I’m running a Kickstarter for a new space opera–it’s right over here, it’s funded and in stretch goals, it’s ending on Sunday, come and play if you like. This is the fourth one I’ve done, and I thought I was pretty well versed in the quirks of the system. How to promote without overpromoting. How to lure backers in and keep them there. How to come up with enticing rewards and perks. All those fun and profitable things that make that particular corner of crowdfunding work.
What I hadn’t experienced before, and foolishly didn’t expect to experience, was an onslaught of spam.
Yes, the spammers have found a new venue to carpet-bomb. They started as soon as I hit the Launch button, inundating my message box with offers to spam the interwebs with my project. Because I must love spamming others at least as much as I love being spammed. Amd we all know how people love spam.
I nuked each one and reported it to Kickstarter. Spam being a descendant of the ancient Hydra meant only that each time I lopped off a head, three more sprang up in its place. Nuke nukeity nuke nuke.
Tonight I received another form of spam, one that made me actually a little sad as I hit the Report button. It came from someone who introduced itself as a fellow author (initials, so gender not definite). This person wanted to “incentivize” people to back my project by offering their self-published book, free, at all reward levels.
First strike against: the word “incentivize.”
Also, the idea that a total stranger whose name I do not recognize, and with whose work I am not familiar, would increase the appeal of my project. Because my name and record, and my work, must not be enough. I must need them to help me succeed.
Now if their name had been, say, Le Guin, I might have been more willing to entertain the notion. Unknown name with unknown title? No.
The offer on its face seemed to be about “Let’s join forces to expand our marketing reach.” Except that’s not how Kickstarter works, and I’m not sure it’s allowed under their rules. I’m quite sure it presents some serious legal problems, on which more below. What it actually added up to was, “I want to co-opt your campaign, and your backers, to promote my book.”
Even supposing that I wanted to bring in other authors, making it a group project rather than an individual one, I wouldn’t need, or want, to turn to a stranger. I’m a member of this fifty-author cooperative, just to begin with. Some of us are participating in a group venture now, in fact, the official NaNoWriMo Storybundle of books on writing. Massive collection, truly impressive roster of names. It’s an honor to be a part of it.
And that brings us to the legal aspect. For the Storybundle, and for an anthology Kickstarter in which I participated a few months ago, I was invited in advance, and I was presented with a contract that spelled out exactly what I was selling and to whom, for how long, and for how much. It was all laid out, with legal protections for both sides.
An offer of a “free” book, five days before the end of a month-long campaign, not only shows a lack of understanding of the system, it also presents a raft of potential problems. I have no way of knowing whether the person claiming the book has actual rights to it. I haven’t had time to read the book, to judge whether it’s appropriate for my audience or my campaign. I don’t know whether the author will, on conclusion of the campaign, demand a portion of the proceeds, and if so, what that portion will be, or under what terms they will want them. What protections will I have, or what protections will they want for themselves? What liabilities will either of us be expected to assume?
And that’s just for starters. Intellectual property law is a huge and complex field. Publishing contracts go on for pages and pages and pages. Even the concise, carefully restricted and delineated contracts for the Storybundle and the Kickstarter anthology are a couple of pages long and have been developed word by meticulously defined word.
There is nothing casual about them, and there’s good reason for it. If anything goes wrong, I could get sued. I want, and need, a contract to protect me in case of trouble.
So no, I will not be offering a stranger’s book as a freebie, even if I had any need to do so. The stranger may think it’s a clever idea, and be proud of itself for thinking of it, but for a veteran author with a solid working knowledge of contracts and the reasons why they’re necessary, it’s a nightmare in the making.
ETA: They did it again, 24 hours later. Identical message.
On investigation, I see that this is indeed a young writer, and that their own campaign did not succeed (Kickstarter is all or nothing: if you don’t make your goal, you receive no funds). I have enough experience of young and apprentice writers to find it credible that they would sincerely believe in their work, and hope or even expect that I would allow them to ride my coattails, and my backers, to success. Unfortunately, even if theirs were a work of utter genius, the legal problems remain.
So. No. And again, no.