When Niki Tulk couldn't find a publisher for her book, she used the experience she'd gained as an indie music producer to create a Kickstarter campaign--and it exceeded her wildest expectations.
You have the novel, you have the agent, you are even shortlisted for a major award for an unpublished manuscript--but still no publisher wants to take a risk on your work.
This was the situation I faced after trying to garner the support of a publisher for my debut novel, Shadows & Wings. So,what to do? I had already been giving out copies to friends, who wanted copies for their friends, and I kept being asked, “When is this being published so we can buy copies for people?” It started to get embarrassing to keep up an uber-cheerful “Soon!”
To make things worse, each publisher returned the MS with a different suggestion. “Make it commercial women’s fiction and we’ll take it!” said one. “Drop the male lead,” said another. “Lose the female, make it all about the grandfather!” said another. If all, or even most, of the publishers had said something even slightly similar, we may have been onto a revision. But alas, the many different responses left me first confused, then clearer as to the need to trust my own voice and vision for the work. Meanwhile, my small book community grew.
My partner and I ran an indie, non-profit record label and artist management organization for several years, and we had always been very hands-on at every stage of an artist’s career--from co-writing and session musician work to photo shoots, and creating and managing press campaigns and national tours. We had always stressed to our artists that hype had to be about something; and that something needed to be grassroots-grown in order to be sustainable. We advised them to always to out there and create genuine community, fans who want the monthly email, who come to gigs, and who turn up for ice cream on a Twitter prompt. Art, we have always felt, should come from community.
So when the publishing houses kept turning my novel down, and yet I had my own circles responding positively, we had the idea to do with my novel what we had done with music.
That’s where Kickstarter came in. The challenge was: If I prepared the project’s pitch well, allowing people to download samples and hear the journey and political context through a short video, would we get enough people on board to publish? It was very scary, because I found it hard to believe that folks outside my immediate circle would be interested, but I really wanted to see if it were possible to find a core audience first, and then publish for them, rather than publishing the work and then finding a market.
Because it is my first novel, I also wanted to think longer-term and begin the writer’s journey with a community that I can hopefully then count in on future work, a community within which I can then share in others’ artistic journeys. Essentially, I see being a writer as another way of facilitating (and initiating) important and creative conversations among readers and fellow artists.
And over the Kickstarter campaign, this sort of dialogue began to happen. I got messages and questions from others who were inspired by the idea, wanted to find out more about commercial vs. artistic interests in publishing--the debate of art vs. commodity raged!
We burst through the funding goal, and we are ecstatic, because I know that a huge reason why people funded this project was to support the idea of independent artists and author self-empowerment. In other words, this campaign was a much larger concern than just my book; which is what I wanted it to be. I hoped people would begin to think critically about the process by which work is brought to them, or kept from them, to ask questions and to celebrate the range of places that new voices emerge from.
I hope now that should I become published traditionally in the future, I will have more to bring to the promotions table, and will see any such arrangement with a publisher as a partnership, not author-as-consumer-of-publisher-resources. This again echoes my experience in indie music, where what we strived to do as a label was give wings to our artists so that we ended up supporting their efforts to run their careers, rather than being burdened by a lack of drive and commitment to really owning the whole process.
You can learn more about Niki and her project at www.nikitulk.com.