So here’s the news: Circlet Press will be publishing my Kickstarter-funded erotic space opera, The Stars Change, and I am thrilled to death about it.
“But Mary Anne,” you say, “doesn’t Kickstarter-funded mean you’re supposed to publish it yourself? Isn’t that why all those people gave you money?” Well, sort of.
See, the whole point of the Kickstarter was to make it possible for me to write the book – to get me an advance, essentially, so that I could buy enough childcare time that I could afford to write it. My schedule is busy enough these days that I have a really hard time squeezing out writing time between work and teaching and parenting, even though Kevin is a conscientiously equal partner and parent. And when I had the idea for The Stars Change, an erotic space opera that starts on the opening night of an interstellar war, set on a university planet settled by South Asians, I had no idea whether it might be a commercially viable book or not. It seemed like I could easily spend months writing it, and then find that no publisher was interested in such an odd, niche thing.
Right around the time I was thinking all this, I saw a few friends of mine successfully fund book projects through Kickstarter (Tim Pratt and Tobias Buckell). I was intrigued enough to give it a go, calculated how much I’d need to be able to do the book (my minimal time for writing + publishing and shipping costs + Kickstarter & Amazon’s cut), set a goal of $8000, and managed to reach that goal in a month. So, awesome.
I started writing the book. Now, here I have to apologize, because while I did finish the first draft in the year I’d allotted (and promised my backers), at that point, I didn’t think the book was done. I wrote the backers a pained note, promised I would get it done as soon as I could, and thankfully, they seemed okay with that. Some even said they’d rather have a better book a little later. Whew. A few months later, I wrote another apologetic note (now two drafts in, and it’s better, but not quite there yet), saying I need a few more months. Now here I am, about 2-3 weeks away from being able to do the final draft (over spring break). The book is almost done, and I’m all set to have it copyedited, work on the layout, work on the cover design, research and find a printer, and hopefully get the e-book out by mid-April, and the print editions by end of May. That was my whole plan (which would, incidentally, have gotten the book out in a little under two years, in case you’re counting). And then, something wonderful happened.
I happened across an e-mail from Cecilia Tan at Circlet Press, reminding writers that she was looking for novel-length work. Now, I had already thought about approaching small press publishers to see if anyone would be interested in collaborating with me on the publishing of this book – I’d thought about talking to Small Beer, Nightshade, etc. – the various awesome small press SF publishers. I’d thrown the idea out on various forums to see if people thought that would be kosher – shifting to a publisher after doing Kickstarter, and the community seemed to think it would be fine. But honestly, I didn’t have the time or energy to put together a proposal and send it out and wait for the editors to find time to read it, etc. I had decided to just go ahead and do it on my own, as originally planned. I had, after all, self-published one book before. I was pretty sure I could do a decent job.
But here was Cecilia, and Circlet Press, and of course, how PERFECT it would be to have them publish the book. Because after all, they specialize in erotic SF/F. They actually published my very first story, “Fleeing Gods,” twenty years ago, so I was intimately familiar with how awesome they were. They would have access to a readership that would likely like my book, and of course, they’d have the publishing skills to make it far more professional-looking than I would likely manage on my own. They could make it fabulous!
I mean, I’d intended to try my damnedest to make the book look good. I did some research, and have even done one (1) ebook conversion of a short story. But a tiny bit of dabbling in the publishing pond does not a skilled publisher make. For example, I hear kerning is a thing, but I can’t remember what it means. I barely know how to handle widows and orphans. And don’t talk to me about gutters! Plus, beyond all the layout stuff, how much better it would be to have the book be part of a catalog, with a publisher behind it, promoting it along with me? I’m all for indie efforts, but joint indie efforts are a lot more fun, in my experience.
So I sent Cecilia a little note, asking if she might want to publish this. (It was possible for me to do this because we have been friends for a long time, since she first published that story of mine; if you didn’t already know an editor, then I would recommend going through the usual channels for Circlet or any other press, and expecting it all to take some time.) I suggested that I’d buy the pre-ordered / backer books (since I’d already been paid for those), and then she could ship them out with any other sales. We’d handle ebook sales and further print sales (sticking to the limited editions the Kickstarter promised) per usual on royalties. If the book did fabulously, she could always do a different, later, non-limited print edition too. I waived any need for an advance, given that hey, Kickstarter had already given me an advance (thanks, guys!). Cecilia was interested, and so I sent her the book to read.
You know the ending to this story already – Reader, she loved it. In fact, if I may quote her response to my piteously impatient e-mail asking if she’d had a chance to take a look, she wrote back: “I love it. I love it love it love it.” Now, THAT’S what a writer likes to hear!
Cecilia had a few notes (doesn’t every editor?), which is actually great, because they will make the book even better (because that’s what good editors do). I’m going to try hard to stick to my timetable of finishing the book by the end of Spring Break, and then copyediting, etc. will go as fast as Circlet can manage. We’re going to aim for WisCon (end of May) if at all possible. My plan (I have to check this with Cecilia) is that if any backers are impatient, then I will send them a PDF at the end of March, with my deepest thanks for their patience thus far. That way, any of them who want can get a sneak peek at the book, and won’t be penalized for my choosing a different publishing route from the original plan. And in the end, they’ll still get all the books they ordered – they will just be better and shinier and more fabulous. Yay!
From my point of view, this is all pretty damn awesome. Because as much as I appreciated the Kickstarter crowd-funding author-supporting validation (and the money), I do think there’s a different kind of validation that comes with acceptance by an established editor at an established press. Circlet taking the book means, for example, that I can put it on my C.V. now – which was iffy before, because the academic establishment is for the most part not yet wise to the ways of crowd-funding. It means I can submit the book to John Scalzi’s Big Idea promo – which isn’t available to self-published books.
I’m awfully glad I did the Kickstarter experiment, because I don’t think the book would have been written otherwise. But I’m also delighted to be partnered with a press now. Sadly, I can’t guarantee that this is a route that would work for other writers, or even other books of mine – if you run a Kickstarter and promise to publish a book yourself at the end of it, you’d better be prepared to deliver. But you never know – you might just get lucky. Like me! Whee!