It’s an exciting time to be an author or illustrator.
Sure, with bookstores closing, budget woes at schools and libraries, and flux at publishers, it can be an unsettling time to think about making a living in our field, but the good news is that change always means opportunity.
In fact, many of the same technologies that are roiling the business have made it so that it’s never been easier to get your work seen, to connect with your readers, and to interact with gatekeepers.
It’s in this ability to connect that I think authors and artists are going to be able to find new sources of money to help us do what we want to do most: create.
I just recently launched a project, Poetry: Spread the Word, which I view as an early experiment in trying to figure out how those of us writing or illustrating for kids/teens and our fans and supporters can work together.
One of the things that excites me a lot about this project is that it’s replicable by any artist with a platform, so I hope what I share here will inspire you to try something new, too.
My goal with Poetry: Spread the Word is to raise $5,000.
If I succeed, I’ll do 40 school visits over the next year, either virtually or in person. The visits will be free to the schools, because I’ll already have been paid. I also wanted to “buy” myself some time to write poems and keep them coming out for free on my blog.
I chose school visits for four reasons… and all of them are really about “value” – a word which I think will be at the heart of a lot of alternative financing.
First, I think kids gain a lot from having creative artists come into their classrooms, so it’s valuable for them. I also think that authors gain a lot from the experience (both from the interactions and from the fact that we often gain new fans), so there’s value in it for us.
I also know that times are getting tougher for teachers and librarians. While many schools still have budgets for traditional visits, when I was getting feedback about my project, there was a lot of enthusiasm for the idea of alternative funding for visits. This means that the idea has value for that community, too.
Finally, I believe that if I’m going to ask people for money, I should offer something of value to them in return. For me, this works two ways: I’m giving different items (poetry in many forms, recognition, critiques) to everyone who backs the project, and I hope that the act of providing kids with an author and poetry in the classroom will have value by itself.
Because I have built a platform online, I have the ability to make contact with the people I’m going to need for this project to work: my fans and supporters.
These are people who like my work or, in some cases I suppose, maybe just like me. In many cases, I have developed genuine relationships with them, online or off.
Regardless, they are folks who will support me and my project by tweeting it, putting it on Facebook, and by telling friends.
Some of the people who hear about Poetry: Spread the Word will fund it, too, and if things work right, enough people will back my project and I will do a dance of joy.
Now, I have no idea if I’ll hit my funding goal. Because I’m doing this at Kickstarter.com – which has a system already in place for this type of project – I need to be fully funded by my closing date or no one pays a cent and I get nothing, so I certainly hope I do get there.
Still, whether I succeed or not, the early results tell me that the idea is viable. Just like publishers pay us for our work (value!) and readers buy our books (they get value!), people are backing me because they get value, too.
From this early test run, I can imagine the possibilities for an author or illustrator more established than I am. They can offer signed books, short stories with new content about favorite characters, limited edition prints, or personalized drawings or stories.
In short, I think, the more fans you have… and the more of them you have access to… the more chances you have of giving value to get value in return.
Personally, I imagine a collective (a non-profit, since this is my imagination) of authors and artists raising money for school visits.
Fans will get great material in exchange for support. Librarians and teachers will know where to turn to get great visits when they can’t go more traditionally. And authors and artists will get paid to do what they love. It’s a win-win-win situation, and who doesn’t like those?
There are so many other ways we can be experimenting on our own and using tools like Kickstarter, too. Self-publishing is another area where folks are already trying new things, much as I’m exploring school visits.
No matter what, though, we need to try more to learn what works and what doesn’t. When it comes to finding these new opportunities, our imagination is the only limitation.