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Kickstarter is a crowdsourcing site based in Brooklyn, NY. You can find it at www.kickstarter.com. The company currently employs a staff of 78 people. The site allows creators to seek crowd funding for projects in the following categories:

Kickstarter staff approve all projects before they're posted and require that projects (1) be creative in some way, and (2) have a specific, finite goal: a book, a play, a widget of some sort, for instance. The site disallows projects that simply raise funds for causes without a tangible goal, and it also prohibits creators from offering rewards to backers that are not something they themselves helped create. They also prohibit projects to create or which offer as rewards alcohol, genetically-modified organisms, tobacco, drugs, porn, raffles, weapons, cosmetics, medical devices, eyewear, and self-help books (the latter prohibition happened after Kickstarter received bad press for allowing a "seduction guide" that many saw as a thinly veiled handbook on how to rape people).

To date, 58,110 Kickstarter projects have raised over $1,028,940,076. I've participated in a handful of them, usually as a contributor to a Kickstarted anthology, but also as the author of a Kickstarted novel. Most of the projects I've been involved with have successfully reached their funding goals.

If you are a creator who is thinking of using Kickstarter to fund your project, here are a few general bits of advice:

  1. Make sure that you've backed a decent number of projects via Kickstarter before you launch your own. It looks bad to put a project out there if you haven't backed anybody else's.
  2. It's important to have a video, but bear in mind that many people will watch at most a minute of it.
  3. Ask for only what you need; smaller sums are easier to meet, and you can add stretch goals later.
  4. You'll have to spend time promoting your Kickstarter on social media. Maybe a lot of time. I've participated in six Kickstarters so far, and for a couple that were slow to fund, I had to get out and push a lot harder than I expected to.
  5. Encourage your friends and friendly acquaintances to help spread the word.

Within the writing community, I've heard some people voice concerns about crowdfunding. Specifically, I keep hearing variants of these questions:

"What happened to the publisher being responsible for a book's production costs? These Kickstarter publishers are expecting their audience to pay to produce a book and to buy it?"

In my novel Kickstarter (and most book Kickstarters that I've seen) you are getting the book, along with other perks (such as your name listed as a backer in the book, or a tuckerization, etc.) Yes, you have the option of just chipping in a buck or two because you feel like it, but all the other tiers involve getting a copy of the book, and in some cases several other titles as well.

Also, readers always ultimately pay for the cost of a book -- that's how the publishing business works. Yes, there are some publishers that just fund everything out of pocket without attempting to recoup production costs from the people who are buying the books … but those publishers tend not to last very long!

So, from my perspective, this isn't very different from a publisher taking pre-orders for a limited edition, which "traditional" small- and middle-size publishing has been doing forever.

The old model was that the publisher would make a hopefully-educated guess at how many people would want to buy a book, price out the cost of each individual book based on that estimate, then start taking pre-orders and use the money from the pre-orders to fund the production of the book.

The crowdfunding model is just an update on that; one big difference is that now it's tied in with social media and people can be public about what they've backed if they choose to. The other big difference is that it takes a lot of the guesswork about the size of your book's audience out of the equation.

"What about publishers who put up Kickstarters and then just take the money and use it for something else instead of paying authors or producing books?"

Crowdfunding isn't special there, either; there's a long history of those kinds of shenanigans in traditional publishing, too. A long, long history. Ask around about how many authors got stiffed by Dorchester, for instance, or ask about the demise of Night Shade Books. Both used traditional publishing techniques and had good reputations for a while. Money disappeared nonetheless.

So, does it pay to take a closer look at who you're dealing with before you give them your work or money? Absolutely. But that goes for every situation, not just crowdfunding. If you're considering backing a project, look at the creator(s) first: what have they produced? What are people saying about them on the web? Do they have a website with a stated crowdfunding policy? While well-intentioned, experienced people can still make a mess of things, seeking out answers to those questions should prevent you from inadvertently involving yourself in a scam.

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