In which a great, award-winning writer NOT ONLY funds a terrific book, and sends you something fun, BUT ALSO sets up a new, more love-based way for fans and authors to finance the writing of amazing fiction, outside of the existing publishing & financial system...
WHO AM I, AND WHAT HAVE I DONE THAT’S SO GREAT YOU SHOULD TRUST ME WITH YOUR MONEY?
Hi. My name is Julian Gough, and I’m a writer of peculiar and, I hope, enjoyable fictions. My stories sometimes win awards, sometimes appear as novels, and sometimes turn up in more unusual places. (I wrote the narrative at the end of Markus "Notch" Persson's wonderful computer game, Minecraft; I wrote the first short story ever printed in the Financial Times; I’ve had a number one Kindle Single in the UK, etc.) In the world of more traditional writing, I’ve also had a couple of radio plays on the BBC, a stageplay performed, a book of poetry published…
YEAH BUT WHAT IS, OR ARE, “THE LAS VEGAS POSTCARDS”?
The Las Vegas Postcards is a little art project; a literary experiment. It will let people who enjoy my work help to fund a research & writing trip, from Berlin (where I live) to Las Vegas (where my next novel, Infinite Ammo, is set), for the month of August. In return, each funder will, firstly, get a PDF of my favourite, as-yet-unpublished, short story. It’s called “Harvest", and was shortlisted for the €15,000 Davy Byrnes Award this year. (The judges, Yiyun Li, Jon McGregor, and Booker Prize winner Anne Enright, called it “a superb story”; but no, I didn’t win. That’s one reason I’m short of cash, and need your help with this.) You will also get to follow my adventures in Las Vegas through my Kickstarter updates; and, most importantly, if you are in for more than ten bucks, I will send you a postcard from Vegas.
OK, WHAT’S ON THE POSTCARDS?
All the rewards, once you pledge $10 or more, involve me sending you a postcard; but as the pledges get higher, the rewards, the postcards, get more extreme; lipstick stains, bullet holes… And what I write on the cards will also get more extreme: more self-revealing, if I'm telling you the truth; more wildly fictitious, if I'm telling you a fiction. Yes, I will use real stamps. Stamps rock. Also, it gives you the future option of cloning me from my saliva. (Or cloning Rihanna, if she helps me to lick the stamps. Hey, this is Vegas, anything could happen.)
Also, from the $40 reward tier onwards, you will have the option to give me a key word/quote/image/whatever, for my imagination to bounce off. Or you can just give me free reign to say anything, if you prefer. I'll send you a survey form later (when I'm confirming your address), asking for your suggested inspirational word/quote/song/name; you don't have to worry about it now.
I don’t know exactly in advance what I will write; that’s part of the experiment. I will try to be totally mentally present when writing them, that’s all I can promise. And something will happen. But I don’t know what. Poetry? Drama? Jokes? Secrets? Lies? Life advice? We’ll see.
OK, that was a wonderful first week, thank you. We blew through the $1500 target in a few hours, and we’re already way past $4500 — three times the target — with a week to go. That means I’ll have the funding to not only survive my research trip to Las Vegas comfortably, but also work on Infinite Ammo through those parts of September that aren’t spent frantically writing individual postcards.
So let’s add a stretch goal, and a small but tasty extra reward.
If we can hit $7,500, I’ll have enough money to buy enough time to write solidly till Christmas; to include some great new scenes suggested by talking to the amazing hackers at DEFCON in Las Vegas this week; and to wrap the book up completely.
And if we do hit that $7,500 stretch goal, I will send every backer the first twenty-something pages of Infinite Ammo (pages which set up the main characters, Colt & Naoki, and are pretty much done — most of the remaining work is towards the end of the book), as a PDF, in September, as a thank you, and as a sneak preview/taster of the novel you are helping me create.
OK, go tell your friends. And thanks for the amazing support so far…
Aaaaand back to the original project description...
WHY DO YOU NEED A KICKSTARTER? PUBLISHED, AWARD-WINNING WRITERS ARE LOADED, RIGHT?
Er, wrong. The economics of writing weird, interesting stuff are peculiar: I win a lot of status, but I don't actually make a lot of money. Writing the narrative at the end of Minecraft was a joy, and paid handsomely; but that just about paid off all the debts I built up writing a major experimental novel, Jude in London, that took years to write, got rave reviews, got shortlisted for major awards; and still sold only a few thousand copies.
Also, (to make sure I write the book I want to write, not the one the industry wants me to write), I write on my own time, and money: there is no advance, and thus no income while I’m writing. So, after working on a new novel about computer games! masochism! teenagers! drones! pizza delivery! neuroscience! and the nature of reality! for the past two years (it’s called Infinite Ammo), I am utterly broke again.
For this necessary final research trip, I put together a team of literature-lovers who helped make it happen. My flights (and, jeeeez, Berlin-Las Vegas flights are expensive) and accommodation are already being provided by the generosity of The Downtown Project ecosystem in Las Vegas; by the amazing Jennifer 8. Lee of Rooster/Plympton, who has been hugely helpful; by Scott Seeley of the Writers Block; by Porter Haney of Wedgies; by the Literature section of the Irish Arts Council; by Submittable; by the Litographs people (check out their tattoo Kickstarter!)... But I still don’t have enough to live on, and to fully fund the research, while I’m there…
EATING OUT OF DUMPSTERS
Of course, lack of mere money is not enough to stop a bohemian writer of weird shit who needs to finish their book. I’m going anyway. Basically, by the time this Kickstarter closes, I’ll already be busily writing away in Las Vegas. But whether I end up eating out of dumpsters behind the Venetian Hotel for a few weeks, or eating actual, healthy food while I go out in the desert, researching Nevada State Route 375 and Area 51 for the end of my novel, all depends on your response. It’s a gamble. I like that gamble. It seems appropriate. (And let me reassure you: It will be only gambling I'll be doing in Vegas.)
But one Kickstarter still doesn’t solve the structural problem that all interesting, published-but-not-bestselling, experimental writers face.
Which brings us to the other, maybe more original, part of this idea. The hidden part.
REINVENTING THE ECONOMICS OF WRITING INTERESTING FICTION
I love economics. I like postcards. And I’m fascinated by market failures. This section explains how they all fit together.
Indeed, some of you will know that I am obsessed with economics. I predicted the financial crisis of 2008 in fairly accurate detail on my website, a year before it happened; my BBC radio plays are about economic bubbles (and, as I’ve mentioned, I wrote the first short story ever published by the Financial Times).
Right now, the market in the written ephemera of writers is huge: postcards, letters, signed books, manuscript pages (basically anything ever hand-written or signed by a good-quality, ideally dead, writer). Which is nice. It’s just that most of the money isn’t going to the impoverished writers, and certainly not at the time in their lives that they need it.
JAMES JOYCE LEFT AN ESTATE VALUED, IN TOTAL, AT £908.
Any even semi-successful writer will tell you that, when they sign books, in among the fans will be a bored, gloomy man holding fifteen copies of your rare, long-remaindered first novel, which they just want you to sign with your name. These copies will pop up at high prices, later that week, on some rare book website, and the writer’s super-fans will buy them. No, you don’t get a cut.
When you’re dead, it gets worse. Everything you ever signed becomes worth something; not a lot maybe, but a lot more than it was worth before you signed it.
If interesting writers are going to be treated as something halfway between madmen and saints, with the things we touch, sign and bleed on treated as relics of a secular religion, then why can’t we get a share of this bizarre industry, which we have accidentally created? It’s nice being one of the best in the world at a difficult thing. (In 2010, I represented Ireland in the Best European Fiction anthology; which is the literary equivalent of representing your country at the Olympics). But I don’t like the fact that, as a result of dedicating my life to fiction, I am sometimes short of money for food. I don’t like being evicted. (Yes, I’ve been evicted, on New Year’s Day, with a one-year-old, when I ran out of money writing Jude in Ireland. A book which, a few years later, the Sunday Tribune named Irish Novel of the Decade. A lovely example of being paid in status, not cash.)
Good writers are often absurdly, grindingly poor, right to the end. James Joyce wrote the greatest novel of the 20th century, and he died leaving an estate that was valued, in total, at £908. He died broke. Now, even his blandest signed Christmas cards sell for thousands of dollars. In 2004, a single, rather sexy, letter that he wrote to his wife, Nora Barnacle sold at auction for $445,000: the highest price ever reached for a twentieth century autographed letter. Well, that’s the free market doing its wonderful, crazy, amoral thing. But too late for Joyce. These days, the letters and cards of even minor good writers sell for good money. Because they are unique. And we like relics.
NO PAPER TRAIL
But my generation of writers don’t write letters, send postcards, or scribble manuscripts. There is no paper trail at all.
Those two things create an opportunity.
So The Las Vegas Postcards is also an experiment in economics; an experiment in creating a long-term crypto-currency that writers can issue, a kind of bohemian bond; each card, each bond, unique. A way to fund them earlier in their careers, when the help is most needed; not after they’ve won the Nobel Prize, or died.
I BELIEVE IN ANGELS (WELL, ANGEL INVESTORS FOR WRITERS).
Every experimental or original writer is, in some ways, a startup, with no funding, trying to create something totally new in the culture. And of course, most interesting writers, like most interesting startups, fail. And that’s OK. No glory without risk. But the successes (Beckett, Joyce, John Kennedy Toole, Sylvia Plath, Philip K. Dick) change people’s lives. Change the world...
But right now, the most interesting writers have no business model, no angel investors, no venture capital. Because the angel investment that weird writers used to get from publishers is gone. Publishers are concentrating their advances (their capital) on established brand names, celebrities, and genres.
Right now, the worst paid people in publishing are the interesting writers. Writers’ incomes have collapsed in the last five years. The average FULL-TIME PROFESSIONAL writer in the UK now earns 11000 pounds a year. Which is not enough to live on. Writers subsidise a global, multi-billion dollar industry by working for far less than the minimum wage. GET WITH IT, WEIRD WRITERS AND FANS OF WEIRD WRITING! We are letting capitalism eat us, digest, and shit us. Surely we’re cleverer than that? We imagine new worlds; let’s reimagine this one.
So how might we do it? Let’s get into the details.
LET’S FIX A BROKEN MARKET WITH HELP FROM KARL MARX!
Why do the works of interesting, experimental, visual artists sometimes make the artist wealthy; while the works of interesting, experimental writers almost never do? Well, famous German stand-up comedian Karl Marx totally nailed this one: “Works of art, which represent the highest level of spiritual production..... will find favour in the eyes of the bourgeois only if they are presented as being liable to directly generate material wealth.”
A painting or sculpture (one-off, unique, ownable, potentially expensive) does that. A book (cheap, mass-produced, democratic); does not. Which is why the rich prefer our postcards to our novels. Which is why this project can, ultimately, work for both the writer and the first buyer of the postcard; the fanatical reader. Let us give the rich what they want; something to invest in. And let’s, for the first time, take our cut.
I’d love to have received a postcard from Rimbaud, before he gave up poetry and poverty and Paris and vanished into Africa to become a gun runner (a lousy gun-runner: he lost his shirt). Or Baudelaire (dead at 46, with huge debts). I’d love to have received a postcard from John Kennedy Toole, before he killed himself in despair age 31. And I’d have been happy to send them $10, or $100, or whatever I had spare that week, to help them write, not just that postcard to me, but a few more lines of whatever it was they most wanted to write. Help them write Le Bateau Ivre/The Drunken Boat, or A Confederacy of Dunces; help them write the work that a purely capitalist market was incapable of producing.
Help them to write another postcard to the world, saying this is what it’s like to live here, now.
DETAILS, DETAILS; HOW TO MAKE THIS WORK AS A MARKET.
I see the flaws in free market capitalism; but I also love its wild energy. But there are some things the market, as it is currently set up, cannot produce.
I should make this very clear: I’m not issuing the postcards as an investment. Right now, buying these postcards is simply an act of loving support. I don’t want the Securities Exchange Commission regulating my post cards. But I do believe we should talk about the inevitable secondary market before it happens.
To make them work as a potential, unforgeable, traceable investment, the cards will be numbered (i.e., if you’re the first person to order a card, you get card number 1, with a little 1 scribbled somewhere on it; if you’re the 34th person, you’ll get card number 34.) If, in a few years, they are ever worth forging, that should make it much harder for anyone to forge one. And I’ll keep a photocopied archive of the cards, to prove provenance.
Copyright in the words on the cards remains with the author, as is usual, as, indeed, is automatic with all writing. But if you want to do something with those words, no problem, just talk to me.
THE TWIST (IT’S A FRENCH TWIST): OR, FROM A THOUSAND FRANCS TO 553,000 FRANCS IN 14 YEARS
You own the physical card. But (and here’s the twist) if you (or any future owner) should resell it for more than $1000, then 10% of the gross sale price goes to the author (in this case, me). That’s modelled loosely on the old French law (”Droite de Suite”) which gives artists a 5% cut of all future auction sales of their paintings; a sensible and just law, I think. (Though the artist, who did all the work, surely deserves more than 5%).
An aside, on ”Droite de Suite”: In 1879, Millet’s painting, The Angelus, was sold by a copper merchant for 553,000 francs, only 14 years after Millet had sold it for 1000 francs; at the time of the second sale, Millet had just died, leaving his family in dire poverty. Popular outrage in France led to the law. People can change the rules.
OH MY GOD WE’VE INVENTED LITCOIN!
OK, if you like this project, please do support it, and thus me. It'll make a huge difference to my life. And then please share it (there are sharing buttons on this page), and tell any of your friends you think might be interested. Rich friends who love investing in odd things (“It’s the new Bitcoin! We’ll call it Litcoin!”), poor friends who love weird lit, friends who invest in odd things; friends who love to help make art happen.
I would hugely appreciate that. I don’t have a PR budget. I don’t have a big publisher on this project (I like to write books in total freedom, then find them a home when I’m done.) I just have you.
So if you’d like to tell people about this, do it now, before you forget; we’ll meet back here in a minute…
OK. Thanks for reading this far. Thanks for your support. I’ll spend my time in Vegas well. I’ll make the book as good as I can. Hope you like your postcard.
Risks and challenges
I am a typical, highly strung, socially inept, neurotic writer, and I don't normally get out much. I could go completely nuts in Vegas, and be committed to a mental institution. (If they let me write postcards, I'll still send you your cards, and the whole experience would be great material; but it could lead to a delay.)
I also like to talk to the freaks and the weirdos, who can be a little volatile in Vegas, which has very permissive gun laws, so I could get shot, by them, or by a cop mistaking me for a freak or weirdo, who knows. I might get hit by a ricochet, while shooting a hole in a postcard.
I could go out into the desert, on a research trip to an abandoned mining town, and fall down an open mineshaft, and die. The car could break down, beyond cellphone coverage, and I could run out of water, and die. I could get arrested trying to get too close to Area 51 (yeah, Area 51 is in the novel), and... vanish.
More prosaically, I could be overwhelmed by the demand for individual postcards, and, given that each one takes a little bit of thought, and I only have one small brain, if the numbers get really big it could take longer than the time I have available in Vegas to write and post all the postcards.
If it's a small number of postcards, I might get them all written and posted while I'm still in Vegas. But the cards are basically an art project, a fiction, an experiment, open-ended: I want it to surprise me. That means I'm leaving the numbers open-ended; so I can't predict the demand in advance. If there are requests for many postcards, given that I'm doing a lot of research and a little writing while I'm there, I just won't have time to get them all done properly on site. In that case, I will buy the postcards, borrow a gun, shoot some of the cards full of holes, spill drink on some, get showgirls to kiss some of them, and then bring them back to Berlin with me. They'll all get written (using my Las Vegas experiences as the raw material), over the next month or so. I'll send them back in a parcel to a friend in Vegas, who will buy stamps and post them from Las Vegas. They should all arrive before the end of October. Cool?
I could get a stroke and not be able to write. Not likely, but, you know.
Look, anything could happen; I'm a writer who likes to go exploring, and it's Vegas, it's the desert. But I have a good track record for delivering high quality albums, novels, radio plays, computer game narrative, etc. So I should be able to handle a bunch of postcards.
If you have any questions about any of this, feel free to throw them at me here or on Twitter (where I am @juliangough). It's good to talk.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
- (14 days)