“We built Kickstarter to help bring creative projects to life. We measure our success as a company by how well we achieve that mission, not by the size of our profits. That’s why, in 2015, we became a Benefit Corporation. Benefit Corporations are for-profit companies that are obligated to consider the impact of their decisions on society, not only shareholders. Radically, positive impact on society becomes part of a Benefit Corporation’s legally defined goals.” – Kickstarter About Us Page

In April of 2009, Kickstarter launched it’s first campaign and changed the way that artists, authors, filmmakers, designers, and other creators brought their projects to life. Instead of being beholden to executives in major companies, publishing houses, record labels, and film studios, Kickstarter collapsed the middle men and made a way for artists to be funded by crowds of their fans. Project owners retain full creative control over their campaign and their product. Fans have direct access to the genius behind their favorite art and projects. A community of consumers could, in fact, control which products would come to life.

“I’ve had an instance or two where a publisher made changes that ran counter to my own vision for the manuscript—and those changes had a strong impact on how the book was received and ultimately on what purpose it would serve and for what community.” – Douglas Kaine McKelvey, author of The Wishes of the Fish King

For as long as we know, authors have been entirely dependent upon their editors and publishers to bring their stories to print. Sadly, this age old practice has meant that many authors (like Louisa May Alcott) were forced to write stories that weren’t really in their hearts or were required to change their writing to suit the needs of their handlers. There is no question that beautiful stories and poetry have been lost because of this process.

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Independent and self publishing is very risky business. The costs of bringing a book to print are exorbitant. The stakes are very high both for the authors who do it themselves, and for smaller independent presses like Story Warren Books. Authors and small publishers gamble every time they order a printing of a book. This inherently limits the number of books that come to market and limits how many books can be reprinted if they do not sell quickly and in high volume.

“In the traditional publishing model, a publisher takes a financial risk to print a book and then if it finds an audience and sells enough copies to make a decent profit, it’s deemed a success.” – Douglas Kaine McKelvey, author of The Wishes of the Fish King

In the last few years, Kickstarter has been a blessing to “small” but very worthy authors, illustrators and artists. Just as importantly, it has been a blessing to fans who want to support their favorite authors directly and who want to see more stories be printed. Kickstarter cuts through much of the red tape and puts the fate of authors’ stories into the hands of their public.

In the traditional model of publishing nearly all projects are submitted to a panel of executives who determine a book’s merit based on a myriad of factors that have little do with the actual value of the story. More often than not, publishing companies are looking for books which can be serialized, fit into a specific target audience, and/or land on the bestseller list. In some cases, an executive may even be passionate about a book but lack the capital to risk printing it when a more profitable book could have been brought to market instead.

This is the age old problem of patronless art. Even though famous fine art patrons like the Medicis are more or less gone today, Kickstarter is the Florence of our day.

The Sea of Fields, an illustration for #thewishesofthefishking by Jamin Still.

A crowdfunding model of book publishing, on the other hand, allows specific communities to say “This story is important to us. Whether it has bestseller potential or not is beside the point. It has value to our community and we want this story to exist and together we will make it happen.” Books that a traditional publisher might not know what to do with or how to market, or that they might see as too risky or unproven, can still be brought into the world.” – Douglas Kaine McKelvey, author of The Wishes of the Fish King

Kickstarter makes us, the consumers and fans, very powerful. Instead of relying on major publishing executives who know little to nothing meaningful about our tastes, preferences, values, and wishes, Kickstarter empowers us to co-labor with the author and illustrator to bring a book to life. When we back a project like The Wishes of the Fish King or The Green Ember Sequel: Ember Falls, we are not just buying a book. We are not writing a check for limited edition cool prizes. We are helping to make history because we are very literally assisting a book go from concept to print.

“Creating and running a Kickstarter is hard work, but there is no other way we know of to run such a (hopefully) effective pre-sale, to invite friends into the adventure and risk we experience. It’s something we are really grateful for and it has, for us, been an avenue of receiving so much kindness and support from readers and allies.” – SD Smith, author of The Green Ember

Kickstarter campaigns that enjoy the most success are usually the ones that have the greatest community buy-in. Campaigns need big backers but they also rely on a large volume of small backers who have big belief in the project. Campaigns are as much about building a passionate crowd as they are about raising the requisite funds.

“Andrew Mackay (Publisher, Story Warren Books) and I both want the experience of our backers to be positive and for them to receive good value for supporting us early and helping us spread the word. We think of backers as friends and allies, not just fans who exist to support us. For us, it’s entering into a partnership that serves both them and us well. As Christians, our understanding of relationship with readers is rooted in vocation and love.” – SD Smith, author of The Green Ember

When a Kickstarter campaign launches, the project creators usually include an explanatory video, introductions to the artists and a series of pledge levels. A pledge is a promise on the part of the consumer to pay a prescribed amount of money to the campaign, if the base goal is met. A base goal is the bottom number a campaign needs in order to fulfill it’s promises. If the base goal is not met, the project fails and no backer is charged anything. If the base goal is met, all backers will be charged their pledge amount just after the closing of the campaign.

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Story Warren Books successfully completed a Kickstarter campaign for The Green Ember in October 2014. They are just about to launch a new campaign in May 2016 to bring the sequel, Ember Falls to print.

In exchange for a paid pledge, a backer will receive some prizes as a thank you for investing in the campaign. Those prizes usually arrive months later once the project has been completed.

For example, in The Wishes of the Fish King, backers who pledge at the $60 level will receive an e-book bundle of The Angel Knew Papa and the Dog, Ellen and the Winter Wolves, and The Wishes of the Fish King. They will also receive signed copies of each of those books in printed format as well as book plates for each book. Screen Shot 2016-05-05 at 4.50.55 PM

Many campaigns are fortunate enough to meet and exceed their base goals. Stretch goals are mini goals beyond the base goal that add certain prizes to the backer’s bounty while allowing the project creators to enhance the project with more pages or more illustration or the addition of audio companions, etc.

Thanks to Kickstarter and social media, we have a unique opportunity to vote with our dollars and our social media capital (by sharing the campaign with our friends and family). Instead of a project landing on the desk of an executive, who has a product line to manage, the project is offered to the audience for their approval. What an incredible opportunity for us to make history and help to bring powerful stories to life!

Wishes of the Fish King Kickstarter can be found here.
The Green Ember Sequel: Ember Falls can be found here.

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