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Beth Cox Report: September 2013

Dear Loyal Readers, Authors, and Publishers,

Today I'd like to talk a little bit about Kickstarter (, the increasingly famous crowdfunding website.

The concept, if not the name of crowdfunding has existed in various endeavors throughout history. Something as simple as playing an instrument on the sidewalk with a hat to accept tips can be seen as crowdfunding one's musical career. Kickstarter started a commercial revolution with more than just the idea of "ask the general public to donate a few bucks to your project; if enough of them say yes then you'll have the money you need to make it real". They implemented the codified rules, requirements, and tools to make it possible - including the mandate to return all donated money to all backers if a project doesn't meet its stated minimum funding goal - packaged into a streamlined, easy-to-use website interface.

Of course, nothing is free, and Kickstarter takes a 5% fee from the raised money for its services... but only if the project is successfully funded! Kickstarter only lets people solicit backing for specific projects in concrete categories (Art, Comics, Dance, Design, Fashion, Film, Food, Games, Music, Photography, Publishing, Technology, and Theater as of this writing), not open-ended causes (charity or otherwise). In a stroke of purest wisdom, "Kickstarter cannot be used to offer financial returns or equity, or to solicit loans" (a quote from their FAQ), and the project creators retain complete ownership of their work. This tenet differentiates Kickstarter from fundraising through creating a company and selling stock, and also protects Kickstarter crowdfunding from the vagaries of today's financial market.

I first learned about Kickstarter through one of my favorite humor/fantasy webcomics, The Order of the Stick ( I was a backer of their drive to reprint old graphic novels and create new comic stories because, what can I say, I love the strip. And I wasn't the only one. Comic creator Rich Burlew raised well over one million dollars from his fans! (Only $10 of that was from me - I live on a budget. I received a sturdy refrigerator magnet as a backer reward). At the time, it was the most money raised by any creative work on Kickstarter, and Rich Burlew's stunning success turned heads.

Today, more and more small-scale authors and publishers are contemplating the idea of raising funds to create a book through Kickstarter. But is this truly a practical idea?

I'm not a Kickstarter expert by any means. But what little familiarity I do have (mostly from reading blogs by people who have successfully used it, or news about particularly spectacular Kickstarter failures) underscores that running a Kickstarter campaign is an immense amount of work. Getting publicity for one's crowdfunding campaign is crucial, and requires extensive preparation well before the project's 60 days of Kickstarter time begins. The "reward tiers" that backers crave had better be limited to digitally distributed prizes unless they're for very large amounts of money, or else simple shipping fees - not to mention the sheer man-hours of labor required to mail out so many items - will eclipse the raised funds.

Furthermore, most if not all fiction books don't really need a Kickstarter; the prospective author's time is better spent writing, reading, researching, or experiencing life in search of inspiration. The books that need Kickstarter the most are nonfiction ones that may require expensive technical expertise to be properly completed.

One example I'll give is a book project called "The Untold History of Japanese Developers", which successfully completed its funding in June. British journalist and author John Szczepaniak had the extensive credentials to support his ambitious endeavor: to travel to Japan, interview Japanese video game developers, and collect their little-known true stories into a single treasury for anyone and everyone who wants to learn more about the Japanese history of video gaming. Most of his funds were required not for travel expenses (which he planned to keep as cheap as possible), but to hire professional Japanese-English interpreters. One of the key selling points of his campaign was that 20 different Japanese game developers had already agreed to be interviewed before he started the Kickstarter - an act of preparation that was undoubtedly critical to his success.

My advice to nascent and aspiring authors is to start small. Get a track record of published books or ebooks first (writing and publishing fiction ebooks can be done completely from your home computer, with almost no monetary investment)! But if you achieve enough success that your literary or nonfiction ambitions begin to exceed the scope of your available funds and resources, Kickstarter could be a valuable option. October's Link of the Month is Crowdfunding Dojo,

a website entirely devoted to tips, tricks, techniques, articles and advice for making Kickstarter work for you!

I'll make a brief, final note that Kickstarter is not unique; there are other crowdfunding websites, and sometimes individual creators attempt to pursue their own crowdfunding campaign without Kickstarter. These websites don't have Kickstarter's name recognition or reputation for professional ethics (yet), so I won't list them here - I honestly don't know enough about them to say any more, positive or negative. As always, beware of scams and scam artists!

Now for the Review of the Month. This one's a preview from the October Children's Bookwatch:

Draw Out the Story
Brian McLachlan
Owlkids Books Inc.
10 Lower Spadina Avenue, Suite 400
Toronto, Ontario, Canada, M5V 2Z2
9781771470032 $9.95

Writer, artist, and cartoonist Brian McLachlan presents Draw Out the Story: Ten Secrets to Creating Your Own Comics is a basic how-to cartooning and comic creation guide; although aimed at young adults, its solid advice will benefit aspiring cartoonists and comic makers of all ages and backgrounds. The chapters are packed with tips, tricks, and techniques for effectively telling stories through the marriage of words and pictures, with colorfully illustrated examples. "Photographs give us a complete picture - all the details. Icons give us the bare bones - the simplest way of showing something. Those are two extremes. In between them is an area called 'cartoony'. Instead of having all the details or none of them, you have some of them. Which ones? Choosing wisely is essential because it's often the details that tell your reader what's important in a story." An accessible, user-friendly resource and font of inspiration, Draw Out the Story is a worthy companion volume to classic how-to guides such as Scott McCloud's "Making Comics", highly recommended especially for budding young artists and children's or teen library collections.

There are a wealth of quality instructional books out there for individuals who want to try their hand at cartooning or creating comics; I was personally enthralled by a history, study, and how-to trilogy by comic writer/artist Scott McCloud: "Understanding Comics", "Reinventing Comics", and "Making Comics". But talented young cartoonists might find such thick and sometimes technical volumes a little intimidating. Draw Out The Story appeals to readers of all ages and backgrounds, and is as accessible as can be!

That's all for the September 2013 Beth Cox Report. Stay safe!

Bethany Cox
Managing Editor
The Midwest Book Review

James A. Cox
Midwest Book Review
278 Orchard Drive
Oregon, WI 53575-1129
phone: 1-608-835-7937

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