Wednesday, February 15, 2006
Project progress report
I don't have enough information yet to make a decision about writing The Big Meow, as I haven't yet hit the "break-even" point in terms of responses to my initial posting about the project. So far I've only heard from a few hundred people, and even if every one of them bought a book at the stated price, I'd still be losing money on the deal. As the project stands at present, I would need to hear positively from at least a couple/few hundred more people before I could commit.
-- And so that no one reading this misunderstands me: for costing purposes on this project -- without getting into actual figures -- I'm "paying myself" the lowest amount my agent would have allowed me to take for a work-for-hire/licensed-property book between three and five years ago, when I was still doing such things. This amount -- again, without getting into actual figures -- would be about one-fifth to one-sixth of what I normally get for a writing a novel these days. To do this very on-spec piece of work, I would be taking a considerable drop in pay while I spent a significant portion of my work year on the project -- so you can see where my concern lies, as I have cats to feed, and they don't understand explanations about wanting to write just for the joy of it: they want to know where their dinners are.
(An additional and slightly related issue: one of the ways I've been testing the water as regards self-publishing is with online sale of a book already written but never published elsewhere, though it was bought by mainline publishers twice -- details here at the website for Raetian Tales 1: A Wind from the South. The sales so far of the book's e-version have been only modest...and this for a novel already written. Looking at this situation, I have to ask myself whether The Big Meow is really likely to do any better, and whether I may be about to start wasting a lot of precious time on something that's just "a nice idea".)
...So if you know somebody who's interested in seeing this book written, or (looking over the heads of whose who've already mailed me) if you're yourself interested, now's the time to drop me a note and let me know. The original post laying out the situation with this book is here. The address to mail support or inquiries to is
If you haven't done so already, please let me know what you think.
Or you could, if you liked, convince me more concretely by putting money-where-mouth-is and buying a copy of A Wind from the South. (There are sample chapters and links to reader comments at its website.)
But I also want to thank very much all those who've already written -- so many of your comments have been really heartwarming -- and those who've read AWFTS and have been having fun with it. You guys make the work worthwhile. :)
I'd be willing to buy "The Big Meow", at anything under a hardback book price (even if I were getting an electronic copy only).
But I do have another idea that you might want to consider. It's actually comes from a friend of mine, Jesee Vincent, the author and
maintainer of RT, one of the most commonly used open source trouble ticket systems.
His idea was one which he brainstormed a couple of years ago, but unfortunately it never got off the ground, because I thought it had a lot of merit. It was called "Open Culture", and the tagline was, "Art wants to be free; artists want to be paid."
This is a takeoff on "information wants to be free" (where the idea is that if I have some bits and bytes, I don't lose anything by
sharing it with you). It's often used as a clarion call in the Open Source community (see this link for a fascinating etymological discussion on the phrase), and so the basic concept of "Open Culture" was to apply loosely, the goals of the "Open Source" movement, but with a business model which would allow artist to be able to feed their cats.
The way the business model worked was that you had an organization that artists would propose a particular work of art, such as "The Big Meow", and determine how much money they would like to get to complete the work. It might be based on how much money they would need to meet living expenses plus a decent profit booster; it might be calculated by their estimating the total amount of revenues they would get if they were to go the traditional publication route, reverse-amortized with some reasonable interest rate to a single up-front lump-sum payment. Obviously, an established author with an enthusiastic fan base would command a larger number here than a beginning artist, and so it would be up to the artist to make a determination about how much (in a lump sum) he or she thought the project might be worth.
The next step would be to see if his or her fan base agrees with that estimation. (grin) The proposal which would be offered to the fan
base would work as follows. The potential readers (or listeners for a composer or musician) would be asked to pledge money that would be paid upon completion of the project. This money would be paid to a trusted, non-profit organization (call it Open Culture) which would hold the money in trust until the project was completed. When the project is competed, the money would be paid to the artist (minus some low, fixed percentage that would be retained by Open Culture to meet its expenses), and the people who pledged money would be recognized in some way as "sponsors" of the project, and the work would get released under a Creative Commens licese for anyone to read and download.
There would be different levels of sponsorship established for a project (i.e., contributor through patron), and different levels might receive some kind of sweetner, such as a mug, or an autographed hardcopy version of the book/CD, etc.), and of course the list of sponsors and patrons would be recognized on the final result.
The basic idea here was to take the old model of how artists used to make a living --- by getting money from members of the nobility who acted their patrons, such as Mozart, Bach, and Da Vinci didi --- and democraticizing it via the Internet so that you can have a large number of people collectively being the patron of an artist, with a much lower overhead that what the traditional publishing and hardcopy retail route would entail.
Unfortunately, the idea of Open Culture never got off the ground, and the domain name has beeng grabbed for something else, but it might be neat for you to try an experiment where you asked for people to send in money, and in absense of an established 3rd party trustee to hold the money, I suspect your fans would trust you enough that if you promised to return the money if insufficent pledges were received by a certain date. Alternatively, if the that were to become an administrative nightmare (and it could well be), another possibility would be to promse to foward the monies to some worthy charity (such as the RSPCA/ASCPA) if the pledged amount was not reached by a particular date.
Anyway, just a thought; I think it would be really neat to explore alternate ways in which artists could be funded, so they could make their work available _and_ still make a decent living.
Personally, since my employer pays me fairly insane amounts of money for _my_ creative work (I'm a senior programmer with IBM's Linux Technology Center), I feel an obligation to support other creative artists, and so I'm the sort of person who has written a large check to a singer-songwriter who does self publishing just so that one of her CD's could be put back into print, since she couldn't afford manufacture another batch of a number her older CD's. Why? Because I like her music (insert plug for Heather Alexander: http://www.heatherlands.com) and want to support her vocation of bringing music that makes people happy into the world, and I feel that if I'm doing well in my work, I have an obligation to be a sponsor and a patron for those who have chosen a life that might not provide as much renumeration, but whose work is if anything probably more important in a spiritual or what-really-matters or what's-loved-survives Timeheart sense than anything I might be doing in my vocation.