Andromeda: The PROs and CONs (so far) of launching a novel-in-progress publicly and fundraising online

“The Expert” trailer from Youtube — or you can find it, with more text information and fundraising details, at Andromeda’s page at USA Projects.

Today I launch an experiment I’ve discussed here at 49 Writers: using a nonprofit fundraising page at the United States Artists site to raise seed money for the initial stage of researching and writing a novel about a forgotten woman, Rosalie Rayner Watson. 

Sure, I want you to watch the video (a second draft). And I’d love for friends and colleagues to donate. But my primary aim here is to honestly reflect on what the pros and cons of this method of raising money for — and interest in — a book project. I, for one, would have wanted that information a few months ago.

Kick in the pants.
To use the USA site, you have to have received certain grants in the past, or otherwise prove eligibility, but there are many other sites out there, and what they have in common is forcing you to put up or shut up. I wasn’t planning to really kick off this novel until fall, but then I got into the USA process (an info meeting, followed by an immediately scheduled two-week followup call, followed by some nifty deadlines they set; it was nice having a tough coach out there). Before you know it, I was doing research, logging immersed writing time, and actually flying off to Baltimore and DC to dig up documents, something I hadn’t planned to do so early (my research is still ongoing). I didn’t feel comfortable asking for funds until I knew I had a well-formed idea. I’ve had the same experience applying for Rasmuson grants, including ones I didn’t get: the process of forming a budget and timeline, describing the project, getting writing samples in order, and polishing a bio was its own reward.

A reason to start talking about this project.
Usually I stay mum, but how could I, when I’d be putting stuff online? I told my editor about this, but I also shouted it out to acquaintances via Facebook etc, and even the limited response I got proved helpful: some reading recommendations, some general encouragement.

Forced technology catch-up.
All last year, I meant to make a little video trailer doo-hickey for my published novel, The Detour. I tried–a little– but there were so many excuses for giving up. I didn’t know how to find enough public domain images. I didn’t want to pester film or techy friends for help. I didn’t know how to use the free, outmoded Windows Movie Maker on my ancient laptop. I felt quite embarrassed that every schoolchild knows more than me about making videos — and every adult seems to own a better cellphone and computer. And anyway, why bother? I’ve never bought a book after watching a book trailer. I’ve seen only a few book trailers I’ve actually liked. Most book trailers have very few hits on youtube.

Excuses galore.

But this time I had a deadline. I was told to spend only a few hours (by the kind folks at USA). Sorry, but it took me closer to thirty. In the meanwhile, I learned my way around my computer and video uploading sites, I bought a $30 microphone that will come in handy later, I started actually having fun editing and splicing and playing with transitions. I also screamed out loud many times and resented that, as a writer, I should have to appear in front of the camera. (I ended up cutting a lot of the video stuff of my own talking head, but not until I’d spent many an unhappy hour trying to make my own monologue sound natural.) Point is, now I know how to do this. The next trailer I make will take only a fraction of the time, and even if it isn’t proven to sell books, why not try? Five hours isn’t too much to spend to reach a few hundred or more casual viewers. The same process of assembling images will help me prepare better future book talks.

THE CONs (because I need to be honest, right?):
Inviting other people into the writing process too early. 
This was both a pro and a con. I did want to hear what people thought of my book idea. But I’ve also spent a lot of time this  month hearing what other people think my story is about and what my main themes are, for example. And the truth is: a writer has to live with this stuff, in solitude, for quite a while before it becomes clear. A novel is not written by committee, after all. It did get frustrating after a while. I felt my own creative compass needle jiggle around in a disconcerting way.

Time spent.
I’ve already explained how much time I spent on the video. I’ve spent a lot of time on the grant paperwork overall. Much more time than I originally anticipated.

Independence compromised, with distractions on the horizon.
A little part of me feels like the project is in other people’s hands now–not just creatively (see con #1) but also financially. I’m the contrary sort, and when I work on a novel in secret for a year or two, it’s all mine, and that makes me feel good and work hard. Now, I feel like I’ve opened up a vote on whether this novel has merit. In my own heart, the true merit can only reveal itself with the writing. I am positive it’s a good idea; but idea and execution are two different things, and the latter relies on dogged determination. (Of course, won’t I be even more determined, with people watching to see whether I succeed or fail?)

And then there’s the distraction angle: Will I keep checking the USA Projects site way too often over the next 60 days? Of course I will. (Then again, maybe it will stop me from checking amazon book rankings.) 
The balance still tilts to the positive. I look forward to ending my very brief tenure as a youtube video maker and returning to my status as a solitary writer. Stay tuned.

2 thoughts on “Andromeda: The PROs and CONs (so far) of launching a novel-in-progress publicly and fundraising online”

  1. Hi Andromeda- I'll be interested in seeing how this works out for you. Either way, at least you've tried something new!

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