I’ve spent the past month in a semi-permanent state of dread. A sense of foreboding. I’ve felt a hefty weight on my shoulders, every time I sit down to do any kind of work. I’ve been telling myself it’s a healthy sense of excitement and trepidation, and a “good” kind of pressure, the kind that makes you knuckle down and do something that you can look back on and feel a profound sense of achievement.
This morning though, I had a conversation with a friend that has shifted all of that and lifted the weight immediately.
It was the suggestion that, actually hey, I don’t have to crowdfund my first book if I don’t want to.
For the past month I’ve been exploring the option of setting up a crowdfunding campaign to pre-sell copies of the book I have yet to write. It’s a book that I’ve committed to writing this year, a work of creative non-fiction on the subject of storytelling and narrative change for impact, which is the pond I’ve been swimming in for the past 15 years.
It was a month ago today, that I had a call on Christmas Eve with a representative of a literary crowdfunding agency, who help you with negotiating publishing deals and marketing your book, in exchange for a cut of your royalties.
Since then I’ve been planning out the campaign, with the assumption that I would be launching it at a major impact summit that I’m performing at, at the end of next month in Auckland.
Even last week, when I started questioning whether the literary crowdfunding platform was the way to go vs a traditional platform like Kickstarter or New Zealand’s own PledgeMe — the latter options of which cost a lot less in the long term , given that there are no royalty cuts — I have still been operating on the assumption that in approximately one month’s time, I’ll be launching this campaign — at the same time as I’ve planned to start a 3-month writing sprint. No biggie, I thought. I’ll write in the mornings, spend a couple of hours on the campaign in the middle of the day, and do some billable hours in the afternoon.
This would not be my first crowdfunding rodeo. I’ve been involved in two campaigns in the past, the first being a personal campaign to fund my way from New Zealand to Minneapolis to compete in the Women of the World Poetry Slam in 2013; and in the following year I lead the communications strategy for Loomio’s US$125K non-equity campaign, raising funds to build online collaborative decision-making software.
I know, from hard-won personal experience, that crowdfunding is a shit-tonne of work. Like, really, really hard work.
You’ve got to build out your contacts list, drum up excitement, organise, shoot and edit a succinct yet informative and inspiring video, bring onboard a group of champions to pledge within the first 48 hours (and then beg them to actually do it), send out regular updates, spend your life on social media, and send A LOT of personal messages to virtually everyone you’ve ever engaged with in real life or online.
Then there’s the business of delivering on promised rewards post-campaign, a time commitment that that many people, my former self included, vastly underestimate (to those of you who I still owe a personalised poem, I’m sorry!)
These are all valuable hours that I could be spending doing other things… like writing my book.
This is the forest that my friend, a fellow poet, author, speaker, and all-round amazing human Sonya Renee Taylor, so kindly pointed out to me this morning amid all the trees of distraction I’ve been growing in my mind over the past month.
Why do the all the hours and hours of crowdfunding work, potentially giving up a portion of my royalties in perpetuity, when I a could actually be spending that time writing the first few chapters of the book?? Getting it to a point where publishers might start being interested?
It’s not like I have the hours to spare. I left my steady salaried job in November in pursuit of a freelance career in storytelling for impact, I’m in the process of learning the ins and outs of freelance/consulting work and all the systems set-up that goes with that, and in the mix I’m parenting two energetic preschoolers under the age of four. I simply don’t need the stress of crowdfunding in my life right now.
If I spent those hours getting the first few chapters together and putting together a strong book proposal, in addition to building up my online base of followers who enjoy my work, I’d still be in a good position to pitch to publishing houses. All those people in my network who would have pre-ordered books will still be there. The publishers will do their thing, and help me leverage my network once the book actually exists. I don’t have to do all that legwork first.
There is of course, a time and place for crowdfunding. I am fortunate enough to be able to cut back on my paid work to write, and still get by without depending upon the advance funds that a crowdfunding campaign would provide. I realise this is an incredibly privileged position to be in, and that for some artists and creators those advance funds are a crucial enabler.
Crowdfunding is great if:
- You absolutely need funds up front to engage in a project that will eventually make money
- You need to validate a project, idea, or business
- You need to build a community around a project, idea, or business
- You have a large network of people who believe in you personally, and will support you in whatever you’re doing (and you can’t engage with them in other less time-intensive ways)
That last part is key. If you can engage with your crowd in other ways — sending a newsletter, creating podcasts or blog posts, sharing useful content on social media — then it could be that the benefits of crowdfunding can be achieved in other ways that don’t require quite as much bandwidth.
For me, I’ve realised that all this campaign planning has been a distraction from actually doing what I need to do right now — write. The planning and organising of the campaign is really just a procrastination tactic, and an attempt to prove my worth — to reassure myself that yes, people do want to read what I have to write.
After doing some serious internal questioning, I realised that I don’t need to build a community or a network to support this book. I already have that, thanks to my past ten years experience performing spoken word poetry on the international stage, and professionally writing stories of impact for the Edmund Hillary Fellowship. I’ve spoken to many people within the impact and social change space about the subject of storytelling for impact, and they have emphatically validated the need for a book such as the one I’m planning to write.
So today, I’m ecstatic to announce that I won’t be launching a crowdfunding campaign next month. Today I feel buoyant, free. Today I’m downloading that book writing software that I’ve been spending hours ‘researching’, trying to figure out if it’s ‘the best one’ or not.
Enough procrastinating. It’s time to start writing.
If you would like to receive updates throughout the year on my thoughts on storytelling, spoken word, and narrative change for impact in a rapidly changing world, please sign up for updates here — I’ll be sending roughly one update a month.