Written by Anna Spargo-Ryan
I hadn’t really thought of writing as a social activity until I began talking to other writers on Twitter. Before that, writing was something I did on my own – usually in the dark, with whisky and tears – and then filed away for sometime in the future when I would more than likely reflect on what a dreadful writer I had been then (and how much better I was now).
Crowdfunding, on the other hand, was something I had come across when wearing my digital marketing hat. The gist is this: people use websites to showcase their Great Idea, and other people pledge money to fund the Great Idea. If the Great Idea gets up, those who pledged get trinkets and rewards and self-satisfaction. If the funding falls short of the target, no one gets anything. Sites like Kickstarter (in the US) and Pozible (Australia) have borne witness to the exchange of hundreds of thousands of dollars, from pledger to idea monger.
Using such a service to write a book was suggested to me by someone who would become a great friend and amazing supporter. I had written a blog entry about a very personal and difficult subject. For one reason or another, it attracted thousands of views and the attention of some agent and publisher types who enquired about “my book”. I was thrilled to be on their radar, but had nothing to show them. Worse still, I lacked the resources to get anything down on paper.
I was adamant not to let the opportunity go begging, but short of quitting my job and finding a sugar daddy, I had no idea how I could swing it.
Making the decision to ask for help wasn’t easy. I wondered whether I was really just asking for time off work. I wondered why I should ask for financial support when so many other (better) writers just tried harder. I wondered whether people would think I was taking the easy way out. I was sure I would alienate everyone I knew on the whole internet.
With fingers trembling for dramatic effect, I opened the Pozible website. To my surprise, I found hundreds of people doing exactly as I was planning – crowdfunding their writing. All kinds of books and journals and plays and limericks stood on virtual street corners, shouting their offerings. Some had had thousands of dollars pledged; others had none. Their promotion was loud and shameless. I knew I would fit right in.
Pozible requires all potential projects to go through a screening process, probably to determine whether they are Ponzi schemes. I set myself a target of $6,000 – which would cover writing, editing and marketing – to be met within 90 days. And then I waited.
In the first day, the most excellent people I know pledged more than $1,000. “This is easy!” I told my dog. “I will definitely meet my target and then we can just sit here and write all day!”
As the days passed, the project – and I – lost initial momentum. I had lots of interest, but the total pledge amount hardly moved. Pozible told me that this was normal, that lots of people waited until right at the end to make good on their promises. I tweeted gentle reminders and sent the link to my dad most days. Cousins, friends of friends, even total strangers began to show their support. The words they used – important, inspiring, brave – knocked my hesitation on the head.
I was shocked but thrilled to get to $2500. Someone had pledged $500, and that made my head spin – they weren’t even related to me! I kissed the feet of those who had been so generous and felt a little greedy.
But mostly, I was motivated to write. Even without extra time or money to play with, I felt the push of a brilliant and supportive community. So I wrote. For free. I know.
Heading into the last day, the tally was $2,800. I had imagined feeling disappointed and foolish not to have met my target. I was anything but. My project and its message had reached a larger audience than I could have imagined. An extra thousand dollars was pledged within the last hour. Neil bloody Gaiman tweeted about it just after the siren had gone and I thought … well, that is pretty great.
Once the excitement had worn off and I’d squashed the adrenalin with chocolate, I looked at the figure – $3,851. Definitely short of $6,000, but I hardly noticed. In many ways, the money had always been hypothetical, even imaginary. It might not have been crowdfunded, as it turned out, but the real value was in the people I met and their faith in creative endeavour.
Warm fuzzies aside, there are things I would do differently. My target amount was based on actual costs for what I hoped to do, but it was very ambitious. A lower goal would have been more achievable, but still given me a great start on the book. The 90 day fundraising period meant that the project went into an eight-week lull, during which we mostly waited to see if something would happen. In hindsight, the 30 day option would have been great for sustaining interest and enthusiasm.
Most importantly, I would have had greater belief in my product. My cheerleaders, bless them, regularly pushed me to get it out there, to call in favours and to be shameless in its promotion, but I struggled with the sell and ultimately fell short. If you can communicate the importance, relevance and value of your project, you will inspire others to do the same.
Anna is a writer and digital strategist from Melbourne. She writes about womanhood, femaleness, the internet, snotty children and crying. Her blog is full of sentences with words in them and she does digital work at Tiny Antelope. She would love to meet you on Twitter.