This morning, I distributed a press release for Nebula award-winning fantasy and science fiction writer Elizabeth Ann Scarborough about the Kickstarter campaign she’s launched to help fund her next novel.
If you aren’t yet a fan of this amazing writer and don’t recognize the name, she’s the co-author with the late Anne McCaffery of 16 global best-selling fantasy novels as well as 23 other books for major publishing companies.
My friend, novelist P.N. Elrod, successfully used Kickstarter last summer to fund a short story collection. She also runs a side business making amazing Jedi Robes and a range of Doctor Who items. Like Scarborough, she’s got a huge fan base for her Vampire Files novels, and continues to write for major publishing companies. Elrod’s new steampunk series On Her Majesty’s Psychic Service is on its way in the fall of 2014 from Tor. The first title is called The Hanged Man.
Both women are amazing writers. And despite legions of fans around the globe, neither can get large enough advances from publishers to support themselves while they write. They’re hardly alone. Veteran writers in all genres are struggling, and so are their publishers. Ebooks are cheap and easy to produce — and easier to rip-off and steal.
Most authors don’t want to talk about the negative side of today’s publishing industry — so I will. When I sold my first book in 1971, I got a $5,000 advance. That was about 25% of the cost of a new house in my neighborhood, and it was enough to support me for about six months. (Minimum wage in 1971 was $1.60 per hour, gas was .36 per gallon, and the median income in the U.S. was $9,067.)
I’ve published 53 books since then (yes, I use pen names — no, I don’t disclose them, not even to my spouse or best friends). The lowest selling book in my science fiction/fantasy series sold about 20,000 copies — the best selling sold over 600,000 copies. This year, the same publisher who published the title that sold over half a million copies offered me a $5,000 advance on a new book. I think that it shocked them when I said no.
Putting a Positive Spin on the “New Publishing” Paradigm
Like I said, I get mad when I start to detail all the negative changes I’ve seen in the publishing industry. But Scarborough is a nicer person than I am. She looks at the new publishing paradigm and sees hope where I don’t.
“The advent of e-books has a lot of benefits for writers, readers, and the environment,” Scarborough says. “I don’t think they should ever replace print books, but it’s a great way for authors to write the stories that don’t fit into traditional markets. For example, until e-books, backlists were of very little interest to big publishers. Once most books had passed their three-month shelf life, the publishers wanted no sequels, nothing else set in that world. Whereas I still had more ideas for stories about the people, places and situations I’d invented. I’m so glad I took in my “orphaned” books so I can now introduce them to new readers.
“When I spend the time to create a new world, and then my publisher tells me after three titles set in that world that it’s time to move on, I feel like a little girl who built a sand castle only to have her big brother knock it down. With indie publishing, my sand castles are not destroyed after all. I can rebuild them in a new form and see opportunities to explore them further, I can tell those stories and explore those areas of worlds and situations I’ve already begun to develop. The only thing I can’t do almost as well is have enough money to support the project while I’m creating it.”
With Kickstarter, she says, she can go directly to readers who have written to ask for the next installment in a series and say, “Do you want this book enough to help me create it?” It’s like the old patron system that supported artists and musicians of all sorts for generations past.
Scarborough’s goal for her Kickstarter project is just $5,000, and her fans are sure to snap up the perks she’s offering, including a new short story available only to supporters, a digital calendar featuring images from Scarborough’s works by illustrator Karen Gillmore, and an opportunity to name a dragon. For more information about Elizabeth Ann Scarborough’s Kickstarter campaign, click here. For more information about her published works, or to purchase her books, click here.
To purchase some of Elrod’s Vampire Files titles, click here. And if you have a Doctor Who fan on your holiday list, click here for her one-of-a-kind Doctor Who coverlets, throws, tote bags, shower curtains, and hats. (Funds from the sale of these items are going to pay vet bills for Elrod’s beloved Fuzzy dog.)