12 for ’12: Kickstarting Advances

Since we’re just about to wrap up the last 12 for ’12 drive this Sunday, I thought it would be a good idea to explain some of my thinking behind it when I started out, and why I wound up using Kickstarter for it.

Last year, I had this insane idea to write a dozen novels this year, a plan I called 12 for ’12. I’d had fifteen novels released by major publishers at the time, but I wanted to self-publish these books for a couple of reasons.

First, the chances of finding a publisher interested in taking a dozen novels a year from anyone but James Patterson is nearly nil. Most of them just aren’t willing to swallow that kind of volume.

Second, I saw a number of my author friends making decent money by self-publishing their backlists as ebooks. That seemed like a wonderful thing to me, but since I’d started writing novels more recently — and had written many of my books as tie-in novels for games like Dungeons & Dragons and Guild Wars — I didn’t have a backlog of out-of-print books that would ever revert to me. Writing a dozen novels fast promised to provide me with the necessary critical mass of books to sell.

I’m a fast enough writer to pull such a feat off (or so I hope — I’m still in the middle of it), but I couldn’t just drop everything I was doing and take a year off to write, so I looked for ways to hedge my bets. I made the novels 50,000 words each, as opposed to the standard 80,000 most books clock in at nowadays (or up to twice that for second-world fantasy doorstops). This is still a novel-length work, as defined by most literary awards, but it’s a bit more manageable. It’s also, not coincidentally, the target that those who participate in National Novel Writing Month shoot for too.

The real trick, though, was figuring out how I could possibly afford to spend a year writing novels. When you write novels for a publisher, the contract usually comes with a lump-sum advance against the royalties they expect to have to pay you. Self-publishing doesn’t come with a dime, and the only thing you get in advance are aspirations you hope won’t get crushed straight out the gate.

With five school-age kids to help feed — a set of ten-year-old quadruplets and a fast-growing thirteen-year-old — I couldn’t just forgo a year’s worth of income. Starving puts a real crimp in your writing speed.

But then Kickstarter came along.

Kickstarter is the most popular example around of a crowdfunding platform. You come up with an idea for a creative project, what you think it will cost, and a deadline for your crowdfunding drive. Then you post your plan on a page on the Kickstarter website, along with a schedule of rewards for those brave souls willing to step up and declare their belief in your idea with pledges of financial backing. If you hit your goal before the deadline, everyone’s credit card gets charged, and you’re off and running. If you fail, no one’s out a dime.

This, I realized, was the missing piece of the 12 for ’12 plan. With Kickstarter, I could replace the advance for me, guaranteeing me a certain level of financial support for the project before I even started writing. And if it turned out to be a bad idea — one that not enough people believed in to make it worthwhile — I could walk away having lost only a bit of my time.

So I gave it a shot. I decided to break the dozen novels up into trilogies and run a separate Kickstarter for each of them. The first one launched in November of 2011, and it brought in over $13,000, which put it in Kickstarter’s top ten fiction drives ever at the time. I considered it a huge success and set to work.

The second drive brought in just a little under that, which worried me for a bit. I decided to put everything I had into the third drive, and that gathered over $18,000, which set my head spinning.

So far, I’ve written and published four of the dozen novels, and I’m hard at work on the rest. I try to give each book the time it needs for revisions and edits — over and above the allotted month of writing the first draft — and I’m happy to report they’ve all gotten excellent reviews so far.

I’m reaching the end of the fourth Kickstarter now, for a trilogy of young adult fantasy novels called Monster Academy. These are set in a nation in which the good king decides that killing young monsters who haven’t hurt anyone — yet — is wrong, so he sets up a reform school for them instead. We hit the minimum funding goal of $10,000 early Saturday morning, and we’re in the final push until the deadline this Sunday, September 16.

While I’m grateful to Kickstarter for being there to help make that happen, the real credit goes not to the platform or even to me. It belongs to the people willing to step up and take a chance on this crazy plan of mine, not just with words of support but the dollars to make it happen. Thanks to all of them for being so brave.

After this final 12 for ’12 Kickstarter ends, it’s nothing but writing until the end of the year for me, racing against the calendar and the clock to deliver fun and fast-paced stories to the people who believe not only in them but me as well. And for a working writer, what could be better than that?