I've never met Chuck.
I live in London, he lives somewhere in America.
I'm a bit sketchy on the precise details of exactly where he claims to live, but that's okay and, regardless of this shocking lack of personal information, I recently decided I'd enjoy the opportunity to give Chuck some of my money.
Not much money you understand, but bear in mind the cash in question was for a book Chuck was, up until that point, only thinking about writing.
So, no actual words yet, let alone a dead tree product or even a digital copy for me to show people - but Chuck promised he was thinking about this book hard, and he was thinking it would be a very good book indeed.
In fact for a few dollars more, would I like to get myself both a digital copy to have right away and also a nicely signed print version that would arrive a bit later and maybe even a postcard with a little thank you?
What would you do?
Bait Dog was a Kickstarter project. Chuck's first venture onto the platform and my first time backing a project on the site, so I like to think both of us were a little nervous about the experiment, and also extremely curious to see where it would lead.
I came to Kickstarter kind of by accident and sort of looking for ideas around the new models many writers had started using to reach out to their readers as well as the concept that maybe the writers and readers of genre fictions - science fiction, fantasy, crime and horror - were perhaps best placed to make these new ventures work given the pre-existing conditions of an often healthy, engaged and proactive fanbase coupled with an (entirely clichéd but sort of true) fondness for those fans to spend lots of time surfing the internet. Let's just call them the Geek Dollar for now.
As author and Cyberpunk icon William Gibson says, "The future's already here, it's just not evenly distributed," and I admit I was rather taken with the idea that maybe the oft critically ignored genres might help point the way for the future of the entire publishing industry.
As Chuck himself put it: "Culturally, artists are used to being on the stage and then leaping off to an engaged crowd as they body-surf you around. But the ground is shifting; the winds are changing. The audience is gaining importance and the artist is -- well, I don't want to say "losing" it, but certainly an equilibrium is on its way. Kickstarter allows you to crowd-surf *to* the stage as opposed to from it -- the audience will carry you as far as their interest demands. If they don't want you or your work on that stage, then it won't make it. I thought it was time to see if I deserved to be on stage."
I found the Bait Dog Kickstarter in precisely the way we find so many things on the internet - the happy serendipity of the random retweet. After that though I started to investigate the site in more detail and found any number of languishing book projects from hopeful authors, so what made Chuck consider throwing his hat in the ring and risk a very public failure?
"I knew I had an audience from Shotgun Gravy, the first Atlanta Burns novella. But I had no idea if that audience was engaged enough to see Atlanta Burns in a bigger, more robust story -- in this case, a novel. I'd not yet self-published a novel, and while I've had some success with my "traditionally-published" works, I wasn't sure how strong my entry would be into the DIY/indie space."
Indeed while the risk of failure is high, surely this is as true for any creative project, and in fact the reverse can often be true
"Kickstarter mitigates some of my risk, meaning, I know I won't take the time to write this project (when I could be writing other things) if I don't already have an interested audience. And as it turned out, I had an interested audience -- I hit 100% of my funding within 10 hours of a 30+ day project."
Kickstarter is clearly no easy fix for self-publishers - the abundance of languishing vampire romance titles failing to kick off is proof of this - but given the right story hook, some fun bonus incentives for your most avid readers and a little authorial chutzpah it seems the platform is one further way of flattening the relationship an author can have with their readership and, most interestingly, the start of a dialogue around the ultimate authors question: What should I write next?
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