Getting Around the Gatekeepers

"We go to great lengths to work with writers to come up with really good proposals; they have to sell their idea to the crowd and upload some sample writing to give their prospective backers an insight into their writing style."

Larry Levitsky is Chairman and Publisher at Inkshares, a crowd-funded publishing company. Inkshares combines the services of a traditional publishing house—editing, design, marketing, and distribution—with a revamped funding model that uses crowd-sourced funds (small donations from a large number of individual donors), rather than a single large payment from the publishing house.  Levitsky believes that crowd-funded publishing, like other crowdsourcing platforms such as Kickstarter, allows talented people to take their work directly to the public.

Levitsky will be speaking at the 2014 Creative Nonfiction Conference on May 23. Anjali Sachdeva caught up with him this week to learn a bit more about the world of crowd-funded publishing.

CNF: What makes Inkshares different from other types of crowd funding that people may be more familiar with, such as Kickstarter or Indiegogo?

LEVITSKY: Those companies do not offer value-add services, so if you’re an author you can go to Kickstarter or Indiegogo and try to determine exactly how much you need to raise for your project.  They do not provide any guidance for calculating the editorial services, production, design, marketing, and other ancillary costs—those services that a publisher provides. Our model is simple: the author pitches, the crowd funds, we publish. For many authors the ultimate distraction is taking responsibility for all the post-creative activities involved in successfully producing and marketing their book. The whole idea of Inkshares is to allow writers to do what they do best, write.

CNF: How does the financial aspect of it work?

LEVITSKY: The crowd funds the author’s advance and the crowd funds editorial and production. We at Inkshares take care of the funding logistics. Inkshares also handles the sales and distribution side of things. When an author starts a project on Inkshares, our process includes a page that helps determine how much money needs to be raised.  The author fills out some fields that ask if an advance is needed, how many words there are in the work, are there any illustrations, how many are color, how many black and white, should it be paperback or hardcover or e-book only? The author completes this form, and we’ll come back and tell her how much money she needs to raise. The total will include editorial, design, manufacturing for a thousand copies, and distribution. And the Inkshares model offers 70% royalties to authors as opposed to 10-20%  royalty rate offered by traditional publishers.

CNF: A lot of people start writing a book with the best of intentions, but then never finish it—life intervenes, or they decide it’s just not the right book for them. So what happens to crowd-sourced funding if a book that’s funded never gets written?

LEVITSKY:The money the author raises is allocated to different parts of the writing and publishing processes. If the work never materializes, the lion’s share of the funds is returned to the backers, less some resources already utilized from the writer’s advance.

Also, we go to great lengths to work with writers to come up with really good proposals; they have to sell their idea to the crowd and upload some sample writing to give their prospective backers an insight into their writing style. With such effort and samples the odds become more likely the author will finish her work.  A writer’s craft and viability should be apparent through this process.

CNF: I can see how established authors can make good use of crowd funding to work directly with their fans. But what about unknown authors? How can they draw the attention (and funding) they need when they have no name recognition?

LEVITSKY: A big issue for us is helping writers become comfortable with going to the crowd—their prospective audience and readership—before they have a manuscript completed or before it is “accepted” by what we like to call the gatekeepers—the editors, agents, and publishing houses in places like New York and Boston.  Those publishing houses have very small teams that decide what’s good and what’s not, and to them a writer is not really recognized as having value until they pass through this gate. Writers have become accustomed to getting the blessing of these publishers, to the extent that many feel their work is less worthy if they don’t receive this blessing. In fact, this is the most important message that I’ll be talking about while I’m at the conference: If you have talent you don’t have to go through the channels that currently exist.

Every day we hear stories about good writers who still get rejected.  Obviously, everyone knows the JK Rowling story, but the book that won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2010, Paul Harding’s Tinkers, was also rejected by many publishers. So our idea is, take your work to the readership immediately, pitch to them and prove to them that you have talent and you’re worthy of being in a marketplace.  We’re finding that the people who back the writer in the crowd-funding scenario actually become more attached to the writer. More than 50% of our backers are contributing more than the price for a pre-order. When you’re actually helping a writer before they are even in the marketplace, you feel like you are a real, sincere patron of the arts.

About the Author

Anjali Sachdeva

Anjali Sachdeva teaches English and creative writing at the University of Pittsburgh, and writes both fiction and nonfiction. Her work has appeared in Yale Review, Gulf Coast, Alaska Quarterly Review, and Best American Nonrequired Reading, among others.

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