There was a time when publishing a book was all about agents, contracts and the negotiation of advances. Then, as now, publishing was an expensive enterprise that required an investment, and that investment was found at a publisher. Of course now the shifting emphasis from paper to electronic publishing has opened up a new way of thinking about how a book might be made, but there is another equally interesting form of publishing underway, that often brings us traditional ink-and-paper books, but through new-world means: crowd funding.
Anyone interested in modern art should be keeping an eye on websites like Kickstarter, Pozible and Indiegogo. In the last few years these websites have become absolutely central to a new kind of creation model in which the artist is king, and as such artists from all tiers of fame have been giving it a try. I have been delighted by the results of the projects I have crowd funded. Although I've given my money across multiple mediums, the publishing offerings have been notably beautiful - on the shelf they are indistinguishable from books I've been sent by mainstream publishers.
So how does it work? Crowd funding has a very simple premise: the creator makes an argument for the product that they wish to create, explaining the time-frame that they plan to make it in, and offering a comprehensive levelling system through which patrons might "opt-in." These start at the very simple, such as a small-change contribution getting you a tweet of thanks, through to copies of the product signed, and then at a much higher tier, dinner with the author when they next visit your area. If a minimum amount of "pledges" are gained, the product is created, and many offer "stretch goals," so that as the product makes more money, its quality increases. One of the nice aspects of this system is that the artist is more connected to his/her audience. Many projects I have funded have offered the patrons the opportunity to comment upon designs and aspects of the finished product, with regular email updates explaining how things are going.
Eventually, the product is sent out to all of the people who have supported it, and then it often enters the traditional market as well. The advantage of attaching yourself to it early is that you get opportunities the general public won't have; signed copies or additional trinkets that are sent out with the product. Occasionally I have pledged at a level that allowed me to be listed in the acknowledgements section of a book; you can imagine what this might mean as a gift… though you do need to be careful and make sure you know how far away the product is. It will likely take months to make.
I don't necessarily recommend that writers approach crowd funding in preference to traditional publishing houses. In many cases, to allow funding to reach its goal, a level of public support is required prior to beginning a project. That said, as a book collector and a person who enjoys supporting artists (and being more involved in the process of them creating their art), I think crowd funding represents a remarkable opportunity to engage with writers, illustrators and creators of all kinds.
In fact, it may not even be that new. Mozart, after all, was visiting subscribers in the 18th Century and offering them services in exchange for an outlay of funds: concert tickets and copies of concertos now replaced by ebooks and dedicated YouTube videos. An old art has been digitised and globalised. The world is calling out with great ideas. If we listen, we can be a part of them.
Where to start: