Monday, March 11, 2013

Interview with Tobias Buckell: Kickstarter Success Story and More!

I usually do these interviews on Community Fridays, but running the Kickstarter project has messed a bit with my schedule. So here ya go, a special Community Monday interview! Community is great, so what's wrong with having another day of it?

Today's interview is with Tobias Buckell. I originally contacted him to learn more about his thoughts on using Kickstarter to fund his novel The Apocalypse Ocean, but I learned a lot of other interesting stuff about him in the process. For example, it turns out that he's had TWO successful Kickstarter projects, and that he's taking the interesting hybrid approach (more and more common these days) of combining crowdfunding and traditional publishing.

Find information about his Kickstarter projects here and here, and don't forget to stop by his website and follow him on Twitter!

You departed from the world of traditional publishing to self-publish Apocalypse Ocean. Why?

I sat down with my editor to talk about how my book series had been doing up to that point, and what we felt the chances were for book four. We both felt that while sales would hold steady, due to bookstore orders decreasing with each book and sales online ticking up to match it, I was sort of stuck where I was with only tiny growth in readership from book to book. So we decided to stop doing the series and start fresh with a book, that just came out recently, called Arctic Rising. Near future instead of far future adventure. But as time ticked past core readers and fans of the first series kept asking if I'd continue writing the two books I'd planned to wrap it all up. After a while, I started eyeing the idea of crowdfunding the book, as I'd know then before I started it whether I'd gotten enough readers on board to make it a doable project.

Thoughts on self vs. traditional publishing?

Lots of people seem to treat it as an either/or proposition or a religion. The question has always been: what gets you that mix of readership and income that's best for you? In the past self publishing hasn't been a readily reliable way, the successes outliers. Technology and distribution systems have changed, and now self publishing is an option on the table for a writer.

How did you set your Kickstarter funding goal?

I looked at how much it would cost to print the books, the size of my audience, and roughly how much I needed in order to not starve or harm my family while writing the book. I also compared the amount to an average starter book advance. But primarily, I wanted at least enough money from it to replace 4-5 month's of part time freelance work that I was going to be giving up to work on this book around my other projects.

You had a pre-established platform going into your Kickstarter. What do you think of first-time authors going this route?

I think a successful Kickstarter is a mixture of three factors: the cool factor (the intrinsic description of what the project is going to be), your audience factor (how many people 'follow' you, both as consumers of what you put out and your various online networks) and the can-this-person-deliver factor. You really need to have strength in two of those three, I think, to do well. Lacking two is a killer. I've seen single strength Kickstarters of all of the above fail, though occasionally a cool factor will overcome all. So for a first-time author, who normally doesn't have a large audience (being a first timer) and hasn't proven that they can deliver, they're almost entirely banking on a single leg (is this cool?). That's a large river to cross.

How big a part did media play in your success?

I was lucky enough I have a large reach, and 14 months ago the whole idea of a Kickstarter was new enough I generated some coverage by people saying 'here's someone doing something new.' My success has probably been overshadowed by some fairly epic success stories since then, I imagine it would be harder for me to get that signal boost this time around. Since then a number of people have recruited me to talk to them about crowdfunding, which has actually been the bigger boost in attention. Though I turned down a ton of requests to talk right after the successful funding because I had a novel to write. A few interviews never came out because the people found out I was still going to do a traditionally published novel as well. There's this 'fight the man' narrative that everyone drops a template on if they can and I wasn't really fitting it, as I viewed it as a cool new tool that could really help writers, particularly mid-career ones like me, in certain situations.

Were there any "stand out" events/actions that gave your project a big boost?

It was a slow burn, to be honest. I got linked to via Boing Boing, but because my reward levels were very high and it was for a fourth book in a series, people encountering the project for the first time were pretty hesitant about chipping in without having read the first three books. I can't blame them.

Lastly, can you name one writer, editor, publisher, etc. who's doing great things right now, and why?

If we're talking new business models, fish in the water of the web, you need to be reading Chuck Wendig. He's out there selling books to publishers, using Kickstarter, selling books directly as eBooks, and being amusing as hell on his blog. If he's not in your information stream you're missing out on a writer's business model to watch, a great writer, and a lot of entertainment.

Enjoyed reading about Tobias?  His website and Twitter account are just a click away!
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