Three Simple Expectations On How To Manage Backer Rewards Ethically on Kickstarter
Crowdfunding has the additional bonus benefit of offering additional rewards for different backer levels. This is great! It incentivises backers to give more, which lets us make more art (in my case, books) and to compensate the artists (writers) even more.
As attractive as these backer rewards are, they bring about two potential problems. I neglected to mention them in my prior statement about paying authors via crowdfunding. I'm going to discuss these two problems, and then address the potential problem of backers submitting stories. Each section has a clear expectation for ethical behavior which is repeated at the end as well. And yes, crowdfunding is now one of the things covered in Alliteration Ink's Policies.
Important note: Unless specified, I am speaking of the third model of crowdfunding where authors already have a contractual relationship of some kind with the publisher of the anthology.
Contributors Offering Backer RewardsThe original concept of backer rewards is to provide some kind of "extra" - and in the case of Kickstarter, extras specifically created by people who are involved in the project itself. While this is fairly straightforward idea for a project run by a single person (or company), it's a little more complex when you're talking about a multi-author anthology.
Originally with What Fates Impose, Nayad Monroe (the anthologist) and myself were simply going to offer backer rewards with what we could personally do. Story critiques, eBook conversions, that sort of thing.
And then, literally days before launching, we asked the contributors what they were willing to offer... and we ended up with a backer rewards list that filled an entire side of a sheet of paper. Single spaced. Some of the rewards were as simple as a personalized tweet, others as complex as authors offering to collaborate on a story.
It's important to note, though, that not all authors offered a backer reward for us to use. I didn't realize that until nearly halfway through the campaign.
I can understand an author not wanting to devote additional time and energy to creating a backer reward for a crowdfunding campaign... much the same way that I understand that not all authors in an anthology are going to put the same effort into promoting a book after it's out.
We're all busy people. Donating time to a backer reward is time not spent writing, or away from a paying (non-writing) job, or even time away from loved ones. It might even be money out of the author's pocket, or a layer of frustration they'd otherwise never bring on themselves. Perhaps there simply isn't anything they can think of to offer, or they're just out of spoons and find themselves in a place where they can't offer a reward.
That said, there are definite reasons why an author would want to offer a backer reward to support an anthology they are in: money, art, and reputation.
Money is obvious: if the crowdfunding fails, then the author may not get paid as much (or at all, if the project tanks). Depending on the contract, the crowdfunding exceeding its goals may net that author more money for the author's story.
Art is also pretty straightforward. I am a big believer in anthologies as crafted art, and crowdfunding has quickly become a way to patronize art that would otherwise not happen. So if an author believes in a project, then offering a reward is a way to help support that project becoming a reality.
Reputation didn't occur to me until What Fates Impose was well underway. I'm a fan as much as I am a publisher or author, so getting to (virtually) rub elbows with people whose work I enjoy - Beth Wodzinski, Lucy A. Snyder, Alasdair Stuart, and Cat Rambo for a few examples - was a great thrill. Then being exposed to the other authors I'd never encountered before made it even better.
But - and this is important - the authors' stories were selected to make the best anthology possible, not on the basis of what rewards they offered. It's possible that authors involved with a crowdfunding campaign might feel peer pressure to offer a reward when they see the other authors doing so. There is no way to completely avoid that impression; people who believe badly about you will do so, no matter how you behave or what you say. What crowdfunding organizers can do is to ensure that their expectations are clearly and unambiguously spelled out. I've taken a stab at it below:
The author's primary obligation to the anthology is the story. The anthologist or publisher organizing the crowdfunding campaign may ask contributors to offer additional backer rewards. The organizer must respect all contributors equally, regardless of whether they contribute an additional reward.
Clearly Stating the Backer RewardsSince the backer rewards for What Fates Impose got put together so quickly, a few problems crept in that I wasn't watching for. For example, Sarah Hans offered to do a Skype tarot reading... in August, when her schedule was such that she could manage it. I didn't notice her availability requirements, so when I asked about it nearly a month after her availability, scheduling the reading was problematic. Cat Rambo suggested two possible rewards, and I misread that as offering two rewards.
In both cases, it was my mistake, though the authors (and impacted backers) were quite gracious about it... but it could have turned ugly. So I will start issuing short contracts to cover such eventualities - both to cover myself and the authors I work with. The important features of such a contract will be:
- Who is involved (organizer, author)
- That ONLY if the crowdfunding succeeds, the author will offer a backer reward.
- A clear explanation of the Reward
- A timetable of delivery/fulfillment of the Reward
- Any costs or reimbursement involved, as needed
- That the offering of the Reward is independent of the contract for the story in the anthology
The scope of any backer reward, as well as the responsibilities of the entity offering the reward, must be clearly defined prior to the crowdfunding campaign.
Contributing To Crowdfunding CampaignsAfter the campaign for What Fates Impose ended, I was surprised to see that many of the authors had actually become backers as well. That was great; I presume that they wanted to do so for the same reason that they wanted to offer backer rewards as well. After all, crowdfunding sites will tell you which friends of yours are backing which projects; it makes sense.
And it wasn't an ethical issue for us. Again, we were using the third model of crowdfunding. The authors had already been told they were accepted into the anthology, so there was no potential quid pro quo behavior going on.
But not everyone follows that model. For those following the first two models (where the table of contents is not fixed before the campaign launches), there are some special ethical issues to keep in mind:
Publishers and/or anthologists offering an open or semi-open call for submissions for a crowdfunded anthology must avoid any preferential treatment - in reality or appearance - toward submitting authors based on whether or not they are backing the crowdfunded project.When a publisher or anthologist gives preferential treatment to a story submission based upon the author backing a crowdfunding project, they have become a vanity press.
It's worth repeating again.
When a publisher or anthologist gives preferential treatment to a story submission based upon the author backing a crowdfunding project, they have become a vanity press.That includes both someone looking over their list of backers, or even (shudder) offering a spot in an anthology as a backer reward. Even if it's mediated through a crowdfunding platform, that's still the same pay-to-play vanity press scam artist crap that has been preying upon authors for years.
Summing UpI am routinely horrified by the behavior of those who call themselves publishers. Many of the scams simply would not occur to me until I hear reports of someone else doing them.
I wrote these expectations broadly enough that they should cover most aspects of publishers behaving badly. But again, these are guidelines.
If you find something not covered by these expectations, remember and let yourself be guided by Yog's Law and Cthugha's Correlary: Money (or value) flows toward the author.
* The author's primary obligation to the anthology is the story. The anthologist or publisher organizing the crowdfunding campaign may ask contributors to offer additional backer rewards. The organizer must respect all contributors equally, regardless of whether the contribute an additional reward.
* The scope of any backer reward, as well as the responsibilities of the entity offering the reward, must be clearly defined prior to the crowdfunding campaign.
* Publishers and/or anthologists offering an open or semi-open call for submissions for a crowdfunded anthology must avoid any preferential treatment - in reality or appearance - toward submitting authors based on whether or not they are backing the crowdfunded project.