08 January 2015


Kickstarter pays for groceries.

The last day or two has been full of debate about this fact, but fact it is.  Yes, on the surface Kickstarter is a way of crowdfunding arty projects - for buying paint, or cover art, or renting theatre space or what-have-you.

But pigments pay for the groceries of pigment manufacturers.  Cover art pays for the groceries of artists.  Theatre space pays for the groceries of the theatre owner, and also the construction guys who built the place, and way too many other people to list.

The reason I'm talking about this at all, as some of you have probably already guessed, is because there's been some debate over whether Kickstarter should pay for the groceries of writers.  [And whether anyone should support Kickstarters at all because there's no guarantee you'll get the product you're funding.]

This was sparked by one particular author starting a Kickstarter to fund her next book, and listing her living expenses as one of the things the Kickstarter was paying for.  Met with a debate over whether Kickstarters should only cover "production costs" of such a book, and whether the time spent actually writing the book counts as a production cost, the author promptly took the Kickstarter down.

After that she wrote a blog apologising, with an addendum about the vitriolic nature of the YA world/internet, and from there debate has raged into the usual talk about "bullying" and "entitlement" and all the things these dramas usually touch on.  [There were some problems with the wording of one of the rewards of the Kickstarter, and I feel that the words bullying and vitriol are thrown around way too quickly when what's happened is more like "push back".]

I usually stay out of internet dramas (because I don't have the energy, am not directly involved, or am supposed to be writing), but in this particular case my feelings are strong, and so I thought I'd share my opinions of Kickstarters.

First, would I ever run a Kickstarter so I could write full time?  Not very likely, since:

1. I would feel totally stressed about then writing the book.
2. I would probably just play computer games all the time and then feel stressed AND guilty.
3. I don't think many Kickstarter backers would want to pay me the hourly rate of my day job.

So I write on the train in the morning, and usually feel too tired in the afternoon and my readers wait a year or so for each of my books.  However, I fully support other people running Kickstarters so I can get the things they want to make.

The first Kickstarter I helped fund was the DoubleFine Adventure game called "Broken Age" - or "Broken In Half Age" as the developers promptly overran their budget and have so far delivered only half the game.  I'm pretty sure the first thing those Kickstarter funds went to was champagne.  I'm still happy I funded it, and am confident I'll get the rest of the game.  One day.

Another Kickstarter I funded was "Put a TARDIS in space!".  That little blue box still isn't up there, and the Kickstarter organisers post occasionally apologising because the satellite launch people keep pushing back the launch date.  I'm still highly entertained by the idea of a TARDIS in space, and will sit back and wait for it to get up there.

I've supported at least three books on Kickstarter, and have received all but one of them.  The last was a bit delayed (though not nearly as delayed as Diane Duane's several years overrun early experiment in crowdfunding), and I'm confident I'll get it.

Probably one day I will back a project where the organiser takes the money and runs.  I understand how the model works.  I'll be annoyed, but it won't stop me backing Kickstarters.  I'll continue to support Kickstarters for books I particularly want, whether they've been already written, or are still a gleam in the author's eye because - while the people who run Kickstarters seem to chronically underfund the cost of their own time - their time is just as much of a production cost as anything else in those Kickstarters.  And the time of people who write books, just like satellite launch companies, and computer programmers, eventually translates to groceries.

"Groceries" are just another way of saying "what it takes to make this thing happen".


  1. 100% agreed (though I only know this particular contretemps third-hand via commentary like this). As a Kickstarter customer, I think the best way to look at any KS as a pre-order system with flexible dates, mild risk and some potential perks.

    If I were pre-ordering any products through other mechanisms I would have no say on how the vendor allocates their expenses, so it makes no sense to expect that input in a kickstarter project.

    Obligatory snark: people can be very dumb and mean.

  2. As a recovering lawyer, I know that money is fungible. A dollar can be spent on groceries as well as production costs. Dollars is dollars, and strict separation of funds is neither desirable nor achievable.

    What you choose to do with your money is your concern. Someone starts a Kickstarter project to fund a period of his living expenses so that he can devote his time to writing, formatting, editing, and publishing a book? Fine. Someone else wants to donate to that cause? Fine. Someone flames the internet with criticism of those actions? Shut up.


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