Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Alex Shvartsman Talks Crowdfunding!

According to a recent report by Massolution,** a crowdfunding research firm, approximately 5.1 billion dollars was generated worldwide through crowdfunding in 2013. That’s almost double the amount raised in 2012. Crowdfunding is a huge industry and is expected to grow even larger over the next decade.  What does this mean for writers? We all know the publishing industry is changing.  Is crowdfunding an option writers should consider?  I talked to Write1Sub1’s own Alex Shvartsman to find out what he thinks. 
Alex is a short story writer, game designer, and editor. He’s successfully funded four Kickstarter projects and is in the midst of his fifth campaign.  He generously agreed to answer a few questions for us here at W1S1.  His answers may surprise you.

W1S1:  How did you first get involved in crowdfunding, and what drew you to the industry?
I became involved with Kickstarter projects very early on, by helping a few of my friends in the gaming industry to launch their board games. Like any skill, creating and running a crowdfunding campaign is something you gradually become better at. With every campaign I was involved in I picked up new tricks and experimented with new ideas. Before I ran my own campaign, I'd already helped raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for other projects. These days I'm happy to lend a hand to friends' projects, and have been hired on as a paid consultant on some larger campaigns.

W1S1:  Everyone from inventors to musicians are crowdfunding their ideas. Why would a writer choose this option to fund his book project? What benefits are there?
Short story collections are very difficult to sell to professional publishers, even if you are a well-recognized, award-winning author well beyond my own meager level of notoriety. I could have gone with another small publisher, but then I'd just be paying them to do the business side of things -- and that's the side I feel I'm really good at! I can work directly with the cover artist, copy-editor, graphics designer, offset printer, and various retailers and distributors. This isn't the right course of action for every writer--many folks would rather just write their next book and let someone else do all this other work and accept a smaller cut of the profits. But I'm a hands-on kind of guy.

Much of what I said above applies to self-publishing even more so than it does to crowdfunding. The argument of whether self-publishing is better than traditional publishing is invalid. Both are fine strategies, and each writer must determine the path that best suits their career plan and level of comfort.

In terms of crowdfunding, I feel like it's the best way to gauge the level of interest in the book. So far that has tracked for all the book projects I've been involved with -- ones that have a difficult time funding on Kickstarter or IndieGoGo will also have a hard time selling afterward. It's a great proof of concept strategy.

W1S1: You’re currently crowdfunding a new anthology. Tell us about the project and what you hope to accomplish with it.
This is not entirely accurate. An anthology is a bunch of stories by various authors collected in a single book. A collection is a bunch of stories by a single author.

W1S1:  Thanks, Alex. Always best to get the terminology correct! Go ahead and tell us about your collection. :)
Over the course of the last four years I've sold over seventy stories to all kinds of magazines, web sites, and anthologies. I really wanted to collect the best of those stories together (because while I have copies of all these wonderful publications I've been a part of, I dearly want a book of my own!). So I decided to put together this collection, where the physical book will contain the best of my stories to date, while the e-book will also have everything else. Everything that's been published and had its rights reverted by February of 2015, which is the release date for "Explaining Cthulhu to Grandma and Other Stories."

So far it is going really great -- the book reached full funding in under four days, and broke 150% in two weeks. We're on to stretch goals, the most exciting of which is the audio version of the book narrated by the 2012 Parsec Award winner Tina Connolly.

Honestly, the best way to learn about the project is to read the page on Kickstarter itself. If what I wrote there won't convince you to take a chance on my book, nothing I can add here will. :)

W1S1:  In the past, your crowdfunding projects have been multi-author anthologies. This time you’ve gone in a different direction, compiling a collection of your own stories. How has this experience been different for you?
On one hand, it's a lot cheaper. I don't have to pay authors, or read slush, or deal with too much copy-editing (since most of the stories have gone through that process when they were first published.) On the other hand, I don't have the luxury of convincing people to buy a book full of stories by amazing, famous writers. It's just me. I'm very gratified that the campaign has done as well as it has so far. But I also feel like I'm putting even more work into it, which is fine by me. Kickstarter is fun!

W1S1:  Kickstarter is well-known for its backer reward system. What rewards are you offering to your backers?
Books, first and foremost. Because we've reached the first stretch goal already, every backer who pledges $10 or more will receive not only an e-book of my collection, but also e-books of Dark Expanse: Surviving the Collapse and Coffee: 14 Caffeinated Tales of the Fantastic anthologies that I edited. That's a bargain! A few more bucks will get you a paper copy of the book. At higher levels there are story critiques, tuckerizations (the backer's name used in one of my stories) and even a chance for a sneak look at the first act of my novel-in-progress.

But mostly, it's books. If you are someone who is likely to back a crowdfunding campaign for a book, that's what you're going to want.

W1S1:  Before you go, could you share some advice for writers who might be considering crowdfunding in the future? 
* Assess whether self-publishing is for you. If you're the kind of author who isn't business-savvy and would rather write than deal with invoices, contract negotiations, etc. it may not be.
* Know what you're signing up for -- running a good crowdfunding campaign takes many hours of work.

* Understand that the vast majority of your backers will be your friends and friends of your friends. Some people might find you via the platform itself, but in most cases you have to do all the promotional work yourself. Money won't magically land at your feet.
* Understand and account for all of your costs. Many campaigns are sunk by the shipping costs, or the poorly estimated costs of producing some of the rewards, let alone the time necessary to fulfill them.
* Study campaigns similar to the one you're about to launch. Look for what worked for them and what hadn't. Check which rewards their backers tended to select.
* Get feedback from people who have done this already.
* Get your copy of "Explaining Cthulhu to Grandma and Other Stories" on Kickstarter now. It won't help you run a successful crowdfunding campaign, but you'll have fun reading it anyway!

W1S1:  Alex, thank you so much for sharing all this great information with us, We wish you the best with Explaining Cthulhu to Grandma and Other Stories.  Keep up with Alex at his website: To find out more about his Kickstarter campaign (and to contribute), go to:

**For an incredible graphic that reveals even more crowdfunding data, follow this link:

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