12 January 2015

How I'm Using Crowdfunding to Attend a Writing Conference

Crowdfunding. Maybe you love it. Maybe you hate it. Maybe you don't know all that much about it. If you don't, it's pretty much exactly what it sounds like: people asking other people to help fund their project or cause. Some of the most popular sites for this are Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and GoFundMe. People ask for funds to help them create something tangible like a comic book or movie, or for help paying for things like large medical bills, or to help with living expenses after personal tragedies for family or friends. There are endless possibilities of what people will try to fund this way. Authors will often use crowdfunding to raise money to publish books, or for the smaller parts of production along the way, like cover art or editing. For me, I'm trying to fund my way to the Romance Writers of America annual conference this summer, which is being held in New York City. So let's talk about the logistics.

Know Your Platform

And no, I don't mean your author platform. I mean the site you plan to use for your crowdfunding campaign. Look at their terms and conditions, FAQs, and pricing. Browse other campaigns that might be similar to yours and see what the successful ones look like. Make sure the thing you want to fund is a good fit for the platform you choose. For example, Kickstarter only allows for campaigns that will produce a tangible product. A book, a film, a CD, etc. While I am working on another book to release this year, that's not what I want to fund (because I'm not sure on the timeline that I'll be able to get it done). So Kickstarter wasn't the place for me.

I knew of GoFundMe and Indiegogo, and when I asked the Twittersphere about platforms, a friend pointed me toward a new branch of Indiegogo called Indiegogo Life. So I started looking into those. I was somewhat familiar with the main Indiegogo platform already after helping promote and offering a perk for a friend's campaign a while ago. I have very little experience with GoFundMe other than always seemingly having trouble with text readability on my phone whenever I checked out someone else's campaign. (Random, I know, but sometimes those are the things that will tip you one way or another.)

There are a few different funding and campaign models you can use with these platforms. Indiegogo has both flexible (you keep whatever money you make) and fixed (you have to meet your goal to get the money) funding. You offer perks to people donating at certain levels. If you're funding a book, for example, an obvious perk would be to offer a copy of the book to people who donate. You could offer a digital copy at a lower donation threshold and a paperback copy at a higher donation level. But again, I'm not funding a physical product. GoFundMe and Indiegogo Life don't use the perk system for donations, and GoFundMe doesn't have deadlines.

Know Your Project

When you go to set up your campaign, make sure you've done your research about what things will cost and how much you will need. I researched registration and hotel rates on the RWA website, then found a friend who is planning on going to share a room with. That cuts my room expense in half. I researched different travel arrangements to get a range of prices. Make sure you don't just automatically go with the rock bottom option when it comes to pricing your project. My two options for transportation are coach bus or airplane. Could I potentially go even cheaper with a complicated network of passenger buses and trains? Maybe. But I would be miserable, it would take me twice as long, and it would mean additional time away from paying work outside of just the conference, and that's no good.

Conference registration opens on February 3rd, and I know from checking on past conferences that rooms and registration fill up quickly. Ideally I want to know whether I'll be able to financially make conference attendance a reality by mid-February to make sure that I can secure a room and that I don't leave my roommate hanging until the last minute. Know what your own timeline looks like for your campaign--when you need funds and/or when you need to deliver a finished product if that's what you're funding--and set a deadline for your campaign accordingly.

Know Your Platform (Again)

This time I do mean your author platform in addition to the crowdfunding platform. Take an honest look at your social networks, your friends and family, and any resources you'll have at your disposal to secure funding and to spread awareness for your campaign. How many of those people do you think will actually contribute to your campaign, and how much do you realistically expect you can count on? Are you setting your hopes on a big surge of public support from people you've never been in contact with but who heard of your campaign through some great word of mouth? Know yourself, too.

I'm a shy introvert who hates asking for help and feels super awkward about putting myself out there for something like this. So realistically, I'm not planning on slamming my social networks with this all day every day, asking people to share and spread the word. I can feel my blood pressure rising with anxiety just thinking about doing that. Besides, I don't have a huge platform. I don't have thousands of followers on social media, and I'm not a big-name author (yet). I feel confident that the majority of my benefactors will be friends and family who love me and want me to succeed. Perhaps there will be some friends-of-friends who donate, or random internet strangers, or even a kind reader who finds their way to my campaign through my links on Facebook or Twitter. But all of this factors into which platform I chose for my campaign.

I decided to go with Indiegogo Life for my crowdfunding campaign for a few different reasons. As I mentioned, Kickstarter was out from the beginning because I'm not asking for funds to produce a tangible product. Because I don't need a large amount of money in the many thousands of dollars range, and because I'm unsure of my ability to reach large numbers of people willing to donate aside from my closest friends and family, fees suddenly became the number one deciding factor in choosing a crowdfunding platform.

Both Indiegogo (the main site) and GoFundMe have platform fees on top of transaction fees. That means either increasing the amount of money I ask for or sucking it up and dealing with that 8 or 9% loss of funds once everything is said and done. With Indiegogo Life, there are no platform fees, only the 3% transaction fee to process payments. I set up a 60-day campaign where I will receive all funds donated (minus the 3%) and I don't have to worry about different fees based on whether I make my goal or not, or the dreaded possibility of coming within mere dollars of my goal, not making it by the deadline, and then not getting any of the money at all. That's what made the most sense for me, for this project. It may not make the most sense for you and your project, so always do your homework.

Why Crowdfunding?

I do mention this briefly in my campaign description, but I'm sure some of you may be wondering why I turned to crowdfunding to help me attending this conference. First of all, the RWA conference is something I think will be very beneficial to me on the business side of writing. That's why I want to go. Unfortunately, it's an expensive conference, and certain circumstances make it financially difficult for me to even think about attending without any assistance. That's why I'm crowdfunding.

My husband has a great job that has transferred us a few times over the past few years after he was promoted. The adventure of moving and experiencing new cities is really fantastic. Unfortunately, we have been unable to sell the condo that we moved out of the first time we moved... almost four years ago now. And because of complicated rules and regulations, we also could not rent the house to at least break even on what we were paying. So for nearly four years we've been paying the mortgage for a house we don't live in, as well as rent in our new locations. We accumulated a lot of credit card debt trying to make ends meet during this time and recently took out a loan to consolidate all of that into something more manageable. There isn't any room in the budget currently for the hefty price tag of the RWA conference. And even though my husband is asleep in the next room as I write this, I can pretty much feel his death glare at the thought of financing this business expense with our newly-cleared credit cards.

This conference is a business expense that I can write off on next year's taxes. But I still need to pay for it up front. It's a very first world problem to have, I know, which makes it even more difficult for me to ask for financial assistance to fund this experience in the first place. But I've already seen that several kindhearted friends are willing to give me a little boost, and as the saying goes, you never know if you don't try.

I have several friends who will be attending the conference this year who are everywhere on the spectrum from traditionally published to hybrid to 100% self-published. They will be coming from various places in the U.S., Canada, and even England. As the shy introvert I mentioned I am, having a handful of familiar faces in the midst of the huge conference will be a welcome lifeline, which is part of why I decided I wanted to go to RWA this year especially.

Make it Your Own

If you're an author looking to crowdfund a product or experience, do whatever you can to make your campaign your own. Personalize it. Post video updates of you dancing, if that's your thing. Offer unique perks if you're able to do so on the platform you choose. Have fun with it and see where it takes you.

And now here's the inevitable part where I ask you to look at my campaign page and see if you are able to donate to my fundraiser. I know not everyone can. If we were all in a place to donate money to causes we wanted to support... well, then none of us would really need to be supported by anyone else, I suppose, right? But if you can share the fundraiser on Facebook or Twitter or anywhere else you think it will reach people, that signal boost can be just as beneficial and every bit as appreciated.

Even though Indiegogo Life doesn't use the perks method, I would still like to offer my backers a hand-written thank you, at the very least. I can also offer a digital copy of one of my books if you don't already have one. If you donate (or have already donated) to my fundraiser, please use the Contact button on the fundraiser page to drop me a line and give me a name and address for your thank you note.

Happy crowdfunding!

Have you run a successful crowdfunding campaign? What was your experience like?

02 January 2015

Compersion for the New Year

No, that's not a typo in the title. I did mean compersion and not compassion. I came across the term in some reading a few years ago (oh, the things you learn as a writer!) and it has stuck with me ever since because I think it fits a part of me that I never knew how to name. Compersion is a word coined by members of the Kerista Commune in the '70s, I believe, and it was used in the context of polyamory to describe the feelings of joy or happiness upon seeing one's partner(s) experiencing their own happiness. When you hear polyamory you might be tempted to zero in on romantic and sexual relationships. Of course, when speaking of polyamory and compersion together, that's going to be part of it. But this post isn't about polyamory. And no matter where the term originated, compersion doesn't necessarily have to be romantic or sexual in nature.

Photo by african_fi
Think about it. When someone else's happiness or joy causes you to feel your own happiness or joy. If you've never experienced it, maybe it doesn't make as much sense to you as it does to me. I think compersion is something I've experienced and expressed for as long as I can remember, in completely platonic ways. It's still something I feel to this day, in many circumstances. It's not quite the same thing as empathy, either. Empathy is when you can understand and identify with someone else's emotions, and perhaps experience them vicariously. But with compersion, it isn't that I'm identifying with someone else's happiness exactly. If a friend gets promoted at work, my empathy allows me to share in their excitement and identify with their happiness. If I experience compersion in that same scenario, what I'm feeling is my happiness. Does that make sense? Empathy and compersion can be experienced simultaneously, and they probably are quite often. I've only very recently (as in, just today) learned of the Buddhist concept/term mudita, which appears to be very close to what I mean when I say compersion. If you're familiar with that, perhaps that's a better framework to think of it. But since compersion is the term I've come to identify with, and I really know very little about mudita, I'll stick with compersion for now.

So anyway... why do I bring it up? Because in our society we often discourage talking about feeeelings past a certain age or beyond a certain scope that doesn't fit into predetermined stereotypes. You can "love" your friends, but you luuuurve your romantic partner (and by golly, you'd better only have one of those at a time, and you're always searching for The One who will show you that you obviously never really knew what love was!) and there's absolutely no in-between or crossover. Boys don't cry. Girls cry a lot. You're allowed to be angry, but not too angry! And so on and so forth, but most of all, nobody wants to really hear you talk about any of those feelings. And so when I experienced what I now identify as compersion at a younger age (and even still now) sometimes it led to feeling tremendously awkward and unsure. I never knew what to say or how to say it. I just knew that I would find myself in these moments of love and joy and happiness that centered around particular people. Friends, teachers, sometimes near strangers, family members. It might've been a simple smile, something small or large happening in their lives that brought them happiness, or even just their natural optimism on a particularly good day. It could be any or all of those things that triggered my own happiness in turn. And it can be potent, that happiness. But when you're a teen experiencing all sorts of complicated things, and no one ever stops and says "Hey, let's talk about happiness and touchy-feely emotional things," it's very easy to start wondering what the hell it is you're actually experiencing.

Growing up, I'd usually just keep my thoughts to myself, especially when they centered around feelings of compersion. Sometimes, though, it got to be too much, and words would just spill out of me. On paper, naturally, because that's how I've always chosen to express myself. (My shyness makes face to face expression of these things nearly unbearable.) So I'd write heartfelt thank you notes to teachers or friends. (Or I'd channel it into fiction if I couldn't bring myself to tell the actual person.) And I probably rambled a lot and tried to name specific things I appreciated about that person because it felt too weird to boil it all down to the simple truth: Your passion brings me joy. So I'd write the note, and I'd hand it over, and then I'd worry myself sick over how they might respond. I didn't want anyone to get the wrong idea about what I meant, because I was certain they would. It would be easy to interpret it as something other than what I'd intended. And I was so very afraid of looking stupid, or not being liked, and I would vow never to put myself out there that way again. And I wouldn't, for a while. But then the cycle would start over again.

My teen years went by like that. I'll be 32 this year, and somewhere along the line I really did stop taking the time to put myself out there and express to specific individuals how happy it made me to see their happiness. And if I did express it, it was in a much more careful and guarded way. I'm not sure why. I never did experience that Holy shit, you are such a creep, leave me alone response that I so feared. But I fear it still. Maybe even more now than when I was younger. I'd like to let my compersion be more readily visible again, though. Partially for purely selfish reasons. It just feels so damn nice to revel in that joy. But also because... well... maybe we all need more of it. Even if it's not a feeling you identify within yourself, imagine what it might be like if someone told you that the happiness you derive from the good things in life made them happy as well. Wouldn't that be pretty fucking fantastic? You didn't even have to bake them cookies or loan them money or cure a disease. Just being happy for something good within your own life was enough to make someone else smile. I think it would be pretty nice.

So to all my friends, family, acquaintances, and anyone I may come into contact with this year (and here's the real point of this post) I just want to say this: I'm not trying to be creepy, honest! Don't think me weird or strange or awkward (well, okay, I may very well be awkward) when I tell you how much I love the way you light up when you talk about something wonderful that you've experienced. I really do love seeing the passion you pour into your hobbies and the things you enjoy. That actor or artist you love. The new relationship that's making you walk without even touching the ground. The courage with which you face adversity. The rewards you reap from your hard work. Your book deal. That picture you drew. That kid you're raising. The animal you adopted. I love it. All of it. I'm not just happy for you in all those cases. You truly give me a joy and happiness of my own, the magnitude of which you may never truly understand, just by expressing the happiness those things bring you. Your passion brings me joy. I hope you don't mind if I say so.