Ronald or The Arts?
April 13, 2010 7:49 PM   Subscribe

Posting anonymously because I want an unbiased opinion. I am a fiction writer and full time postgraduate student. I am currently working on my first speculative (multi-genre) novel with the aim of having it finished by the end of the year. Is it a good idea to put up a sponsorship page where people can chip in to help me complete my goals?

I don't want to get rich off donations (fame and fortune comes after publication) but the basic principle of the idea is: would you rather help McDonalds or a struggling writer? I've been writing professionally for ten years and last year was short listed twice in the category Best Short Story for the Sir Julius Vogel Award (the NZ equivalent of the Nebula), as well as making the short list for the 2009 Lambda Awards. Ta for the input, appreciated. emails welcome at mediating.crow AT gmail DOT com
posted by anonymous to Media & Arts (30 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
McDonalds will give me a hamburger for my five bucks.

Why would people give you money to complete a novel?
posted by fourcheesemac at 7:56 PM on April 13, 2010

I don't think this is a good idea. It just rubs me the wrong way. Plenty of people work or attend school full-time and write in their free time, and they don't ask for money for it.
posted by amro at 7:57 PM on April 13, 2010 [2 favorites]

What do you mean by "good idea"?

- Do you mean "will this hurt my reputation somehow?" As common as sponsorships and micropayments have become on the internet, I can't imagine that it will.

- Do you mean "will I make any money"? That's largely dependent on how large your fanbase is, how devoted they are, and how much of an online presence you have. The more eyes on you and your blog/writings/website, and the better that they feel they know you, the better you'll do. It might also help if you offer them something tangible in return for their support. A voucher saying that you'll autograph their copy of the book, for example.
posted by chrisamiller at 7:57 PM on April 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

ignore fourcheesemac and amro, artists have been asking and receiving sponsorship and patronage for hundreds of years. it doesn't matter how many people hate the idea of you getting money to work on your creative projects; you only need one really rich person or a big crowd willing to pitch in small amounts each to fund you. the latter is what kickstarter is built to enable, and lots of people have used it successfully to raise money to record albums, go on trips to take photographs, throw big parties, etc, but it only really works if you have some kind of creative history, a good project that you can justify asking to be sponsored for, and a following that will pony up the money.
posted by lia at 8:06 PM on April 13, 2010

I don't really understand the question, in that I don't really get why you think it may or may not be a good idea...

Will you get much money? I would suggest you will end up with under $100, unless you already have a blog etc with a truly devoted following.

Will it somehow hurt your future efforts at publishing and getting bought? I very much doubt it. I don't think publishers or buyers will care. It may help, but the kind of people donating money to you are the kind that would buy the book anyway.

Is it morally or ethically okay to ask for money? It's fine. People ask for money for all sorts of things every day. It's your conscience whether you decide to take it (you may feel obligated, for example, to definitely finish and publish the novel, and guilty if it's not accepted).

Will other people feel it's morally or ethically okay? Yes, no, and everything in between. But you know, if they don't like it they won't donate, no big deal.

I mean, personally speaking, I don't really feel the need to subsidise someone's (no offence intended) hobby. I have two charities, MSF and unicef, and the money I give them is helping save lives, so you know... Also, I kind of think the false dichotomy of "buying consumer shit = soulless, banal existence " vs. "giving money to struggling artist in garret (aka most people) = meaningful, worthy existence" is kind of a turn-off, but that's just me. I'm not outraged or anything, and I'm not, like, insulted by you asking for money.

Context: former freelancer, skated in and around publishing for several years.
posted by smoke at 8:10 PM on April 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

lots of people have used it successfully to raise money to record albums, go on trips to take photographs, throw big parties

Those are all things that require money. This doesn't.
posted by amro at 8:15 PM on April 13, 2010

I would rather help McDonald's. They can produce a product I want to buy. Patronage happens once an artist has demonstrated their ability to produce good work. You have to do that, consistently, before you can expect people to give you an advance on future work. There are untold numbers of people working on their first novel - objectively, I don't see what makes you special.
posted by Dasein at 8:15 PM on April 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

Is being "short-listed" an official designation, like an "honorable mention"? Otherwise, you haven't mentioned anything that should make you worry about getting "rich off donations".

Now if you had actually won an award...
posted by whiskeyspider at 8:17 PM on April 13, 2010

Various problems I can see:

1. If you're asking for money from people you know they could feel pressured and taken advantage of.

2. You'll fail to collect much if you frame it as "would you rather help McDonald's or a struggling writer." You should be begging for a favor and not looking for an argument by comparing your scenario to a transaction in which a person receives something for their "help," because the latter leads to:

3. "Why should I help a struggling writer write something I might not like?" or "What will you give me?" or "Tell me what the book's about before I give you money" or "I'll help you if you name a character after me" or "I want my money back, I didn't like the book." (Though these are more annoyances than problems.)

4. In the statistically unlikely event that you're the next J.K. Rowling, do you really want John and Jane Q. Public hiring lawyers to sue you for a percentage of your profits? They made it possible for you to write the book! You owe them your entire career! You would be nothing without the $2 Paypal they sent you! They're willing to file a lawsuit with only a snowball's chance in hell of success because, hey, maybe you'll settle for a nice chunk of change to get them to go away?

That being said, I don't the harm in trying so long as you're not asking people you know for money, which I think is the primary problem. If you are, the harm you'd incur would be to your relationships with those people, and maybe you're willing to risk that. I wouldn't be.
posted by sallybrown at 8:20 PM on April 13, 2010

I don't know the answer for you personally, but I can tell you that it seriously rubs me the wrong way when acquaintances or facebook "friends" or the like ask me for money to fund their non-emergency (or really, even emergency) expenses such as a pet that needs a vet, or a trip to somewhere, or an artistic project.

If a close friend calls me up and asks me one on one for some money, if I have it, I try to give. And when there's a social cause or organization that benefits more than one person, I try to contribute to that too. But a general call to the community to fund someone's financial desires just leaves me feeling icky.
posted by serazin at 8:30 PM on April 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

Might as well - what can it hurt? I don't know that I would give, but I'm sure some people would, and then would proudly say "I helped make that book!"

If you ask for money, I think you're morally obligated to finish the work, though.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 8:33 PM on April 13, 2010

Also forget the "McDonald's" angle. It sounds judgmental and is a big turn-off. Don't make it about guilting people into giving you money.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 8:34 PM on April 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

If a friend asked me about this, I would roll my eyes and probably respect them less. I know lots of people who pursue the arts in their spare time.

If you were a full-time student and not writing, you'd be paying your bills somehow. You're still going to be a student either way. So people reasonably expect that your bills will be paid the same way they would otherwise. Other than that, the expenses of writing are... nonexistent. Painters, etc, have to buy supplies. You evidently already own a computer.

Lots of people write novels all the time with no more than that. So what does this money buy you? It basically means somebody gives up their McDonald's money to give you McDonald's money. And that's where it stops being something people will be okay with.
posted by gracedissolved at 8:47 PM on April 13, 2010

If you started a blog or website which contained some of your stories, excerpts from your novel and notes about the writing process, I would be willing to press your PayPal button and make a small donation as thanks and encouragement. If I liked your work, that is. I don't imagine many people would be motivated to simply give you free money for a book you haven't written yet. And yeah, leave McDonalds out of it; at best it's irrelevant, and at worst it invites less flattering comparisons regarding where people should put their money. ("Would you rather fund polio vaccines for Somalian children, or pay a struggling writer to write?")
posted by embrangled at 8:51 PM on April 13, 2010

Potentially, you could end up writing with your audience in mind. The people who donated to you are people you want to please. You're thankful to them! So, you start writing for them and not for yourself. I have never read a book written for someone else that was worth reading. The only things worth reading are the ones where the author would have written it even if no one else would have read it. This feedback loop is not the best idea I have ever heard.
posted by stoneweaver at 8:53 PM on April 13, 2010

You might appreciate this article. If you have fans that are willing, why not?
posted by Nattie at 9:39 PM on April 13, 2010

There are grants here in Australia that give you money to basically sit and write, as well as plenty of writers residencies. I know of at least one person who used Kickstarter to fund a novel. If you can't get Kickstarter try RocketHub or IndieAGoGo.

I say go for it!
posted by divabat at 9:54 PM on April 13, 2010

Man, I haven't been to a McDonalds in years, but this thread is making me crave some McNuggets.

Uh, anyway. You could try putting some chapters online for people to read, to see if they like it. But otherwise. I think like 5% of the population has "a novel" in their heads, if not more.
posted by delmoi at 2:34 AM on April 14, 2010

Hi There:

I'm from the internet. I am writing a fictional multi-genre novel which I hope to have published. Please pay my living expenses for the rest of the year.

Really? I mean where do you start on this? Better yet, where do you finish?
posted by timsteil at 5:07 AM on April 14, 2010

You have the credentials of a writer, and most likely have more talent than 99% of people who use the internet to market their writing. But do you not think soliciting donations through a blog makes you sound a little.... amateur?

What would separate you from all of the people on the internet who have no talent, but seek a quick buck?

If it was a writer I was already a fan of, someone who I knew was good for their word and was really really struggling, then sure, i might kick in a few dollars. But someone who is essentially unpublished and is effectively working on their debut novel part-time - then no.

This comes down to the size and commitment of your established fanbase. If you have a good sized one (the '1000 true fan article' posted by Nattie is outstanding) then sure, but if not, you might need to suck it up, eat some ramen for a few months, and live the quintessential austere writer's existence.

Good luck.
posted by TheOtherGuy at 5:24 AM on April 14, 2010

You know, if you were sitting on the sidewalk with an upturned hat and a sign that said "Shortlisted For The NZ Nebula -- Please Help," I'd give you five bucks.

But a begging website? Ew.
posted by Sallyfur at 5:50 AM on April 14, 2010

I think smoke gets at the real issue here. The question is not "should I ask for online tips?" to which the answer is, do what you want; the question is "is there any point?", to which the answer is no because no one is going to give you money over the internet. You'd be better off trying to get a real grant or endowment from an institution rather than a bunch of people on the internet who won't give a toss.
posted by ninebelow at 5:57 AM on April 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

As a publisher, my first question would be "Will those same people spend more money to purchase the end product, the finished book?"

If you're looking to make enough to support yourself while writing but expect to get a book deal at the end of it and actually sell copies, this should be a big part of your consideration. If the publisher doesn't believe that you'll be able to sell any copies to the same people who gave you donations while writing, there is no audience for your book and so they won't publish it.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 6:54 AM on April 14, 2010

There are at least a couple of established writers I know of (Lawrence Watt-Evans, Tim Pratt) who have taken reader donations to fund books where their publishers have abandoned the series.

Things to consider:

1) These writers already had an established fanbase clamoring for continuation of the series in question.
2) The writers have posted chapters of the reader-funded books on line as they are written, giving the readers an immediate reward for their donations.
3) Both writers have offered tangible rewards to those readers who donated at certain levels. Watt-Evans self-published his books once they were finished and sent hard copies to readers who had donated a certain amount. Pratt offers tiered levels of rewards based on the donation amount.

If you have an established group of fans eagerly awaiting your novel, then you might want to look at how these two handled the situation. If not, then I really doubt you'll get anything from the attempt.
posted by tdismukes at 8:00 AM on April 14, 2010

If i saw a site like that i'd just think "what a loser" and steer clear of your book. I think it woudl damage your reputation as a serious writer.
posted by mary8nne at 8:19 AM on April 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

I earn money by producing something that someone else wants enough to pay me for it. If I saw a website suggesting that I should give my money to someone who may hypothetically in the future produce a product that someone might want (your hypothetical book) rather than to someone who produces a product I want right now (food), I'd say "get a job!"

In other words, if you are going to do this (and I think it's pretty tacky), definitely don't phrase it as some sort of soul-salvation for donors who would otherwise have fed their money into the fast food industry. Call it what it is: panhandling.
posted by decathecting at 8:26 AM on April 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

I am currently working on my first speculative (multi-genre) novel with the aim of having it finished by the end of the year. Is it a good idea to put up a sponsorship page where people can chip in to help me complete my goals?

I'm in the same position as you, more-or-less, and I've considered asking for paypal donations in exchange for something tangible. For example, I've considered posting the first few paragraphs of a short story in my blog, and asking for small (like $5) donations in exchange for the .pdf of the complete story. However, I also realize I'm unlikely to make much--or any--money off of a piece of speculative fiction writing. This isn't because people don't value the arts, necessarily, but because people can get short stories for free, all over the place, and, yes, prefer to spend their money on getting something tangible in return. And the way you're framing the question--"Ronald or The Arts" (love the capitalization, btw, makes it look quite important)--is off-putting. It implies that people are somehow deluded about the value of their spending habits.

If I saw such a page like the one you're suggesting, I'd be left with the following questions: how likely are my donations actually going to help this guy write and not go to, say, paying off his credit card bill or buying beer (if you have a specific goal--help me save up enough money for a new computer to write on!, or some such--this sounds a bit better)? Why can't he write a book while working full time, like the rest of us? How has he helped to support or promote other struggling artists, particularly when he's being all judgey-judgey about how I spend my money? Why does he deserve my money as opposed to, say, my favorite published authors, whose books I can buy instead and have a reasonable chance of loving?

Now, if a writer had already built some sort of other platform--giving writing advice, posting entertaining or informative blogs or vlogs (I think of John Green or the YA Highway)--with an active audience, I might feel differently about all of this. But in that case, I think you ask for money after you've already proven your value to your audience. A short-list isn't quite enough. Sorry.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:37 AM on April 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

Here's a better suggestion. Do like real writers and get a *job* at McDonalds, and then write about it.

Of course artists have patrons and ask for money. And then patrons own their art.
posted by fourcheesemac at 4:43 AM on April 15, 2010

This is a really tacky idea.
posted by naoko at 12:09 PM on April 18, 2010

To all the "this is tacky" people: how's this any different from the gazillions of other projects - including writing - that get highlighted and often fully funded on websites like Kickstarter?

(fwiw I can't even get a job at McDonalds, they and their ilk won't consider my app for some reason, so it's not always that easy to just "get a job".)
posted by divabat at 6:04 PM on April 18, 2010

« Older Oh the shame   |   Is this drug making me sick? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.