Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Justifiable Expense or Kickstarter Con?

Update: Ms Datlow responded (promptly) - and her answers are included at the bottom of this post:

You may have heard about the Fearful Symmetries anthology. It's being edited by Ellen Datlow, the well respected and highly praised writer with a long career as a professional editor and writer, in association with ChiZine Publications.

The internet has roused itself to a frenzy with concerns about the anthology's Kickstarter goal of $25,000.

Yes. $25,000 to publish a book.

Ms Datlow is paying contributing authors 5 cents per word. The other funds are described as covering the cost of editing, formatting, and cover design.

I'm not planning on submitting any stories to this anthology. I'm not planning on contributing (the funding limit is now oversubscribed at $26,513 anyway). I am maintaining an open mind about this. What rouses my curiousity though is the claims of threads being shut down on forums when the discussion got to probing and the general lack of clarification about what the money is required for.

From a purely capitalist perspective it is a genius idea for a publisher. Make a lot of money, without ever selling a book. If however ChiZine and Ms Datlow are paying $25,000 to produce a single book - then someone, somewhere is ripping them off something terrible. It has also been suggested that she plans on selling the book for $15 per copy in ebook format. That seems expensive but if she is only using solicited writers then she will have some good names to back it up.

So out of curiosity I contacted Ms Datlow the only way possible - (other than Twitter) which is via the Ask A Question function on the Kickstarter page.

This is what I wrote:
Hi Ellen,

There's an awful lot of backlash about this project online. I'd like to write a blog post about the project and to keep it impartial - I'd like to ask you the following questions:

Given the 125,000 words @ 5 cents a word (increasing to 7 if you reach $28,000) means the payments to contributors come to less than $9000.

What is the necessity for the rest of the money?

Cover design and formatting shouldn't cost you more than a few thousand. I have heard you are taking a $6,000 fee for the project - can you confirm that?

So even with the contributor costs, the production costs (Smashwords and Amazon mean you don't have to pay for book production) and your fee - what happens to the rest of the money?

Regarding Kickstarter in general - do you think of financial backers as investors, or just people giving a handout in a way that allows you and your publishers to make a profit without selling any books?

Do you have any ethical concerns about this kind of funding model?

The pay money to avoid the slush pile - is that refunded if the contributor is rejected?

It has been said that only the contributors you solicit will be included - so would you agree that anyone paying the $100 to avoid the slush pile - is effectively just giving you a donation towards the goal.

If you do not raise $28,000 and do not raise the payment per word to 7 cents - what will the balance of extra funds be used for?

As I said there are a lot of threads online discussing this particular project. There have been claims that you shut down threads critical of the project and the use of funds. Can you comment on this?

Thanks for your time,
Paul Mannering
paul@brokensea.com

Ms Datlow may of course not answer any questions. I'd be impressed if she responds at all. But nothing suggests guilt to the Jury of The Internet like not giving answers to questions asked.

I'll update with any thing I hear further.

Edit: Ellen responded to my questions with this:

There was a brouhaha started by a bunch from one small press publisher on Shocklines-as far as I know, that's it. If you can point me out to "backlash" I'd love to see it.
I think you need to go to the actual kickstarter and do some research. Most of your "facts" are incorrect.
1) we're paying 6 cents a word (minimum)
2) Chizine is publishing the book, with everything that entails
3) Bypassing the slush pile has NOTHING to do with the anthology -it's the CHizine
No one is paying to get read by anyone (anyone can submit novels to Chizine Publications for freePublications NOVEL submission slush pile
4) There will be an open reading period and from that material I will pick 2-3 stories.
Please go read our updates and FAQ so you can understand what we're actually doing.

Btw, the only thread that has come to my attention is the one on Shocklines. Do you really think I have any power to shut down a thread? I hold no power over Matt Schwartz, the owner of the board. He does as he sees fit.
best
Ellen

To which I have replied:
Awesome, thanks for the response.
The "facts" were taken from claims made in a Facebook thread. It came up on my newsfeed - not sure who started it - I think a FB friend commented on it - which put it in my feed.

1) we're paying 6 cents a word (minimum)
Noted.

2) Chizine is publishing the book, with everything that entails
And they are expecting to spend $25,000 on publication? Someone should tell them about Amazon's KDP, Createspace and Smashwords.

3) Bypassing the slush pile has NOTHING to do with the anthology -it's the CHizine
It's the ChiZine?

No one is paying to get read by anyone (anyone can submit novels to Chizine Publications for freePublications NOVEL submission slush pile

Except, I 'm asking about the Fearful Symetries anthology, not ChiZine's novel submission process.
One of the rewards for contributing $100 is bypassing the slushpile and therefore getting read (would that be by you? Or ChiZine editors?)


4) There will be an open reading period and from that material I will pick 2-3 stories.
The remaining content will be from solicited authors? You include Joe R Lansdale and other authors as already included in the rewards list.

Please go read our updates and FAQ so you can understand what we're actually doing.
I'll continue to try to understand - thanks.
Well it was great to get some kind of response so promptly. It's not clear answers to most of my questions - and I don't recall referring to the claims as "facts" - seriously comments in a Facebook thread are hardly referenceable in academia.

3 comments:

Datlow said...

And I'm sure the follow up to your questions (which you did not ask permission to post, by the way :-) but hey it's the net so anything goes) will appear as soon as I post this, yes.

Paul Mannering said...

I pointed out my reasons for asking your these questions in my first message via Kickstarter.

I said I was planning on writing a blog post about the backlash appearing online in response to your project.

I do appreciate that you chose to responde and I would call that informed consent.

MontiLee Stormer said...

Wow and this project sounds worse and worse.

There is some serious backpedaling. I wonder how many authors that paid to avoid the slush pile believe it's for a shot at the anthology and not "the ChiZine".