. I’m excited that there are more ways out there for authors to get paid and for their readers to become patrons of their work, but it’s going to take some time for everything to shake out.

  4. Avril Sabine says:

    Those writers mustn’t have stories that demand to be written. I wrote about the experience of demanding manuscripts at http://www.avrilsabine.com/2014/02/16/demanding-manuscripts/
    It would be impossible to hold the words of a story like that hostage. Paying for an unwritten story, as a reader, is like ordering an uninvented meal in a restaurant. You’re either going to go somewhere else because of the time they’re taking to get it right, or be disappointed because it was rushed due to the demand. It’s possible to write a manuscript in a short space of time, but the editing, if done properly, takes ages.

  5. aleleeinn says:

    Take a look at Kristin Hersh’s (Throwing Muses)Strange Angels concept. BUT the Angels know the creator and what sort of thing to expect. And the Patron knew what to expect in the past. Or saw the greatness of the artist and wanted to help.
    It isn’t big money that will fund the arts anymore. It’s those who enjoy it. But long term support is important too.
    Paul you have a grueling schedule. SysAdmin work can truly tire the brain and to constantly keep writing impresses me constantly.
    I think Kristin’s model works for a person who already has a loyal following of a certain size. That critical mass seems to be the key.
    I trust that whatever new book you create; I WILL like it. Pretty much why we keep reading any authors works. I read my way through a few authors complete works in my past. It becomes the telling not just the story.
    Keep up the good work.
    Aleleeinn

  6. I think every creator has a right to do things however they want (I know you’re not saying he has no right to do so). I can’t blame certain authors for not wanting to podcast. It’s a cost in time and even actual money. I respect that. I’m not podcasting Ginnie Dare at the moment because I really don’t want to take time away from my writing efforts, family, and life to do so. I do want to at some point.

    The person you’re talking about has expressed some very valid reasons as to why he’s choosing to release his writing this way. By doing so, he’s ameliorating certain risks. He also intends to tweak the story along the way based on feedback from fans, something he couldn’t do if the whole thing were done prior to release. I think this approach is interesting and exciting.

    Yes, it sucks that he took his toys and went home. Yes he could have handled that whole thing better. Yes he’s been gone from the scene for a while and many people are butt hurt about that. I’m not one of them. I’ve been following his career (yes he has one) and I admire what he’s been doing. I will continue to support this project in spite of the fact that this model is different.

    Though in thinking about it, it’s not a great deal different than the models he’s basing this venture on. If you’re a fan of comic books, web comics, or any other form of serialized, episodic fiction I can guarantee you that it’s not all written out before hand. There’s a risk that the story won’t be finishes, especially if people don’t want to pay for it. And if people don’t want to pay for this particular thing, who’s hurt by it?

    • Paul Cooley says:

      There’s no question creators are allowed to do whatever they’d like to do. And they’re free to ask payment for it in anyway they like. This missive was not mean to pass judgement, simply to express my point of view about it.

      Every situation is different, every creator is different. There are those I’d trust with something like this, and there are others who’ve already proven they can’t be trusted, abandoned the community, and more or less burned every bridge out there. I wish these creators well and success, but I’m certainly not going to lift a finger to help those who spurned those who helped them.

      Again, just my opinion and everyone’s mileage will vary.

  7. In going back over this I have to ask, who’s asking for payment for something unwritten? The author in question is only asking for payment once a particular episode is finished, edited, and in the can. Is the complete series done? No. How is that different from someone buying one of the Garaagaa’s Children books? I know you’ve finished what you’ve finished, but what are my guarantees that you’ll finish the series? I mean, I’m perfectly certain you will provided nothing external gets in the way, and I don’t think you’ll stop unless there just a massive lack of interest, but I think it’s a valid question.

    • Paul Cooley says:

      Scott? This isn’t about a single author. This is about multiple instances of this going on. I think you’re hung up on particular example.

      Regarding Garaaga’s Children, each story was completely finished before published. The entire arc for Ancients was finished before I asked for money. That’s the difference in that. If I don’t deliver another arc, it’s okay. I didn’t leave anyone hanging with what I wrote. But there will be more. Much more. Because it needs to be written–not because I suddenly need a bump in my bank account.

      And as I said, I wish those folks well and all the success they desire. But I’m not going to be a patron of it.

  8. Neil says:

    I follow lots of Indie authors and they all do their own thing for getting their work out there.

    I did consider purchasing from the author I think you refer to based purely on his previous work. But what if it isn’t for me? I’m also not keen on reader feedback stearing the path of the story.

    Keep writing Paul and be true to yourself.

  9. Sometimes I wish I’d gone the Kickstarter-before-writing route with the second half of my Untrue Tales trilogy, instead of trusting that all the people who emailed, called, and otherwise messaged me asking for the series conclusion to actually buy it. I could have done a KS after writing the books and before publishing, to cover the printing costs, sure, but nothing will give me back the year I spent writing those books instead of any of the other ones I wanted to write more at the time. To me, it would have been valuable to use money to sort “fans of the series” into actually-interested and kinda-sorta-interested; not because I’m money-grubbing or profits-first, but because apparently when someone just emails you to say they loved your book and want a sequel, it doesn’t mean squat, but most people are a little more honest with their money than their words.

    Seriously, I have “fans” who begged me for years for the rest of that series who *still* (almost 3 years after the last book was published) haven’t started reading the new books. (And certainly didn’t buy a copy.) I can’t discuss the plot’s twists and turns with them, the character development, or even just find out what they thought—all more valuable to me than the money I also didn’t get from writing the books.

    If I were, say, a certain podcaster with one less letter in my first name, I would probably see whether there were any meaningful interest in a sequel to an otherwise-long-dead series that fans “keep asking about” before investing my time writing a book that, while somewhat interesting to me, would not otherwise be top-of-my-list-to-write, and might not be of all that much interest to readers, either. If I had several (or even just two) ideas for books to write that I was equally interested in and wanted to decide which to start putting my time into, having some way of knowing which ones other people will also enjoy would certainly help push that idea to the fore. Likewise, knowing that I may be the only one to appreciate a story will certainly diminish the scale of resources I would invest in producing it; it would probably eventually get written, but why would it need editing, cover art, or an audio version if a market test like KS already proved not enough people wanted it to make those investments worthwhile?

    Still, you’re absolutely not wrong in your position, or in the idea that each author ought to be free to make these sorts of decisions on their own. I’ve been using a model of patronage where a handful of fans will put down as much money individually as I’d ask for in a Kickstarter, just because they enjoy my work so much they want to support my ability to continue producing it, whether or not there’s a market for it. Technically, that’s what funded my year of working on the conclusion to Untrue Tales; not sales, not by any means, but patronage before the books were even written, unrelated to any specific work. So nowadays I’m saying “give me $100/year and I’ll send you physical and digital copies of everything I produce” (or for 4 times that I’ll create a custom work for that patron, too), and people are investing in me as a creator, rather than in any specific works, so I’m free to be the one to choose what I work on. Like, right now I’m working on developing card games instead of writing books at all.

    • Paul Cooley says:

      I’ve been asked again and again to write a sequel to Closet Treats, Tattoo, and Canvas. I have been thinking about those for a long time, but the stories haven’t gelled yet. If/when they scream to be written, I’ll write ‘em. And they’ll get the same attention I’m now paying to everything else. It’s a risk I’ll take. I’m in a different position, no doubt, because I have a lucrative day job and I’m not making money on my writing alone. Hell, if I was, I’d freakin’ starve.

      And this post was NOT about calling out individuals. It WAS, before everybody got so spun up about individuals, a crack about a TREND that is going on out there. One that makes me uneasy and uncomfortable both as a CONSUMER and a CREATOR.

      Thanks for the comments, mate.

      • Yes, I definitely understood you were referring to what you saw as a trend; I was just picking one of the many people using some form of this model, whose current situation was similar to the example I myself had experienced. I think that if you dig a little deeper (and especially if you look outside the podcast-authors bubble) you’ll see that this ‘trend’ isn’t exactly new; plenty of author-run Kickstarters, from the very first times I saw the site years ago, have been built on this model. Prior to that, when I was considering various modern patronage models, I found that this sort of fundraising-before-writing has been used by some people in the web-lit community for …probably 15 years, now. While others, of course, did the write first and hope for recompense later thing. Nothing new under the sun, to each his own, all that.

        Additionally, based on what I know of the podcast-books listening community and what I’ve seen happen with various authors’ books (yours included) when they got to the point of needing a community to step up and buy the books (whether through pre-orders, Kickstarters, or just traditional publishing), it’s totally unreasonable to expect your “community” of listeners to step up and actually put down money. They’re somewhat better than the free-eBooks crowds, who can’t even be counted on to *read* the books, rather than just collect them since they’re free, in that your listeners are actually listening to the books, but a fraction of a percent of them (even those who promise they’d pay) will actually buy the books they’ve already read/heard and said they loved. Just look at the comments, right here, and see that people who like a book think posting a link is payment enough, and if they “really like it” *maybe* they’ll pay eBook prices.

        You and I can write what we want, when we want, and not consider money too much. We can obey our inner demons, and willingly pay whatever it costs us (in time, in money, in energy) to get the stories out of our heads and out into the world because *that’s what we need to do*. For any indie author who wants self publishing to be anything approaching a successful business (earning more than it costs) and isn’t driven by compulsion, learning ahead of time how many people would actually be willing to put down money for a thing isn’t greed, it’s pragmatism. The new wisdom of the crowds is in being wise enough not to trust that the crowds will put their money where their mouths are—to have the money up front, whether it’s coming from your lucrative day job or form crowd-sourcing, because it’s a fool’s errand to work on spec.

        • Paul Cooley says:

          Definitely agree it’s a fool’s errand to work on “spec.” However, writing stories is, for the most part, a completely different game. Successful authors with publishing contracts and bazillions of fans/listeners shouldn’t be worried about whether or not folks will buy their next story. They just need to write the damned thing if they want to write it.

          In the old days, you could put together a book outline, approach a publisher, and they may or may not buy the book on “spec.” That model is more or less dead these days unless you’re a VERY established author. They’re more likely to give you a multi-book contract and trust that the other books are coming.

          The philosophical problem I have with selling the product before it’s even started R&D, so to speak, is that it indicates to me it’s not really something you’re burning to write. And if you’re not completely invested in it, heart and soul, then the product is going to be inferior. That’s not a slam at any individual writer or creator, it’s simply the way I feel about it.

          I’d much rather write something I want to write and then have it not sell (I’m damned-well used to it), because it was my passion and drive that got it done. Not some dollar sign at the end of the journey.

          I work damned hard to keep a roof over my head, my animals in food, my cars running, and the bills paid. I took a year off to do the pro-writer thing and I couldn’t make it work. So I went and got a job I hated and suffered for a year and a half to cover my bills. Then I found a job I love, for more money strangely enough, and now I’m working on my writing and writing career more than I ever did.

          If you can’t make the cash as a full-time writer, then you need to do something else while you fight to make it happen. If you have patrons willing to put up the cash to keep your lights on, that’s awesome. That’s a great space to be in. And yes, I long the old Renaissance model of patronage. And perhaps that’s what these kickstarters are in a sense. But I, as a consumer, want to know that the product is “almost” ready as opposed to “just an outline” before I fork down my hard-earned cash.

          If you follow me on kickstarter, you’ll see I’ve backed a number of such projects. I backed a clothing company reach their goals But they already had prototypes of what they were going to do. So I gave them a chance. And they delivered. But the key was “prototype.”

          When I created MyWrite, I didn’t ask for money up front for anyone for an unproven marketing tool and tech that hadn’t yet been invented. I waited until we had a prototype before I even dared to try and explain to people what I was doing and what it did.

          I could have kickstarted it, but why? It was something that had almost no up-front costs except my damned time. And it was something I wanted to make happen. Have I made money off it? Nope. Am in the red on it? Yup. But it was something I wanted to do so I did it. And those that are using it seem damned happy with it.

          I did all that while holding down a very stressful day-job (the one I hated) and working ridiculous hours. So yeah, I guess I expect folks to sacrifice for their dreams because I sure as shit do.

  10. Scott Pond says:

    Thinking about this some more, for me there is a line of trust. I’m willing and most times eager to trust folks who have demonstrated follow-through and commitment. This trust and sense of commitment is often attained by supply of content (interactions via social media, blogs, articles, vodcast, videos, podcasts, previous published works, etc.)… In other words content, content, content. Those who have a proven track record of consistency, compassion, commitment, courtesy, etc. (you know, the all important “C’s”). Whether these folks are doing it full time, part time, to support a family, or just for hard won fun, so long as they are committed to their craft and committed to their audience, then I will trust and support them. And I will trust and support them as much as I am able, whether it is via reviews, interactions, recommendations, or laying down some green. The line for me is really at the folks who haven’t garnered that trust yet or who have misplayed that trust and haven’t gained me back. Everyone makes mistakes. I’m very forgiving. I’m still going to give them a chance or two to regain my fan/consumer trust (perhaps a couple chances in many cases) and will support them in many non-monetary ways as they work back along that path. But often they will have to gain or regain my monetary trust by exhibiting the drive and passion that I want in my content creators. Consistently. Or at least with the obvious attempts at consistency. I will supports just about any content creator in whatever way I can; but I only have so much money and I reserve that for the creator “brands” that garner the most trust, no matter how it is attained.

  11. Steph Harvey says:

    I agree with what Pondy was saying. There are some people that I have come to trust. Those people make a real effort to reliably produce content and I am willing to pitch in for future content from those people. There are other people that I have had enough of. Sometimes that is because of problems with getting content delivered, sometimes it is attitude, and sometimes both. I know one podcaster that has asked for money to support his writing (not through kickstarter) that frequently said he was quitting when things didn’t go well. I have no faith this person will ever produce anything they say they will. There is another person that is reliable with the content when they are producing it, but that is not often. This same person has been extremely rude to me and my family on line. They seem to think they are very superior to most others and even called my husband stupid. Those of you that know us know how far off base that was. Neither of those people will ever get another dime from us. I can think of far more people that I would be willing to support for a future project. Most of those are not following the described business model, but I would be willing to give them some cash in exchange for future work because they have a good track record. The potential problems that can come from paying for content that has not been produced will also be somewhat self correcting in the long run. Some people may lose money by backing someone unreliable, but it will not take long before a person that doesn’t produce something that was paid for in advance can no longer find backers.

  12. Heyes says:

    Okay, having looked more closely at John and Scott’s usage of patreon, it becomes clear that Patreon is much more flexible than the site’s own commercial made it seem.

    • Scott Roche says:

      That’s the great thing about patreon. It’s flexible and they’re still developing it. They’re also developing based on user input. Can’t wait to see a years time will bring.

      Also, I like it because the way I’m using it, you’re telling me “I like what you’ve done. Go create whatever you want!”

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